T Nation

American Education


At the behest of a few people, I have started this thread to discuss American education.

Caveat emptor, I am a teacher, which means I am biased, but I welcome all opinions. The intent is to foster dialog and discussion without stifling any point of view.

With respect to credentials, I have a a B.A. in Speech Communication, a CLAD Certificate in Education (essentially a Master’s Degree), an M.A. in English, and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing.

I have three short stories published (not self published), and was a quarter finalist in the Creative World Awards screenwriting contest in 2015.

I have been teaching high school English since 2004. Prior to that, I was a PGA golf Pro in Florida, a Regional Sales Manger for a manufacturer of ductile iron pipe, and a Branch Manager of a tire store.

I have lived in Oregon, California, Maryland, Florida, and New York (currently on Long Island).

I have been to Germany, Spain, The Netherlands, Great Britain, Canada, and Mexico, in addition to many states in the U.S. - Nevada, Texas, Louisiana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Colarado, Wyoming, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Washington, Idaho, and Utah (do you like the Oxford comma)?

I would very much like to discuss what the ills are in American education and discuss any ideas with respect to solutions.



As someone who has no kids and didn’t spend much time in a traditional K-12 classroom, but has worked in lots of oregon K-12 school districts. I have noticed the students’ success and graduation rate is corellateable to the quality of the Principal. I’ve worked in rural and large school districts. Every school that had a personable, patient and non demanding principal, had a great group of teachers and students.

This anecdote is, of course, limited to my experience based on relationship during construction/demo etc. but it’s a correlation I’ve noticed.

Not sure if that’s what this thread is about, but my .02.


That’s a fair corollation to make for sure, my wife is a teacher and has taught in a couple different schools, expectations and mentality starting at the top are huge, it seems to make a big difference with how engaged the teachers are (also anecdotal evidence). We are in a small, rural school district right now with very good administration, the teachers almost as a whole (all the ones I have had the pleasure of meeting through my wife) seem to genuinely like working for the administration. That attitude trickles down to the kids and most of the teachers here seem more than willing to go above and beyond with putting students and their needs first. It is really cool to see. Small student to teacher ratios seem to have a positive impact on learning as well.


Yep, this is exactly what I envisioned when I created the thread.

This is absolutely true. A principal is the instructional leader of the building and needs to have a foot print in order for the teachers to have clear expectations, a basic tenet of education and management.

This is money.

I work in a smallish district on Long Island, eight thousand kids or less, and a wealthy district. We were ranked about 425 out of over fifteen thousand high schools in the country, top five percent, based on test scores.

Our parents are VERY involved, too much in my opinion. But, I also worked in East New York, the most violent precinct in all five boroughs of NYC. There was no parent involvement there. And, of course, the test scores were correlative.

But, a principal has his/her hands tied by the board of education. My principal is a good dude, but he spends most of his day dealing with helicopter parents and really is a cipher with respect to putting his footprint on the building, out of necessity.

He makes good change, almost $200K (I know, right), and wants to protect his job, so he is teflon, and shits downhill.

When a parent complains about anything, he shits on the teacher first. I’ve been called into his office because a student told a parent that I said I needed help on the next book because I hadn’t read it in ten years. It was _The Outsiders.__Not only have I read it, but I can quote it.

But, that kid heard me talking to another kid about outside reading, a Gothic novel that I suggested because the other kid read _The Outsiders _over the weekend and needed something else to read.

So, the parent didn’t have the kid talk to me. She didn’t call me. She didn’t call my department chair. She called the principal. And, because he wants to keep his $200K job, he called me into his office to find out what happened.

Of course, what he should have done was to tell the parent to have the kid discuss it with me, or tell the parent to call me herself.

But, all of the parents are afraid of retaliation, of me lowering their kids’ grade because mom or dad is batshit crazy.

Which totally underestimates my ability to separate behavior from assessment.

Sort of a rant, sorry.


If that’s the case, can we rename this thread ‘Education Rant’?

I’ve had to wait on newly formed committees to decide paint colors.

I’ve had self created committees discuss permitting with county officials, without approval form district or project team.

I’ve had community members direct contractors which resulted in change orders.

Ok end rant.

I’m working in one of the smallest and poorest districts, right now. The principal is by far the best I’ve worked with. Despite being an old outdated facility that barely functions, people transfer from other districts because of the school. Also, there’s one class per grade. Some classes have 30+ to 1. Others have 15 to 1. As a whole, this school does excellent on a statewide level. All the houses and surround buildings look like a third world country n


Alright, as a pro-business poster, what would be your best foot forward to address American test scores?

You have said that an assessed teacher board would be a poor option and you have made some fair points on charter schools.

So, from your experience, is there a solution from your end, or is it a parental issue that requires fixing first?


Also, kudos on wading in here. I won’t hold back, nor do I wish you to do so.


Feel free to rant brother. For the record, other posters should know that @dchris and I are friends from other threads, and both Oregonians.

Clearly, 15-1 is mo betta, and in fact, the expensive prep schools like Andover and Phillips Exeter are 8-1 . . . and $60K per year.

I’m not really sure to be honest, and that is one of the reasons I wanted to start this thread, to get some ideas. I like the idea of incentivizing education, but that typically just ends up in the person with the purse strings rewarding his or her lackeys.

I’m not sure I understand. I think assessing teachers is problematic because of the problems associated with writing quality tests. I mean, New York state has tons of resources and every year their assessments are fucked up, shitty questions, ambiguous answers, typos, and inappropriate reading selections.

I do know when I was in East New York, my kids were assessed four times, this was before state assessments. Once on a Princeton Review test at the beginning of the year, once on a Continental Press test at the beginning of the year, and then again on both tests at the end of the year.

My kids, inner city, poor AF, moved three grade levels in reading, and I had no idea what I was doing. I just shut the door and read to them.

So, it’s not rocket science. Someone that gives a shit and reads to the kids is going to be a good teacher. Maybe not a great teacher, but a good teacher.

Yes and no. First of all, I think you need to pay teachers more, and I know that’s an unpopular position, especially in New York where top pay in my district is $121K.

Teaching is not attracting the brightest and the best, and it should. We need to have great teachers.

Teacher training should be more challenging. Currently, 20% of teachers in New York fail the teacher test and that’s because stupid people want to be teachers, smart people pursue other careers.

Also, teaching parents how to be parents is important. We should probably spend more money educating people on how to be good parents. That doesn’t have to be dogmatic, just letting them know that they need to make sure kids are loved, have slept, and are fed, that’s it.

I’m a shitty parent, but my kids eat, sleep, and are hugged and kissed every day. And they’re both on honor roll and smart AF, and funny AF.

Other than feeding them and making them go to bed, all I do is hug, kiss, and talk to them. Pretty simple.

I did a memoir unit in ENY, and a kid, Marvin, didn’t grasp what a memorable moment was. I asked them to come up with a significant event that they remembered and learned from.

MARVIN: You mean like when my uncle got shot in a drive by in my front yard?
ME: Okay, maybe, but what about something else?
MARVIN: What about when my sister got raped going to the store?
ME: Don’t worry about it bro, you don’t have to do this assignment.

You feel me?


Maybe its just peer group, but the teachers I know seem to do their jobs very well and happily. The big problem they run into is the shit talking and backstabbing of other teachers. They all say the same thing- It’s like going back to high school all over again.

One guy caught massive flack from his co-workers for developing a “Manage By Walking Around” approach to the classroom, with emphasis on individual attention. His classes scores increased remarkably enough that the school board adopted his method and implemented it building wide. Then came a barrage of personal attacks from a good hand full of behind the desk teachers that didn’t like it.

My wife was a teacher for about seven years. She did long term subbing at a couple of districts waiting for a spot to open. When she wouldn’t sleep with the principal at the school she was a candidate to be hired at, the job went to someone who would. Then she moved to teaching kids with behavior disorders, and kind of burned out with that. The emotional toll it takes is very high when you see what is actually wrong with a lot of kids (its their parents.). Now she does sales management, workforce development and corporate up training. Still satisfying, but not what she originally intended.

Of course, we also have our own little boy wonder at home too. He’s doing pretty good at reading Thomas The Tank Engine books and doing finger math at 4yrs. old!


A couple of thoughts, again from someone with no skin in the game:

I don’t believe there is anything that DC could mandate that would fix the education department. From a corporate perspective, there is many inefficiencies from corporate wide policy mandates (think Walmart), but corporations are able to make up in quantity what they lose in inefficiencies. Similarly, national educational mandates, while good intentions, do not work on a national level. I don’t know that I would go as far to say that the US Dept. of Education should be shut down, but I think their role should be more advisory than mandating.

The above situation works with corporations, but does not with kid’s education. It is very domain dependent.

I also do not believe that there is one answer to test scores.

From a home standpoint:
I think the responsibility of raising kids as been put on schools, in a lot of respects. I understand that there were/are lots of kids who come home to an empty house, and that is the reason for after and before school programs. However, from talking to many educators, at a school and district level, this has given permission to parents to essentially babysit their kids, including feeding three meals, from 7am-6pm.

Aside from the kids who fit into the above, I think parents dumb down their kids. Anecdotally, kids who’s parents talk to them without the baby talk, and allow their children to make decisions are far more prepared once they get to school age. (again, this is my observation)

Further, I do not believe that students have active parents in their educational lives. Others have parents who are too active and are quick to remove responsibility from their children (evidenced by @The_Myth’s anecdote re: book).

From a national, state level

I think many districts are too large and lose the efficiency and effectiveness that smaller districts have. For example, the district I grew up in has grown exponentially. It now has seven high schools. I think it should probably be split into two, with some of the less populated areas of the district joining the small ones. An example, @The_Myth Beaverton School District is building several new ES and a new HS south of Southridge. I would suggest Southrdige and Aloha, for example, joining Gaston or Forest Grove.

I mainly work with medium to smaller school districts (I hate the politics of portland). When talking about facilities to smaller districts, they can’t afford to operate and maintain three elementary schools. It would make sense to shut some of them down, sell the property and only maintain, operate one ES. Although, this usually disrupts small communities that make up a district. In which case, the above, joining close SDs into one would be beneficial.

I think that ESDs are a great resource for small school districts that do not have the resources to provide services such as: Special Ed, speech, ELL (ESL), IT, etc. The issue that seems to be relevant to ESDs, although, is a lack of ‘Skin in the game’. In other words, there is a lack of responsibility for funds, or put another way, there isn’t a private business mindset of providing a service to customers and making financially smart decisions.

A few examples that come to mind: Unfunded all day kindergarten, PE standards and food are several larger mandates that have impacted districts I work in. Some districts only have four day weeks and an early release(late start) on Wednesdays due to budget cuts, unfunded mandates, etc, etc.

Peter’s Principle: At some point everyone reaches a professional level of incompetence

I think that a superintendent should be educator minded, but have a business mindset.

I think principals should be educators who are good leaders, unafraid of making decisions, yet are compassionate.

I think there are a lot of bad teachers. I have met them. They are demanding, think they are owed the world and victims to everything. An argument I often have with my sister and mother in law (both teachers), is that they complain about their pay. However, if you take their salary and extrapolate based on a 9 month, 180 day contract, they usually make more than they think. They also have retirement, paid summer off, and fully health care.

This ended up longer than I expected, is probably incoherent and doesn’t really address much, but it’s a few thoughts.


This is where a good principal steps in, imo.

Sounds like a great educator that found something that works for him. Probably not a good idea to mandate an approach based on working for one teacher.


This is a great discussion, and I appreciate it. It’s what I hoped would happen if I created the thread, so I am thankful.

This is a product of the school. I did see this when I was in another district, but not at all in my current district. We’re all pretty collegial. I think a chair, or a principal, could stop this. In my department, there is some resentment about who carries the biggest load, but, we all support each other. For example, I have 130 kids on my roster, one of the largest loads. But, my colleague has AP classes, and that is more grading and higher maintenance. We both realize we carry a large load, but have different loads.

But, a few of my colleagues teach a lab class, or a collaborative class, and have a much lighter load. In fact, one of my colleagues has less than fifty kids, but we all get paid the same.

Last year we hired a dude named Tommy and he had a great year, he is a phenomenal teacher. And, he left because he got an offer from a district where English teachers only taught four classes with 20 kids. Obviously, a much better deal.

Yeah, there is always that dick that fucks it up for everybody else. Everybody walks around by the way. Sitting behind your desk is no way to teach, but I suspect this guy did something nobody else did and created a new expectation that everybody else is now going to be expected to do, and there will be no new compensation for it. So, he fucked his union brothers by giving something without negotiating it.

I know that sounds completely fucked up, but, it is what it is. Unions are a necessary evil, a product of the abuse of administrations. It’s the idea of advocacy. More on this in a few.

No way to find a job bro, just saying.

I took a job in the worst district in the world, and had a 16 year old seventh grade gangster threaten to stab me the first day. But, I had a job, I was tenure tracked, and I paid the rent.

We have people long term sub, and there just not candidates to teach. They just sit at the desk and read. I don’t know where you live, but, if she’s got a pulse, she should be able to get a job without fucking the principal.

Can’t wait, go hunt.

My district has 8,000 kids, not like Portland Public Schools, which has 100,000 kids. My Superintendent makes $350,000. Yes, that’s right, $350,000 for 8,000 kids. The superintendent of Portland makes $192,000 managing 100,000 kids, Get it?

My property taxes are about $7K. My parents property taxes are about $3K.

You follow?

Short response, if you feel that way, get a job as a teacher.

Long response, do the maths. I have five classes of thirty kids each. Pay me ten dollars an hour for each kid, that’s $1500 per day, times 183 days, equals $275,000.

Bargain bro.

Don’t forget, most of us have Masters Degrees.

But, for what it’s worth, garbage men in NYC make more, and my brother in law netted it out for me. They make more because they are more important.

If you are familiar with the sanitation strike in the seventies, you get it.


Great thread idea and I will be following, if not posting.

I firmly believe this quoted passage above. However, a couple points:

  1. In order to attract the best and brightest not only do you probably need to pay more, but more critically you need to hack off and chop away at a lot of the bureaucratic red tape and nonsense you get. The best and the brightest are not likely to want their fates in the hands of people like that or regulations like that. Particularly if they have a good idea about teaching that doesn’t mesh with the district dogma.

This is a primary reason that the best and brightest go on to other careers where they can be creative and where their innovations can be implemented without ridiculous red tape.

It’s my experience that the best people go where they have creative freedom (or intellectual freedom) more than money. Money is a motivating factor to be sure, but many of the brilliant people that become scientists or geologists or anything else do so because they want more freedom rather than less.

  1. Education degrees are–if you’ll forgive me–rather a joke as I see it. My time around the university setting and my acquaintances and friends who are teachers bear this out in my mind. Not through any fault or deficiency in their intellectual prowess mind you, but in the BS from the degree program.

I know the 3 factors–money, losing red tape, and degree/training difficulty need to work and change in tandem, but I am not entirely certain what needs to lead the way.

The memoir story is heartrending. Fucking hell.


You are a fucking asshole.

I really don’t give a fuck what else you have to say.


Wait, did I miss something here? Conversation looks like it’s been pretty collegial; seems like that came outta nowhere, and you’re usually not that kinda dude; didn’t see where Myth said anything off the rails…is my sarcasm detector just broken?

Otherwise, a few thoughts:

I think this ^ is true. My wife and I have advanced degrees and (collegiate) teaching experience; neither of us could imagine choosing to teach high school or middle school. Not because the pay is any lower from what we make now (she would make more money as a HS teacher than she makes in her entry-level college faculty position) but because every story I’ve heard from a HS teacher makes me think “Fuck that.”

More cash is always one way to attract talent, but realistically you wouldn’t be able to raise pay so much to attract “best and the brightest” kind of people for whom money is a major concern, anyway. For those of us who just want to make a nice middle-class living, teacher salaries are probably okay…I can honestly say that I chose my career over becoming a teacher (which was on the table at one point) because of what Aragorn said above: some degree of intellectual and creative freedom, and not wanting to feel like I was answerable to administrators and parents. The answer to attracting better talent (easier said than done alert) making it more attractive to be a teacher, and as Aragorn stated, I think that would come from unshackling teachers.

The problem that creates, of course, that by “unshackling” teachers and decreasing the level of accountability for student performance, for a brilliant guy/gal that comes up with a new teaching paradigm that his/her students really dig, you’ll probably have two other teachers that decide to show movies in class three times a week as part of their new “creative” (lazy) teaching style.

This is why any “standardized testing” or “evaluation” debate makes me queasy. On one hand, I hear stories from my SIL and feel pangs of sympathy - a constant feeling that she’s “teaching to the test” rather than actually teaching kids to think for themselves, the stories of some kids who are such knuckleheads that she could show them 2+2=4 today and they won’t know tomorrow, etc. On the other hand, I feel like removing accountability would let the lazier teachers just do whatever they want. If there’s already concern is that teaching does not always attract the “best and brightest” then I would worry that removing accountability would make it a more attractive spot for knuckleheads who aren’t motivated to work really hard in a competitive STEM field, but want a middle-class salary and benefits (note: I am not saying that is the current situation, only that is one possible endgame if teachers are no longer responsible for their students’ progress; what is fair to point out, as dchris said above, is that perhaps this sort of teacher-evaluation and accountability can be handled without national mandates, but on a more school-specific level).


To fix education. My opinion:

  1. Better parents. My parents set the expectation: “You WILL get straight A’s, or you won’t do anything fun ever. You are smart enough and grade school/high school is the easy part of life. It’s like life with training wheels. If you have trouble in a subject, let us know. You WILL do all your assignments and take all tests, you WON’T cut class, misbehave or be a jagoff to the teachers.”

I graduated 9th in my class and I coasted through high school. Big expectations = big results. My wife taught in rich suburban neighborhoods and in the inner city. The huge difference was parents, or rather the inner city kids only had a mom and she would forget to even pick them up at school. If the kid’s parents don’t care then there’s no way the kids will care. There’s always that one kid that graduates from a war zone and goes to Harvard while his peers can’t even f’n read. The difference is parenting.

  1. Education environment. Boys do better with strict rules and defined punishments. Back in the 70’s they hit kids and boys did way better. Now they send you to a counselor and shield you from consequences and girls do better. Gross generalization but I believe it stands. Otherwise boot camp would have pleasant female drill instructors and flower wall paper.

  2. Teachers. Good ones don’t get encouraged or paid enough and bad ones can’t be fired. Part of that is unions and part of that is administration. If you let a turd get tenure that’s on the administration. Evryone in a workplace knows who the lazy scum is, yoy have to catch them early. Unions will go to the mat for the lowest common denominator, but won’t let the exceptional teacher get a raise.

  3. Special ed and “inclusive teaching”. US schools are trying to keep the advanced and remedial students together. The thinking goes it will help the remedial students and the smart ones can help teach the dummies. It hurts both groups. No other nation does this.

In Japan you take a test in 8th grade, if you don’t score well, no high school for you. You go to tech school to learn a trade. That isn’t nice or fair, but that’s where some of the stats about US schools sucking vs the world comes from. Most other countries don’t let the remedial kids even take the standardized tests. In the US they have kids that are borderline handicapped taking the standardized tests also. Bad measuring stick for sure.

Just a rant. Life isn’t nice or fair. School shouldn’t be either if you really want to prepare kids for life.


He came off as a pretty huge dick in every paragraph of the response, so conversation over with him.

I have an appointment with a rainbow trout over in the laurel highlands, so maybe catch you later on a different topic. (there aren’t any fishing emogies so- :yum: )



I had to read it a couple more times to see it, but I could see it from his perspective in respect to his Wife.


Hey, so it’s certainly not my role to play forum mediator, but the discussion has been pretty civil here and I think all parties have good intentions, so I was just trying to figure out why that took a turn.

I admit that the Myth saying what he did about “if she’s got a pulse, she should be able to get a job without fucking the principal” came off dickish, so I’ll merely comment to The Myth that in our neck of the woods (Skyz and I live in the same metropolitan area), teaching jobs do seem to be relatively scarce, and long-term subbing is sometimes the only way to get a steady paycheck right out of the gate. My SIL graduated as a very hard-working, high-achieving student who banged out a student-teaching assignment at one of the best schools in the area and the only job offer she had out of college was a long-term sub gig for a very ill teacher…which later turned into a full-time job literally because the woman she was substituting for passed away. Otherwise we’re not sure when or where she would have gotten a job, and this was/is a girl who graduated with nearly a 4.0 from a respectable private university.

So yeah, I think Myth was a little haughty with “can’t wait, go hunt” (as though she hadn’t tried?) and dismissal of long-term subbing as a road to a teaching job. Not all long-term substitutes are worthless, and while in the broadest sense it may not be hard to find a teaching job out there somewhere, if you have ties to a particular area (husband/wife, etc) it may not always happen immediately in that area. Maybe that’s the way it is where he lives, but I don’t think that’s the case here.

Anyways. That’s my effort to keep the peace for the day. Skyzyk, enjoy fishing!


Valid points, mea culpa @SkyzykS, my apologies.

In the future I will try to lower my dick quotient to acceptable levels.