K12 Education in America
I worry about K12 public education for a living. At present I work for
one of the many Washington, DC non-profits, the Council of Chief State
School Officers (CCSSO). My work focuses on technology and the
internet, but my interests are much wider than that. For example, I've
been thinking about the ways in which schools
are an artificial environment, isolated from society at large.
Education FAQ and Strictly Opinionated Answers
How can I select a good school for my child?
Selecting a good school takes work. First, you can look at statistics
such as standardized test scores and dropout rates. Be aware that these
statistics will only give you general information, and may be
misleading. For example, if a school has two primary populations, one
of which is lots of kids who are already at-risk, and the other of which
are normally high achievers then the actual test scores may fit a
bicameral curve. You're unlikely to know that, though, from the single
number that's reported. Also, bear in mind that test scores reflect a
combination of two things: the quality of teaching, and the composition
of the student body. The highest test scores will be found where not
only are there good teachers, but good (intelligent, motivated)
You'll definitely want to visit the school and interview the principal.
THe principal sets the tone for all education in the school. If the
principal believes in discipline, encourages teachers to continue their
own educations as well as to be innovative in the classroom, and
espouses general beliefs in education that you subscribe to, then you
are likely to be pleased with the results for your child. You'll also
want to meet the teachers who will be teaching your child, and spend a
few hours in those teachers' classes to see if you like those teachers'
style. If the school doesn't permit on-site visits by parents, think
seriously about choosing a different school.
What factors are the greatest influence in creating a good
firstname.lastname@example.org, a participant in the newsgroup misc.education, said
"The success or failure of a public school, in my experience, depends on
only two factors: the effectiveness of the school principal as a leader
and motivator; and the economic fitness of the local community." I tend
to agree with this statement. All other factors pale by comparison.
My child is having trouble in school and I think his/her teacher
could be doing a lot more to help. What can I do?
First off, go in assuming that there's a good reason that the teacher
hasn't been on the ball with your child. Perhaps there are too many
children in the class, or the teacher has trouble at home that's
affecting job performance, or perhaps your child isn't a problem
compared to other kids in the class. Or perhaps the teacher has
been on the ball, but you aren't aware yet of what the teacher is
doing. Remembering that these things are a possibility will help get
you in a cooperative frame of mind. Having a good, cooperative
relationship with your child's teacher is essential for solving
problems. If, after meeting with the teacher, you don't think that the
cooperation is two-way, THEN you can start to get aggressive!
The first step is to talk to the teacher. Most people who become
teachers do so because they find it rewarding to help children learn.
Your child's teacher is probably more than willing to help. You and the
teacher need to be teamates with the common goal of helping your child
When speaking with the teacher, ask the teacher what he or she thinks
may be causing the learning problem. Does the teacher's suggestion make
any sense? Can you offer information to clarify the nature of the
problem, or to suggest that the teacher's information is incomplete?
Once both you and the teacher agree on the problem (which often takes
just a few minutes) then you can spend some time working on solutions.
Perhaps you need to help your child with certain kinds of extra
homework. Perhaps the teacher needs to move your child's desk to
another part of the classroom. Remember, when speaking with the
teacher, that although you know your child better than anyone else does,
the teacher knows an awful lot about children of your child's age. You
can both learn from each other.
If you think the teacher isn't willing to help, which does happen
occasionally, then your next step is to speak with the principal. At
that point you'll need either to work with the principal to improve the
teacher's attitude and/or skills, or else pull your child out of that
class and into another one.
If the principal isn't willing to help (which happens occasionally) then
write a careful letter about the situation and send it to the teacher,
the principal, the district superintendent, and the school board. (In
the case of a private school, send it to the trustees.)
Fortunately, most teachers are, in fact, both willing and able to help
you and your child. If you disagree with the solution the teacher
suggests, you might try it anyway; solving educational problems is what
teachers do for a living, and most of them are pretty good at it, given
a chance. If the solution fails after giving it a fair try (say, of a
week or two) then there probably hasn't been much harm done, and you can
try something else.
What can I do to help my child learn to read?
For most children, being read to, learning phonics, and then practicing
reading, will be sufficient to teach them to read. Here's why reading to your child helps your child learn to
read. There's a wonderful web page, sponsored by the US Department
of Education, that gives more detailed tips for parents interested in Helping Your Child Learn
What can I read to learn about education reform?
An excellent history of education reform is a book by David Tyack and
Larry Cuban called Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public
School Reform. It discusses institutional trends in the schools,
philosophical trends in reform movements, changes in society, and how
the three interact to impac the public education system. The book is
firmly grounded in primary sources of opinion and data, and includes
excellent endnotes. It is of interest not only to the historian, but to
the modern reformer who wishes to review his or her own thoughts in the
broader context. The book was published by the Harvard University Press
in 1995. It's ISBN number is 0-674-89282-8.
Where can I find out about the state of American education?
The United States Department of Education collects a variety of data on
students every couple of years and, processing it by approved
statistical methods, comes out with the National Assessment of
Education Progress. This volume, affectionately known as the NAEP,
is the source for many, many of the statistics and news articles you may
have seen. Copies are available from the US Government Printing Office,
What does the Department of Education do, anyway?
The United States Department of Education runs quite a number of
programs. It is not a national school board. The USED cannot
set graduation requirements, school calendards, hiring policies, or
anything like that. The state deparments of education set some of that
for their own states, but most of the details are controlled at the
local level. If you care about your local schools, vote for your local
board of education!
But what does the USED do? It runs a few student loan programs for
colleges. It tracks the nation's educational progress. (See the
preceding question for some details.) It has money available for grants
for schools that wish to apply for it, and for research organizations.
It has money to give to schools with lots of very poor students in order
to help ensure that those students get a chance at a decent education.
(Schools with poor students would otherwise be even more underfunded
than they are. Most money for schools comes from property taxes, after
all, so poor students tend to live in poor districts with less property
tax income ... need I say more?) The USED runs the Blue Ribbon School
program, which recognizes excellent schools, public and private, around
the country. It funds the regional education labs, which do research
and disseminate best practices. Under Goals2000, the USED gives money
to states which opt to create high standards for education. And the
USED runs many more programs, with which I am less familiar. The USED
contributes only about 6% of the national K12 education budget (the rest
coming from state and local budgets) but it targets its programs carefully.
One of the useful things the USED does is publish a series of books that
are designed to help parents help their children succeed in school. These
divided by subject area, are available on the web. So are a number of
other USED Publications.
Favorite Education Web Sites
A U.S. Department of Education-funded on-line collection of educational
information. Includes the ability to search by keyword. Items
available may be documents, or abstracts of articles along with
bibliographic information. The ERIC menus will also lead you to their
clearinghouses, including ones on Information and Technology,
Disabilities, Rural Education, and many more. The site is one of the
richest educational resources on the net and includes curriculum ideas,
reports, bibliographic citations. Information on various forms of
assessment is available. The site is aimed at educators, broadly
The Center for
Networked Information Discovery and Retrieval, Education Page
This page contains links to educational sites hosted by CNIDR. All the
listed sites are designed to enable schools and teachers to take
advantage of the internet to enhance education.
Coalition for Goals 2000
This group has an on-line system, accessible via the internet or by
dialup, with a host of information, a searchable database, and focused
discussion groups. It is only available to members. The system,
goalline, is devoted to grass-roots educational reform with a focus on
standards as a means to improve schools. Get in touch with them
directly for information on membership.
Phone: (202) 835-2000
Email: email@example.com (for membership information only)
Council of Chief State School Officers
This site contains information on curricular standards and assessment,
various projects for disadvantaged students, and links to all existing
state education agency web sites. This site is aimed at state education
agency personnel as well as education policy makers.
Council of Great City Schools
This site contains information on standards and other areas of education
that are of particular import to large, urban school systems.
This site contains "an annotated list of those sites which have
educational standards documents prepared by various states and
professional organizations." It contains links to standards and
curriculum organized by state and by subject; also links to research on
standards, standards related legislation, and more. For those
interested in curriculum standards, this is a must-see site.
Policy Analysis Archives
This is an electronic peer-reviewed journal with a wealth of articles
on educational policy. Abstracts are available as well as full
articles. The Editor is Gene V Glass, Div. of Educational Leadership &
Policy Studies, College of Education, Arizona State University. This
site appears to be aimed at Policy makers and academics.
EdWeb provides easy access to the world of educational computing and
networking on-line. It includes a substantial section on educational
reform movements, most of which are not technological in focus. The
EdWeb service is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
For a history and overview of modern educational reform, I don't think
there is a superior on-line resource.
A publication of the National School Boards Association devoted whose
editorial objective is to serve the information needs of all school
leaders and educators who are striving to enhance student learning
through the judicious and appropriate use of technology.
and Adjunct Clearinghouses
This site contains a list and brief descriptions of the ERIC educational
clearinghouses. They include:
Adult, Career and Vocational Education,
Assessment and Evaluation,
Disabilities and Gifted Education,
Elementary and Early Childhood Education,
National Parent Information Network,
Information and Technology and
ERIC Clearinghouse on
Assessment and Evaluation
This site contains a variety of articles on various kinds of assessment
and evaluation. It also contains a database of assessment instruments.
It does not, however, contain assessment examples. According to the web
page, "The ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation seeks to
provide 1) balanced information concerning educational assessment and 2)
resources to encourage responsible test use. "
to School Improvement
This site contains information on educational improvement. It includes
Governance and Leadership topics, which contain information on topics
such as site-based management. Other areas include hot topics such as
School-to-Work and Urban Education. The site is formatted as a series
of comprehensive articles which contain links to specific information.
For example, the article on mathematics includes a link to the on-line
NCTM standards. The site is aimed at educators and parents.
RAND is a non-profit institution that helps improve public policy
through research and analysis. . It has a substantial number of
research reports on topics related to education. Some reports are
available, in full-text, on the web site. Others are listed with
abstracts and can be ordered. Of these, many are free.
Uncle Bob's Kids Page
This site contains links to almost everything a child could wish to
explore on the internet, and almost everything that a parent would want
a child to find on the internet. There are links to museums, projects,
games and pictures, along with educational software and ... well, it's a
child's paradise on the internet. Highly recommended.
U.S. Department of Education
The U.S. Department of Education's site includes publications
(abstracts, full-text and ordering information), NCES statistics, policy
statements, and other information of interest to those involved in
educational policy. Most major programs are covered to some degree,
including Goals 2000. Some state standards are available but no
assessment examples. The site is aimed at parents, teachers,
researchers, administrators and Policy makers.