A look inside "Lifting The Curtain"...

Caveat -- Some Truth in Advertising

    This book is heavily focused on metropolitan and urban schools. Such urban schools comprise a large minority (38.7%) of our nation’s students – yet they also contain the vast majority of reported issues with graduation rates, drop outs, cheating scandals, and poor standardized test scores. Very little of this book’s analysis was based upon research or experience in suburban or rural schools. Clearly, some of the key findings are less relevant to non-urban schools, and much less relevant to elementary schools.
Author's Forward

    The heart of the problem is simple – a series of systemic failures resulted in two conditions that undermine any chance at an effective education for all our children:

    First of all, we have taken away from children the possibility of failure – ensuring their “success” to the point where a rapidly increasing percentage of students know they do not have to try in order to graduate from high school – the “system” will force teachers to find a way to pass them regardless of effort. Second, the ages old education partnership of teacher, student, and parents has been eroded to the point where teachers are held solely responsible for the performance of a student, while the student and the parents often take no co-responsibility

    These two conditions are destroying education in the United States.
Clear signs of Educational Failure (new - 2nd edition)
  • Readiness for college
  • Rapid loss of good teachers
  • Charter school failures
  • Loss of music, arts and electives
  • The increase in homeschooling
  • Cheating and rampant cronyism in schools
  • Resistance to Common Core and standardized testing
The Student and Teacher Survey

    An important part of the three years of background research that went into preparation for this book was an original survey of 774 students and teachers in a dozen schools and three states (all but a handful of responses were from New England schools). In all the published information and opinions about education, almost nothing has been published on what the primary stakeholders -- students and teachers -- feel about education.

    We seem to have asked everyone outside of school building what is wrong with education, but ignored the views of everyone inside the building!

    Further detail about the survey can be found on a separate page of this site.
Three myths we must debunk (new - 2nd edition)
  • Children don't want to learn anymore
  • The main problem with education is too many "bad" teachers
  • All we need to fix education is more money
Systemic Failure #1: Unintended Consequences – good intentions gone horribly wrong

    Education has fallen victim to quick fixes, and well-meaning programs that never envisioned the long-term consequences of their actions. Despite very good intentions, these programs have proven to seriously hurt education by lowering expectations, fostering cheating, destroying child incentive and effort, removing student accountability, and dumbing down education to the point of ineffectiveness.
Systemic Failure #2: Unqualified administrators and rampant cronyism

    Of course there are exceptions, but most new principals are not qualified to run an organization the size and complexity of a typical school. A significant minority of new principals got their position via cronyism. All too often the new principal is just the next good old boy (or girl) nearing retirement who wants the pension boost that occurs in retirement plans based upon the last years of employment.

    With no leadership or management experience before assuming executive management of a $15 million "company" with 300 employees and responsibility for the safety of 1,500 children, they have no clue how to make the tough choices principals must face every day. All they can do is “check the boxes,” kick the can of problems down the road, and take care of their friends. A sizable minority raises cronyism to the level of corruption.

    Sadly, a great teacher rarely will become a competent principal.
Systemic Failure #3: “Inclusion classes -- everyone loses

    Inclusion classes are directly responsible for more irreparable damage to the education of a generation of our children than any other single systemic failure in this analysis. Despite good intentions, inclusion classes are an abject failure because of simple physics, not because of philosophy. Their failure has nothing to do with what you might think about “equal opportunity” or about the rights of SPED and ESL students. The failure is that they violate the reality that two objects cannot occupy the same place at the same time – pitting several mandated requirements competing against each other for the same block of time, under conditions where no teacher can succeed with all at the same time. And the inclusion students are hurt most of all.
Systemic Failure #4: Special Education – Hijacked to become a bridge to failure

    Up front, a vital caveat: special education is a wonderful concept, a powerful benefit to those who need it, and potentially the most positive achievement of education in the past century. It absolutely is needed and is of great benefit to many students.

    This chapter is not about the one-third of special education students where the IEP or 504 is a crucial and valuable asset – it is about the two-thirds of special education students where the IEP is a total farce.
Systemic Failure #5: “Bureaucrat” – Our newest four-letter word

    Teachers have learned to deal with no-show parents, students who do not care, lack of textbooks, differentiated learning in classes of 30 students, cronyism, and crumbling infrastructures. They hunker down, and accept these as part of the job. But there is one stakeholder that still can anger even the most burned-out teacher – bureaucratic “educators” creating rules and procedures that create large burdens, yet do nothing to help education. These are the bureaucrats that pass down directives on how to teach, with little apparent understanding of teaching.

    Bureaucrats calling themselves “Educators” are killing education.
Systemic Failure #6: Burned out teachers who have given up fighting the impossible mandates

    Teachers certainly are part of the problem today, and deserve their #6 ranking on the list of major systemic issues harming education. However, it is not the 5% of all teachers who should be fired for poor teaching that is the problem. The system could and must be fixed to deal with those teachers. The real issue is the overwhelming majority of teachers that has burned out and given up. Teachers today are the Vietnam Veterans of the 70s. They have begun to evidence many of the same symptoms of soldiers who came back from Da Nang with me in 1968, and were met with insults and spat upon for trying to serve their country. Today I “serve” as a teacher with dozens of teachers who I have watched morph from being great teachers, to highly defensive ones just going through the motions.
Systemic Failure #7: The untouchables – Parents and Teacher Unions

    The problem with discussing the contribution of these two groups to systemic failures in education is that they are untouchable in any practical manner. It is hard to see what can be done to directly (there are indirect options) influence the minority of parents whose actions (or inaction) hurt the education of their own children. And the difficulties with changing union approaches to education are well known, and would be a topic that could fill three more books.
Systemic Failure #8: Rewards unrelated to performance

    The final systemic failure in education is that the vital cause-and-effect relationship between an employee’s rewards, and their performance, does not exist for teachers. Worse, the only significant differentiator in pay between two teachers in the same position is that one might be receiving special assignments (coaching, club leaders, etc.) because of blatant cronyism in administration’s assignment of those duties.
The solution – Surprise! There is one, and it is not more money!

    The final chapter in Lifting The Curtain is a set of twelve practical and achievable solutions to the systemic failure of urban education. All will be strongly contested by those with vested interests in the current system, and who profit from the terrible education we are providing our children. Expect loud opposition from bureaucrats whose jobs depend upon churning out ever more useless and harmful mandates, the "clique" of cronies who abuse the system, and a minority of parents who want to just see Johnny "pass" whether or not he actually learns anything.

    And the surprise of all is that these initiatives will reduce education costs rather than just throw more money at the failed policies that have destroyed urban education for our children.