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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Eight Impassioned Suggestions About Where to Focus Stimulus Dollars

Teachers and other experts weigh in on the best ways to invest federal education spending.
By Chris Colin

As part of our special report on federal stimulus dollars in public education, we reached out to a handful of opinionated people to ask where this much-needed money should be spent. With so much to improve, it isn't easy to identify a top priority for education funding, but this eclectic group of experts offered some interesting choices.

Their ideas, along with articles on the impact of massive federal education spending and the policy underlying this infusion of cash, will appear on Edutopia.org soon and in the August/September issue of Edutopia magazine (arriving in mailboxes in early August).

The question: "The nation's public schools are slated to be major -- and deserving -- benefactors of President Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan. What should be the first priority for education spending?"

Jonathan Kozol

Jonathan Kozol

Author of The Shame of the Nation and Savage Inequalities


"The top priority: three full years of federally funded, culturally rich, developmental preschool education of the same high quality wealthy people purchase privately, made available to every child of low income in the nation. Until we do this, the testing of children in third grade, as demanded under NCLB, will be blatantly unfair, rewarding children of the privileged for having already had twice as many years of education as the children of the poor."

Robert Reich

Former U.S. secretary of labor, professor at the University of California at Berkeley, and author of Supercapitalism


"The first priority for education spending on public schools -- apart from the obvious ones of early-childhood education, better teacher pay, smaller class size, smaller schools, and better teacher accountability -- is one that's rarely talked about: making sure young people are healthy enough to learn.

It's impossible for kids to learn if their teeth hurt, they can't see well, they can't breathe easily, and they're hungry. Yet 30 percent of the young people in some of our poorest school districts have untreated dental problems, uncorrected vision problems, untreated asthma, and inadequate diets. The two -- education and health -- go together."

Rafe Esquith

Celebrated elementary school teacher and author of Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire


"Stimulus money being sent to schools should initially be spent on two projects: Matches can be purchased to burn all standardized tests, ending the absurd notion that these exams have anything to do with educating a child and preparing him or her for life. Leftover funds should be spent on travel expenses for great young instructors to observe and learn from outstanding public school teachers with classes that are rigorous, relevant, and joyful."

Clayton M. Christensen

Harvard University business professor and author of Disrupting Class


"The stimulus funds present a big danger by affording schools the opportunity not to change. To the extent the federal government funds new programs, it should transform public education by not funding the old, monolithic system and instead invest in the emerging, disruptive one."

Diane Ravitch

Education historian, educational-policy analyst, and former U.S. assistant secretary of education


"I would install the Core Knowledge curriculum in every school and educate every teacher to teach it. Thus, every child would learn history, science, literature, the arts, and more. This would not cost much, and the balance could be used to create health clinics, social services, and jobs."

Michelle Rhee

Chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools


"Recognizing the link between education and our future prosperity, President Obama has made education a top priority. What most encourages me about the stimulus funds is that he is holding us accountable for using citizens' dollars wisely, in innovative ways that can drive student achievement forward and prepare students for professional life. This can include radical changes and improvements for Title I schools for our children in highest academic and economic need."

Wendy Kopp

Founder and CEO of Teach for America


"We now have evidence of individual classrooms, schools, and even clusters of schools that are changing the life trajectories of kids in low-income communities. The stimulus funding provides a unique opportunity to scale up successful initiatives and reach more children in the highest-need areas."

Nínive Clements Calegari

Cofounder of the 826 National writing centers and of the Teacher Salary Project, member of Edutopia's National Advisory Council


"The single most important change we need is to elevate the status of public school teachers and transform the profession into one that is truly prestigious, wildly competitive, and financially attractive. Until we get and keep the smartest teachers in the classrooms, I fear that none of these other reforms, no matter how well designed, will truly achieve what we so desperately need for our schools and kids."

Comments (16)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Jem's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hats off to supporting teachers and raising our profession up to be respected and regarded as one of the most important professions and ways of life. But, how do we judge one teacher as, "smart"? I believe the teachers I work with are highly intelligent and capable. They are also tired, working at a site which is over 90% Ell and very poor. If we used test scores to judge teachers, which is invalid, then we may not fair well. I strongly believe teacher's salaries must be raised to a living wage plus and with that the bar must be raised. Teachers must be consulted more around the curriculum and we must be educated and re-educated to do so. There still lingers the old school of thought and teaching and it must fade. Growing professionally is a must and collaborating too. My vision of the service educators provide is that of working with children and the community (parents), even politically, to create a healthy society. To do this we need to think outside the box of the curriculum, we need to be innovative with our teaching strategies, and the arts need to be integrated! So many needs! Teaching has become so complex due to our children being so unhealthy.

Dr. Clair Hinckley's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love this teacher! (Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire is one of my very favorite books.)I see so many hours lost because teachers need to prepare students for our AIMS test. Meanwhile, students come to me needing help with integrating and applying math concepts, critical reading, grammar, writing. . . I prep students for the SAT because that preparation makes them better students, better mathematicians, better readers and writers. The proof of that pudding is in their improved performance in their classes and their enhanced scores on OTHER TESTS as well as on the SAT! I don't teach to the test so much as use it as an excuse to teach them what they will need to know to succeed in college.

Dionne Lipscomb's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I read the comments above and agree with all that was stated. Children cannot help where they live; they live where their parents can afford and I believe that children should receive the same quality education from infancy to high school so that not only get off to a stimulating early start but are able to compete with the other children from around the world; they are the leaders of tomorrow and they need to be prepared for the world and its pressures and problems. I also think that some of the stimulus money should go into teacher pay and more professional development that benefits the students we teach. In addition, we need to find other means, rather than testing, testing, testing for our students to demonstrate what they know. I am fortunate to work in a Charter School (the first in Georgia) and what we attempt to do is to do what is best for our students. We have made much progress but we are still learning because our students have a long way to go.

Linda/RetiredTeacher's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Kudos to Kozol, Reich, Esquith, Ravitch and Calegari for their excellent and specific suggestions for improving education for all our children. I'd like to elaborate on Ms. Calegari's comments because I consider them to be extremely important in reaching our goal of providing a first-rate education to every child in our country.

Much has been said about the need to improve the quality of teachers in failing, urban schools, but I have read little about why we are not able to attract the "best and the brightest" to the profession.

In the 1960s when I became a teacher, it was well-known that anyone "with a warm body and a degree" could become a teacher. It was also known that teaching was a job "for girls" and for working class people. Middle class professional people advised their daughters to be teachers "until you start a family," but their sons were routinely counseled out of the profession "because there's no money in it." And so teaching at the K-12 level became a low-status profession that appealed mainly to women and upwardly mobile working class people from non-competitive colleges and universities. Highly educated people who wanted to become teachers were often encouraged to go into higher education. This is still happening today as Ivy League graduates are encouraged to donate two years of their lives to teaching poor kids until they begin their "real" jobs. Think about the message this sends to our young people.

When I applied for a teaching position in a large urban city in 1964, the personnel director didn't even interview me. She just asked for proof of my college degree (No teacher certification was needed) and then whipped out a map of the "inner city" and asked me where I wanted to go. Needless to say, I was not prepared for the challenging job that awaited me; nor were my colleagues. When I became fully credentialed, I went on to suburban schools, as did most of the other teachers.

The current practice of teacher bashing is only exacerbating the situation further. My own sons, graduates of Harvard and Stanford, screamed with laughter when I suggested teaching to them. The equally talented children of my friends have chosen the professions of law, medicine, engineering and academia where they can be certain of high status, decent salaries and professional autonomy. Who will take the place of the Baby Boomers who are now beginning to retire? IN MY OPINION THE DISRESPECT AND DISDAIN SHOWN TO OUR TEACHERS IS THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR CONTRIBUTING TO OUR INABILITY TO ATTRACT AND RETAIN THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST TO THE TEACHING PROFESSION. Every country with an enviable education system shows extraordinary respect for its teachers. It is my understanding that in Korea, Japan and Finland the teacher is revered and accorded the highest status in the country.

The unfortunate treatment of our teachers provides us with one very inexpensive way to bring immediate improvement to American education: We can respect our teachers and empower them to be full professionals. If we want the top college graduates to enter the profession, we need to trust them to make decisions about faculty, curriculum and instruction, evaluation and all other factors that affect the education of their students. Intelligent people want to be decision-makers.

Thank you, Ms. Caligari, for your wise and insightful comments.

Linda/RetiredTeacher's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Sorry but I forgot to include the information that you requested. I am a retired teacher but you can list my name if you choose to do so. I taught primary grades for 42 years and authored the book Teaching Beginning Reading: A Balanced Approach (Fearon, 1994). I live in Long Beach, CA

Linda Mele Johnson
Linda/RetiredTeacher

jJoAnn Cardillo's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I too agree that we need to totally re-invent school. I think we start with a national curriculum and then work our way down to innovation in the classroom and reward innovative programs that work with the opportunity to continue based on fair assessments of the data on the student acheivement and lower drop out rates. Do not treat this as a business, as this is all driven by human beings to children. Value teachers. study teacher efficacy, and develop programs based on the research on this. Woolfolk and Hoy are doing excellent research?Is any one talking to them?

Seren's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

50 words and and Christensen can't come up with a clear thought or two on where the stimulus funds SHOULD be focused? Not enough space or time for a complete, thoughtful or relevant answer? Hum. Wonder teachers trying to prepare students for fill-in-the-bubble standardized tests feel. The irony is painful. As has already been pointed out, Rhee and Kopp offer self-serving edu-speak drivel with no insight as to what we should aim to accomplish.

Johanna Riddle's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

There is no question that we need to thoughtfully reevaluate the purpose and priorities of our educational system. We are way past the "bandaid" point. I am very interested in the initiatives of school districts like Colorado's Adams 50, who are starting over from the foundation up. Educating an entire nation is an amazing and sweeping ideal. But it cannot continue to exist--much less prosper-- as a white elephant lumbering along behind the real world. If you "time warped" a neurosurgeon from 1950 into the present age, he wouldn't even qualify to be a scrub tech. But do the same for a teacher, and he could walk into a classroom and never miss a beat. What is wrong with this picture? Without question, we need to rethink teacher training. It needs to become more rigorous and relevant, with salaries and rewards that reflect that excellence.

Education is also one of the few institutions in our country that simply doesn't respond to client demand. If a for-profit business watched more than fifty percent of their clients walk away, they'd want to know why. And you can bet that they would rethink, and retailor their goods and services to meet those clients' needs. We know that industrial style education doesn't excite or motivate today's students, but the system 'decision makers' seem to do precious little about it. MacArthur Foundation's Digital Youth Project provides great insight into the ways that students prefer to learn outside of school, and holds great implications for today's educational system.

Our nation--all of it--desperately needs to make the connection between education, real life, and the quality of their own lives. It is well known that we are a culture willing to spend plenty of money on the things that we value, like sports and entertainment. But we seem to be missing the relevant link between an educated people and a secure, prosperous, a resourceful nation, and our own personal comfort and security. I teach in Florida, a state heavily populated by retired citizens. Not only do we have the lowest per student funding in the nation--that's right, we are number 50 on the list--but our state Supreme Court actually upheld the right of retirement communities to exempt themselves from paying school taxes. It is my desperate hope that, in my golden years, the person administering my IVs and meds will be able read the labels!

Vickie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Kozol hits the mark with to-do #1.

Next, we need to minimize standardized testing and use it only to inform our teaching. The amount of learning time lost to testing and test prep is enormous, and has zero benefit all, and a negative impact on those who do not perform well. Need I explain?
Then use the money for to-do #1.

Then, start incenting pilots based on different models and see what happens. Waldorf, Montessori...I lent out my book that cites many, "Ethical Visions of Education." The opportunity to be involved in the creation of an exciting model based on core values will pull-in like-minded, high minded teachers who will choose to be part of creating a school that aligns with their core values. Say good bye to cynical attitudes! Teacher quality will automatically rise. Poor teachers will even get better because they will suddenly feel that what they are doing is worthwhile, and enthusiasm is catching.

Finally, ensure school leadership is based on a strong model for change and teacher leadership. Ensure the model is adhered to and is based on ACTION and ACCOUNTABILITY, rather than unending desires for consensus.

William Hickey's picture

[quote]I find these comments particularly lacking in any specifics. They put forward many nice platitudes, but how do you actually do it? I suggest you push people harder in the future to provide some specific plans and do not include their comments it they don't. This was disappointing from people of this stature and I am surprised you let them get away with it.[/quote]

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