Public Defenders

Two veteran public high-school teachers parse new books about what they do every weekday.

Appeared in: Volume 10, Number 1 | Published on: August 22, 2014
Nicole Van Tassell and Jared Pulliam teach at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland.
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  • Pete

    A cry on behalf of the educational status quo to preserve and protect the self-serving-interest of those who work in the public education industry.

    Memo to Van Tassell & Pulliam: The public schools exist to serve the public, not to provide accountability-free jobs to those employed in the schools.

    And for over two generations now, America has not been getting close to its money worth for all the resources it has spent on public education.

  • Shadowwind

    A fascinating look into the minds of government-employed “educators”. It’d be even better it had the virtue of being accurate. My heart goes out to the children who are forced to listen to and pretend to learn from these arrogant blowhards.

    • johngbarker

      Insult is not argument.

      • kctaz

        Is to an insult if it is true?

        • johngbarker

          A big “If”

  • elharro

    So, kids from good backgrounds can learn anywhere. And, kids from rotten backgrounds can’t do well no matterElHarro how good their teachers are. Since schools have very little impact on kids because they are wired by their circumstances long before kindergarten, why are we spending so much money.

  • Curious Mayhem

    Yes, this is a bit of self-serving article. With all due respect to Ravitch, charter schools offer a practical way out for children from poorer backgrounds that is here and now; the pie-in-the-sky that she proposes as an alternative is never going to happen. Comparisons with, say, Finland are a joke — Finland is a highly homogenous society with a small, easy-to-oversee population.

    The real difference between private schools, and charter schools in particular, and public schools in general is that parents take an interest. They don’t have to be wealthy or professionals. Within living memory, millions of American immigrant grandparents with limited or no education had enough respect and desire for education for their children and grandchildren to make a large difference in their progeny’s achievements.

  • Anthony

    “To fix the schools we need to fix the society that host them.” Relative to essay, very little can be added to aforementioned quote.

  • Rodrigo Castalan

    “public schools have gotten better over the past thirty years. public schools have gotten better over the past thirty years. Schools
    are placing greater emphasis on the use of technology, interweaving
    disciplines, using differentiation to engage students of all learning
    styles, and allowing greater opportunities for students of all
    backgrounds and learning abilities to succeed in their K–12 education.”

    Great. Thanks for the intensive analysis. How much do they pay you to write 5,000 words that say nothing at all? Why is it constructive to go from talking about flawed statistical analysis straight to spouting meaningless jargon that has almost no bearing on education, qualitatively? Look at that statement, take it apart:

    Seriously, this entire article whines about flawed or not-wholly-substantiated claims, and then the authors make a bunch of data-independent claims and sign off.

  • Boritz

    I didn’t know that educators/education majors could write an essay about their profession without using the word “experiential”. &nbspKudos for breaking the barrier.

  • johngbarker

    Offering job specific vocational training may be more productive than trying to impose single academic track on every student; of course this might imperil the revenues of companies in the reform racket.

  • rheddles

    no pet project can fix the problem, not least because there isn’t one problem—there are many.

    So true. And that’s why the one size fits all public school system generates so much dissatisfaction among those it is supposed to serve that it can be considered nothing but a failed enterprise run for the benefit of its union serfs. But I must give the authors credit for opening comments, unlike the union hack article above.

  • vepxistqaosani

    My brother teaches math in a typically lousy high school. One year, he was called in to replace another math teacher, who had had to leave his position rather precipitously. (He had been found in flagrante with one of his students.)

    The students handed in the previous day’s homework, and my brother graded it that evening. The grades ranged from 0 to 70 on ten questions. When he handed the graded work back, one of the students looked up in horror and said, “You graded this!”

    He replied, “Yes. That’s what I do.”

    “You can’t do that!”

    Looking through the files the previous teacher had left, he discovered that he had used a grading technique that neither he nor I had ever heard of before, but which is apparently quite common in today’s high schools. Each student was given full credit for each question answered — right, wrong, or nonsense. Thus, the students could easily get 100% for the homework component of their grade — which the school system mandated would be 70% of their final grade. The kids could get zeroes on every test and still pass the course with a C.

    They wouldn’t actually have learned anything, of course. But no one cares about that, so long as the teacher makes his numbers.

    This experience finally explained something that had been bothering my brother for several years: How could kids with B and C averages in math from kindergarten to 10th grade arrive for junior-year algebra unable to add, subtract, multiply, and divide?

    So, parents — do not assume that your children’s grades mean anything at all. Quiz them constantly to ensure that they’re actually being taught.

  • FriendlyGoat

    Thanks to conservatives, public schools are being fixed by:

    1) Taking the best students out and putting them somewhere else
    2) Criticizing teachers and their organizations day and night, until we burn them out
    3) Taking money out (in some states) and putting it somewhere else
    4) Inviting privateers to sell the equivalent of $200 hammers and $600 toilet seats via contracting for everything from curriculum to tests to charter administrators to temp employees.

    Thank heavens we have conservatives to show us the way.

  • vepxistqaosani

    I just noticed that the authors of this article both teach in Maryland. I hope they haven’t written any novels … we may not have them around much longer.

    • kctaz

      Thanks for the link. Fascinating and frightening for our Rights

  • vepxistqaosani

    And there is one quick, easy, provably successful education policy that would solve a host of our education problems.


  • kctaz

    “The authors arrive at one overarching conclusion: Public schools outperform their private counterparts, and the numbers that claim otherwise are, to say the least, misguided. In fact, the authors found that, when studies control for demographic variables, students attending a public school will outperform their Catholic school cohorts and perform as well if not better than those in charter schools.”

    Excuse me, but that sounds awfully racist.

  • kctaz

    Ravitch concludes, controversially but still persuasively, that to fix the schools we need to fix the society that hosts them. We cannot address math scores, she says, without also addressing poverty and the plight of children who come of age in it:

    Gaps exist between [advantaged and disadvantaged] students because they have been exposed to very different environments. Some children hear words and have a large vocabulary; others do not. Some children have parents who are college educated; others do not. Some get regular visits to the doctor and dentist; others do not. Some live in comfortable homes in safe neighborhoods; others do not.


    We have free school breakfast, lunch and sometimes even dinner. We have Food Stamps and Medicaid. Why is anyone hungry or going without medical care?
    Also, Ms. Ravitch is describing conditions in this country that certainly were present since our inception and certainly when I was growing up except there were no Government programs then and there is less real poverty today. Yet, I received an outstanding education and I learned as did my peers regardless of class and I was in the lower classes with two alcoholic parents.
    This is a pathetic attempt at pure excuse making.

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