@Google Presents: John Merrow, "The Influence of Teachers"

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 14.12.2011

>> Female Presenter: I'm honored to introduce John Merrow one of the most
influential education reporters in the nation. John
Merrow began his career as an education reporter for NPR
in 1974 with the weekly series Options in Education. He
served as a host of the Merrow Report, an award winning
documentary series, and is currently as the education correspondent for
PBS News Hour. Merrow's report has taken him from the
community colleges to the kindergarten classrooms to
front lines of teacher protests to policy debates on
Capitol Hill. His varied reporting has continued to be
at the forefront of education journalism. John's book,
you all have a copy, The Influence of Teachers was
released in February and was deemed eminently valuable
and a 'must read' by our nation's top education leaders.
John also maintains a weekly blog "Taking Note" where he's become
welcome an eminent education voices on the web. To state
it simply, without John, the country would not know much
about what's really happening in our schools. So please join me
in welcoming John Merrow. Thank you.
>> John Merrow: Thank you very much. It is a treat to be at Google.
Is this working? Are you guys good here? You want me to
speak up? It's okay. It's okay. Yeah. Thank you very
much. Boy. I wanted to talk about a couple of things.
Sort of a general theme. What's wrong with this picture
when you think about American public education. It was
Thoreau who said the mass of men lead lives of quiet
desperation. I think he was talking about high school
kids. We have not figured out how to make high school a
rewarding experience. As a consequence we have 6,000 kids
leaving, voting with their feet every single school day.
More than a million young people. And oftentimes that's
a defensive and perfectly rational decision because high
school is often humiliating for an awful lot of young
people. I don't want to just talk about the stuff that's
going wrong. I'd really like to talk about solutions
especially because Google and people like the Google
people have it in their capacity to change, to demand
school, changes in the way schools function. And
actually the way I think about it is that -- there are
some of you in this room over the age of 30 perhaps.
Maybe one or two. But anyone over the age of 30 went to
school and there were essentially three justifications for going to school. And today, only one of
those three applies. And I do write about it in the book.
But quickly, when I went to school or even my
children went to school, you had to go there because that's
where they kept the knowledge. It was in the books. And
the encyclopedias. Remember they were on the shelf?
It was in the head of the teacher. That doesn't apply
anymore thanks in large part to Google and the Internet.
It's this constant 24/7 flood of information that
our children are swimming in or perhaps drowning in. But
information is not knowledge. So you don't have to go
to school because the information is there. So therefore,
you need a different kind of school. You need a school
which helps kids sift through this information and
turn it into knowledge. Maybe even into wisdom. So that
you need a school that helps young people separate wheat
from chaff. And since we want them to choose the wheat,
that means you need schools which are self-consciously
aware of their duty to teach values. Second reason
that my kids or I, was socialization. So the Italian-American
kid could learn to get along with the Puerto Rican kid.
The boy get along with the girl so on so forth. There
is an app for that today. A lot of them. And our kids
are socializing like crazy. They are going Google
plus and Facebook and Farmville and they are -- it's
pen pals on steroids. You probably don't know what pen
pals are. [laughter] So you need a different kind of school. Because
that 14-year-old that your 14-year-old is socializing
with might not in fact be 14. Might in fact be
a lot older. Might have some nefarious motives. So kids
need to be helped to understand that that stuff that
they're sending is more permanent than a tattoo. Just because
young people are digital natives does not make them
digital citizens. And there's a role for adults in
that. The third justification for school, for then and
now, is custodial care. We need a place to send our
kids because we're going to work. We want them to be safe.
But they are not safe in a school which is only providing
custodial care. If it is a school which doesn't understand the technology and the new responsibility
for adults. If it's in a school that doesn't understand
that it's no longer enough to be an answer factory.
Then that becomes a dangerous place. Because kids are
smart. They are inventive. They are restless and they
will start using this technology in harmful ways. And
there is a lot of that going on. It's called cyber-bullying.
So one of the reasons I wrote this book is we
need a different kind of school. We need a different
kind of teacher. And I -- there are a number of issues
they'd like to jump around if you don't mind. Because
there's a lot wrong with this picture. One is that,
you know, everything else has changed. Schools have
changed very little. Schools tend to use technology to
control. And so as most of our schools are these answer
factories, kind of regurgitation education. And that turns
kids into consumers. They are producing on demand. But
they're really just consuming what you fed them and
giving it back. That's not what we want our young people
to be. We want them to be producers. As I say, you
still need a building. You need a place for our kids to
go. But there's no reason in God's green earth to
respect the walls. Yes, send them to a building, but don't
respect the walls. Young people in the school here,
in Mountain View, should be, could be, and perhaps are
in some of the schools connected to young people in other
places. Working on projects, creating knowledge. Forgive
me, Amanda and Vanessa, because you heard this example. I spoke at
the Commonwealth Club last night and they were
in the audience. But in my -- I live in -- now live in New
York having just moved from Palo Alto about a year ago.
But looking out the window of our apartment building,
I notice that on each corner there is a large trash receptacle
and our neighborhood is clean. And I was working on
a piece for the News Hour. We were filming up in the south
Bronx and I don't know why I noticed it, but on an intersection
there was just one garbage can. I thought, "okay, well,
let's not think of them as garbage cans." And the
streets were dirty. So don't think of these as garbage
cans. I renamed them 'cleanliness opportunities'. So my
neighborhood had four cleanliness opportunities. I
thought, what a terrific project. Tell the eighth graders to get their smart phones and
go to their corner and take the pictures. And then, the teachers
-- those eighth grade teachers -- in all the middle
schools in New York City to do the same thing. And then figure
out a way to share that data. And do some data analysis
and do some thinking about it and some writing about
it and maybe get in touch with a mayor. You're creating
knowledge. You're creating trouble. But kids like to do
that. It's positive stuff. You can do it at school, too.
You get a little air quality monitor which doesn't cost
very much and you go monitor the air quality. You don't
want to take a field trip or can't take a field trip. Go walk
outside the build . But do it at 9 in the morning or 11 and so on and
so forth. Share that data; maybe you'll find some
anomalies. I looked it up the other day, Texas has about 4,000
miles of fast-running water. Fast-running. It's not
that sluggish stuff at the border. Why not have the
science classes in high schools go to the water? Sample
the water. Acidity. Alkalinity. Speed, Color, Detritus. Share
the data. And where you find anomalies, gee, the water
gets much more acidic down here. Let's find out why.
That's a reason to go to school, because you are creating
knowledge. And that's the challenge. It's -- the
imperative, I would say. High school is boring. And it
is not producing the kind of young people we need to fuel
the economy to keep the country moving. I know Sandra
Day O'Connor spoke here recently and talked about civic illiteracy. Doug was telling me
that. Well, you have illiteracy on all the fringes because
we are focusing so deeply and so intensely on basic
literacy and numeracy. There are least three literacies
that are essential. Basic literacy. Numeracy and creativity.
But we're so focused on the first two, we're driving out
the third. I feel passionate about this because I don't
think we're moving in the right direction. I think we
have this collision course maybe just ships passing in
the night. People understand what young people need or
even what the economy needs and yet they're having this
imperative to get test scores up. And so, the narrowing
of a curriculum continues. Even though we moan and groan
about it, we're still cutting art, music, Phys Ed, even
science. And there's this pressure to say, "well, if we
get these test scores up", and so, some of these test
people are saying well, let's just test in more subjects.
We tested in science. We tested in music then we'd have
to have music as a, which is. So what you have
now. Let me use Florida as an example since it's
well-known for its evaluation system developed under
former governor Jeb Bush, who is a genuine intellectual
and a deep thinker about public education. And on his
watch and even before they set up something called FCAT
Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. The state of
Florida spends 10,900, call it 11,000 dollars a year per pupil. The FCAT
costs 20 bucks. So they are using a 20 dollar instrument to measure the use, the efficacy
of their 11,000 dollar investment. That's fundamentally
insane. And I think of my own car. I drive a used
Toyota 4runner. I think it's a 2002 which cost me
12,000 dollars. And I spend 500 dollars a year evaluating
it. The equivalent of the FCAT. So I spend 500
for my 12,000 dollar investment. Florida spends 20
bucks for its 11,000 dollar investment. You do the math.
And by the way, my evaluation of my car takes one
day. 365 days a year, it takes one day. Florida kids go
to school 180 days. I have met teachers in Florida who
say they spend between one-fifth and one-sixth of their
time on that FCAT. Essentially one day a week out of five
day week. Or one day out of every six days. Either prepping
for the FCAT, talking about the FCAT, practicing
the FCAT or giving the FCAT. So it's not just that
they don't spend money on the evaluation of it. They
spend a lot of time. Time is opportunity. Those days are
gone. You spend them drilling. You aren't going to spend
them doing the other things that you could be doing
in school. And what then? Then they take the scores on this
cheap test and use it to make judgments about kids and,
of course now, increasingly about teachers. It is in a sort
of, you know when I say what's wrong with this
picture, there's the, that's a major piece of what's
wrong with th3 picture. But, and the situation is has
a potential for getting worse because of a digital divide.
A growing number of young people do not have access
to high speed, to bandwidth. Even if they have the
connections, the toys, they don't necessarily have the
speed of connection. But access is nowhere near enough
because the mind set has to be production. The mind set
has to be schools that say -- and educators who ask a
fundamental question -- schools say, "how intelligent are
you? How intelligent are you? How intelligent are you?
Let's compare." That's not what we want. We want
schools to say, "How are you intelligent? How are you
intelligent? How are you intelligent?" Figure that out
and create opportunities to maximize that growth. Kids
are smart. And I said before if they're in schools which
are just doing regurgitation education they are probably
going to use that education in bad ways -- often in bad
ways. If the imperative of education is numeracy, literacy and creativity, then schools should
be saying, "how are you creative? How are you creative?
How are you creative?" And figuring out ways to build
that. There are all these wonderful possibilities
that we need to, we need to demand it actually. How many of you have
children in school? Okay. So this is probably not, well
it's slightly skewed because there are many young people.
But in fact, in the country only about 20 percent of households
have school age children. So there's an 80 percent
who do not have a immediate direct interest in public
education. Now you start putting in grandchildren, the
numbers change a little bit. There's still a huge
number of people who do not have a direct immediate
interest in what's happening in public school. So part
of what the school people need to do is figure out how
to connect with that 80 percent. And part of the way
you connect with that 80 percent is when the kids become
producers of knowledge. When the work they do reaches that
80 percent. I'm recruiting teachers now to probably
middle school or high school kids to go out in a team and
just in their own neighborhood, go into stores -- the deli
can be the doorman of the building, the gas station guy,
the mechanic, somebody at Google -- and of course frame
it shoot their own video. Frame it the same way each
time and ask the person to recite a couple of lines from
a poem. And you want the 80 percent. You don't want --
you got a kid in school -- you're disqualified. You want someone
who doesn't have a kid in school and you create a montage
of him saying "to be or not to be that is the question.
Whether it is noble in the mind's eye" and so on. You stitch it
together and you put it up on YouTube and those 12 people
who don't have kids in school then say, "hey, do you see
what they're doing in school? By the way, did you see
me?" So you are going to build an audience. It's a drip,
drip, drip thing. But suppose in every community, four or
five teachers did that in different parts of the town.
You'd have people saying, "wow." And of course, the kids
would be learning. They'd be creating something. The
kids would be learning a real set of skills. It's not
easy to get people to relax and look into the camera and
say the lines and so, it's a whole set. Then, of course,
you have to do the editing. So there's a whole set of
skills for the kid. And there is the thrill of
production. There is the ownership. You know Marx had
it right about folks being separated from the fruits of
their labor. Very few people get to do what Amanda and I
do which is start something here and go all the way
through to the end. That's the opportunity that we want
our kids, - we should want our kids to have. It's why
they thrive in extracurricular stuff. Because they own
it. So let me say, defining the problem. Now, this
general heading is what's wrong with this picture. The
big thing that's wrong with the picture is how we define
the problem. When we talk about public education. You
know, I would say that it's not that we have aimed too
high and failed. We've aimed too low and we have
succeeded. You know, we simply do not ask enough of our
young people. And we don't ask the right kinds of stuff.
Educators talk about rigor. We need more rigorous education. Nobody has ever looked that word
up apparently. You know that rigor mortis -- connect
the dots. Rigor means harsh, yielding, painful.
And that's an adult mindset about what education supposed
to be. It's wrong. It should say challenging. But you
can't even get them, break them of that habit which unfortunately
is very revealing. As I say we've aim too low and
we've succeeded. The second huge 'what's wrong with this picture'
is the achievement gap. Somebody define the achievement
gap for me? Go ahead. What's the achievement gap?
>> Male #1: [inaudible]
>> Who's the gap between? >>Female #1: The rich and the poor
>> John Merrow: Rich and poor? Actually not usually. I'm sorry?
>>Female #2: [inaudible]
>> John Merrow: Yes, it's in terms of race. It's in terms of white
kids versus black kids or black and Hispanic kids. I'm
not sure if it occurs to anyone that that in itself could
be something of a racist construct. If we could only get
these kids who aren't white to do as well as the whites do [chuckles wryly].
And I kind of think of that -- because so my way of
playing with that idea -- but often what we do is we have
an achievement gap between white kids and nonwhite kids.
If we could just get these kids --. So the focus in school
is often on the test scores which is the output. There's
not much conversation about a couple of other gaps. The
gap in opportunity. Gap in expectations. Sometimes a
gap in leadership. But if you have at least two of those
three, often you'll have an outcome gap. But if you
only focus on the outcomes, then you end up drilling those
kids. There's a well-known vocabulary gap when young
people start preschool or kindergarten. Number of words
is -- people argue about whether it's 3 million or 30
million more words that the middle class or upper middle
class white kid has heard than the poor kid. But if
you're only focusing on the vocabulary gap, what will
happen in poor schools is they'll start drilling kids on
vocabulary. Well, that's not how those white kids learn
those words. They learned them in conversations. They
learned by using words in social and family kinds of but
schools where they're focused just on the outcome, which
is what's going to be tested, they subvert the process
and make it painful. I often say that what we really
should talk about is the Asian/white achievement gap.
You say, "My God will you look at this Asian/white achievement gap." We got to do something.
These white kids are way behind. We got to start drilling
the white kids. Let's eliminate recess for the white
kids. Let's get rid of art and music for the white kids.
I hope that would suggest the absurdity of it. That would
be one of the ways of thinking about what we need to
do in public education. I'm making it sound very bleak.
And I don't mean to. I actually like to show you a little
clip of what we're working on now. Part of our problem
is an absorption, a fascination with magic bullets.
Silver bullets. This will do it. If we just could
bring in Teach for America, everything would be fine.
If we just could have charter schools or vouchers or
some one thing. The New Orleans in August 2005 was
virtually destroyed by hurricane Katrina and the subsequent
flooding when the levees broke. The school system had been --. We
started reporting from there not long after that and, in
fact, just finished filming in November. In October,
maybe. So really six years. We have six years worth of video
that we're now editing into a documentary film, we hope, if
we get lucky and raise enough money to finish it that
way. And it's a remarkable story. And with your
permission, I'll show you a little bit. [drum beat] [helicopter noise]
[slow brass jazz music] In the fall of 2005, six weeks after
Hurricane Katrina made landfall I arrived in New
Orleans. I think I saw it in the paper God answered my
>>Jimmy Fahrenholtz: Yeah, I'm not a particularly religious person. That's just
one of my asides. God didn't answer my prayers. I think that
we got lucky.
>>John Merrow: We got lucky. >> Jimmy Fahrenholtz: Yeah
>> John Merrow: I was in New Orleans to report on the city's
beleaguered public school system for the PBS News Hour.
All but a handful of the schools sustained incredible
damage. 60,000 students were displaced; many homeless.
Their teachers scattered across the nation. And in the
midst of this great tragedy an unexpected sentiment had
>> Jimmy Fahrenholtz: The storm has come through and done the
damage. Look at what we can take from that, what we can use it for. It's a tool.
[construction noises] >> John Merrow: For those who have been championing
drastic reform, the opportunity was irresistible. Hurricane
Katrina had shut down the city of New Orleans and with
it, its schools, long considered among the worst in the nation.
The greatest experiment in the history of American public
education was about to begin.
>> [slow music finale]. [pause]
>> [upbeat jazz music]. [traffic noises]
>> Principal Laurie: It's powerful. I feel so honored. It's just an honor,
to be here at this point in time, to be part of this new
beginnings. [traffic noises]
>> John Merrow: December 14, 2005. Much of the city is still
deserted. In less than 24 hours, public school will
re-open. No one is sure how many students to expect.
Here at O. Perry Walker High School, the pressure is on.
Hopefully never ever again in the history of this country, not mention the world,
will any group of folks be given an opportunity because
of a Katrina or some other natural disaster. But the
reality is we have this opportunity and we need to seize
this moment.
>> Female teacher: We have to be on our toes when the kids come in. And
you set the stage. We all know that from teaching. If
you've taught one month, you know the first day sets the
>>Male teacher #1: Some of us as teachers we're going to want to go back
the way it was done before. A lot of the children are going
to be expecting things to look like they did before. And
it's just going to be interesting how we can create a new
vision of what -- who we are and what we want to be.
>>John Merrow: Business as usual was out the door. Walker was
re-opening as a public charter school. It would be
independent of the local school board for four years. If
it didn't prove its worth during that time, it would
>> Male teacher #2: We were slaves to the old system, [coworkers agree] but the shackles
have been removed from us so now we are free. We are
free to do the things that we need to do as teachers to
educate. I feel free. [laughter].
[water sounds].
>> John Merrow: The raging river whose waters destroyed New Orleans
begins here, 1400 miles away in northern Minnesota. And
it's here at the Mississippi river's source that charter
schools which would play a vital part in the rebirth of
New Orleans were born. It was at a meeting in 1988. The
driving force was labor union leader Albert Shanker.
>> Albert Shanker: I believe very strongly that what you need to do is
give the professionals and the school the right to run
the schools. Stop telling them what to do.
>> John Merrow: What Shanker was proposing was unheard of. Most of
the country's 100,000 public schools were run from
central offices, top down. Shanker wanted to give control
to teachers and to principals who rarely got to decide whom
to hire or fire or how to spend the money.
>> Shanker: Set the goals for them and tell them what you're going
to measure five years from now and at the end of that period of
time there ought to be real rewards and real punishments
or real consequences for making it or not making it.
>> Female teacher #2: Look up here.
>> John Merrow: Shanker and others hope that every school district
would create at least one charter school as a laboratory
for other schools to learn from. But the idea of giving
power to individual schools was vigorously opposed by
school boards. Many states passed laws banning charter
schools or limiting their numbers. By 2004, the
country's 15,000 school districts had opened only 3,000
charter schools. Charter schools were marginal at best.
Then came Katrina.
>> Leslie Jacobs: I went into the city in October and you felt like you
were in a Hitchcock movie. It was like a smart bomb had
gone off. It was buildings. There were no people; there were no birds;
there were no animals. There were no signs of movement. Schools
are shuttered. The city is shuttered. I think there was
the strong belief, at that point in time, that with the
schools shuttered and the opportunity to start it over
again, we were going to take advantage of that and do a
much better job.
>>Leslie Jacobs: [voice over piano music] Everyone in New Orleans wants the same things
-- safe streets, good jobs, better schools.
>> John Merrow: Insurance executive and recent mayoral candidate, Leslie Jacobs,
served on the Orleans Parish school board for four years.
>> Leslie Jacobs: It's probably the most frustrating experience I ever had in
my lifetime. I work 30, 40 hours a week, every week, not paid. I
accomplished nothing. [band music plays] The valedictorian of one of our
high schools could not walk across the stage and get her
diploma because she failed the graduation exit exam in
math seven times.
>> Aesha Rasheed: It was kind of this poisonous environment, I felt.
There was a very toxic environment in education in New
Orleans before Katrina.
>>John Merrow: At the time was the education reporter for the
>> Aesha Rasheed: I think that there were many good teachers but when
you're constantly labeled as failing and you aren't supposed
to be failing, I think the adults start to carry that
feeling of failure, too.
>> John Merrow: The problems weren't just academic and in the district's
central office, corruption was rampant. 24 school
employees had been indicted on fraud charges. 71 million
federal dollars were unaccounted for. New Orleans'
public schools were on the verge of bankruptcy.
>> Aesha Rasheed: I remember thinking like how were you going to
resolve this depth of corruption, this depth of
disenfranchisement, these deep feelings of inadequacy?
How do you resolve that in a system that has to keep
going? And so, I used to think that if there could be
just a few months where there was just no school, right? Then
Katrina happens, right? And you're kinda like, "well, there you go."
>> John Merrow: In November 2005, with most New Orleanians still
displaced, lawmakers in Baton Rouge took action. [muted jazz trumpet music]
>>Female broadcaster: The house and senate voted late yesterday to approve Louisiana
governor, Kathleen Blanco's, proposal for the state
to take over schools in New Orleans. [jazz harmonica music]
>> John Merrow: In an unprecedented move, the state seized control of
100 of New Orleans' worst schools; 90 percent of the
entire district. Their challenge was immense.
>>John Merrow: Some people have said, "Well, Katrina was in some way a
>>Principal John Hiser: Let me tell you something. If you looked into the
eyes of children who have been through that, they would
never say that.
>>Principal Hiser: And what is your name, sir?
.>> Male student: Kelvin Dawkins >>Principal Hiser: Dawkins, is that correct?
>> Principal Hiser: Kids don't say that.
>> Principal Hiser: Anybody who works with children knows damn well
Katrina was not a blessing in any way shape, form, or fashion.
[children chatting] I have listened to all of it:
"I left my teddy bear behind. I left my room behind, my
games behind, my friends behind, my grandma behind".
>> John Merrow: In spite of the obstacles, the ambitious plan was for
the state to fix the schools. Leslie Jacobs was
>> Leslie Jacobs: I'm still not convinced today that a Department of Ed has
the capacity to run schools. That's really not what
state Department of Eds are set up to do.
>> John Merrow: But Jacobs, then on the state Board of Education, did
not want the local school board to run the show, either.
She saw a way to take care of both problems, give the
power to the schools.
>> Leslie Jacobs: I do not believe charter schools are a silver bullet, period. But if
you're a good school leader and you have the freedom of a
charter school, you're going to run a good to great
>>John Merrow: In New Orleans, charter schools were not going to be
competing with the traditional public school system. The
goal was for them to replace that system. [children talking] As students
returned to old O. Perry Walker for the first day of class
since Katrina, Principal Laurie made sure they understood
this was the start of something new. >> Principal Laurie: You guys know that we're
now a charter school versus New Orleans Public School; you know that, right? What that means
is that we're no longer under the governor's structure of New Orleans Public
Schools. This is now the Algiers Charter School Association. And so, what
they did--.
>> John Merrow: Six years later New Orleans is still rebuilding. The
school system that once had 60,000 students is now a
system of schools. 75 percent of them charter schools
with 40,000 students. Academic performance has improved
every year. Transforming the Big Easy has been anything
>> John Merrow: That's the rough first ten minutes of the film that
we're working on now. It's a remarkable story. It's a
story of what's possible. They're still test-score driven. I don't think they're asking that
question, 'how are you intelligent?' But they're getting
there. And it's a story of what's possible and, by golly,
it's a story, California needs to watch, needs to
be aware of because this is an incredibly -- fill in your
own adjective state -- when it comes to public
education. I did a documentary in 2005, a history of public
education in California, called First to Worst. Sad
to say, we could do a sequel if there were another word that's
more superlative than worst. [chuckles wryly] "First
to Worst to Even Worse'. The rich/poor gap has grown. The funding is still pretty screwed
up with about 400 of the state's 1000 school districts
having private foundations that create a kind of quasi
public/private system. But our hope is that film. Have any of you seen a film called Waiting
for Superman? My hope is that we'll undo some of the damage that,
that -- what to me was a propaganda -- well made propaganda
film -- will undo some of that damage. We're working
a second documentary, in addition to our work for PBS,
about a woman named Michelle Rhee who was the chancellor
in -- people are nodding their heads. She's halftime in
California now. She's married to the mayor of Sacramento.
But she was chancellor in Washington, D.C. for three
years plus. And we followed her on the News Hour. If you
saw her in "Waiting for Superman", there's a scene where
she fires somebody. That was our footage. We had a bit of legal squabble with
the producer for Waiting for Superman about that. Basically they wanted
to use it without paying for it. And we had to threaten
to sue and they caved when I threatened to boycott the
Hollywood premier in my underwear. [laughter] They wrote
us a big check at that point. But it wasn't much fun. But anyway,
there's a documentary about Michelle Rhee that's coming
as well. Let me see if there's is anything you would
like to ask or say. And I'm not -- I guess you want the microphone.
So maybe would you say your name and --.
>> Male #2: I'm Harvey [inaudible] and near the end of that clip it said that almost all
or 75 percent of the schools were run by private
foundations. Is that --.
>> John Merrow: They're charter schools. They're run by charter
operators. They're not for-profit though. [audience member responds inaudibly] They're
actually are no for-profit charter schools there.
There's one that has a connection to a for-profit operator. But what New Orleans did -- because
you've seen the research about charter schools and
you know that a lot of them are no better than regular public
schools--, they are public schools. But what New Orleans
did, even though it was desperate to open schools, it
turned down most of the people who asked for a charter.
Who applied for a charter. They had about 50 applicants.
They probably needed 20 schools. They only approved
six charters and by setting that bar very high
at the beginning, that didn't guarantee outcomes,
but it certainly made it much more likely that they
would be successful. Yeah, please.
>>Female #3: Hi. I'm Devon. And I have two questions. What do
you think the barriers are. I perceive one as being the
fact that a lot of the teachers aren't prepared to
utilize the media, all the technology that we have available
right now. And also, what do you think about testing?
Do you think it's possible to create the tests that would
allow us to teach the way we'd like to? Or do you think
those need to be generated?
>> John Merrow: Those are two terrific questions. Let me take the
second one first about testing. The answer is yes. There
are good tests. There's a program called the International Baccalaureate which has a challenging
curriculum and tests that are built to test that curriculum. The flaw is that we use
cheap tests. The company named Harts which makes flea
powder and kitty litter spends more money testing its
products than we spend testing what our children have
learned. I mean that Florida example is probably not an
outlier. 20 bucks on an 11,000 dollar investment. But
sure you can have good tests. We are in the process now
of developing national tests. There's something called a
Common Core Curriculum. And there are people trying to
develop tests. My feeling, and by the way they're
having trouble finding the psychometricians because they're all working
for Harts. Or Toyota or somewhere else where they take
testing the products very carefully. My hunch is that you could develop, for
example, an exam in physics and you wouldn't have to
develop a new one each year if you said, "these are the
five aspects of physics and you get -- here are 100 good
questions in this aspect". And just change the numbers.
So you can't teach each of the problems. Release the whole test.
Release all 3,000 items and say the national physics test
this year is going to be 30 of these questions. Nobody's
going to. And you just change the numbers. I mean, you
could do something like that. So you wouldn't have to
spend a ton of money developing new tests every year and
you could have really good tests. Barriers to using the
technology. There are several. I don't think, everyone
talks about teachers and their technological illiteracy
or their fear and I think those are real. I think a
larger barrier is the adult need for control. And you
know they've gone through. You all probably know more
about this than I do, I'm sure you know more about this than I do, the notion of a walled
garden to keep kids from going off and looking at porn
or whatever. And those are -- there are some challenges
there. My wife was head of a girls school in Palo Alto
for many years and she would not allow laptops because
she felt that when you put this guy up, you're creating
a barrier. And she was actually, Steve Jobs was one of
the parents, and said to him, "when there's a tablet, we're
okay with it." And if you ever been in a college classroom,
been in the back of the room while somebody is
up front lecturing and everybody has their laptops
open, they're doing all kinds of stuff. But the barrier,
yes, teachers need some help. But of course they can get
the help from the kids. The kids are these digital natives.
If they can let go. But a larger part is that schools
tend to use the technology for control, to get information.
Instead of this idea of creating. And so, you have to
change the mind set which says, "yeah, we're going to be
in the building, but we're not going to respect the
walls." We're going to do real projects that are real
work. The idea of using technology as a better way of
getting kids to regurgitate is profoundly offensive. I
mean, there was a piece in the Times about how some
school they were using the clickers to give true/false
questions. [laughs] I mean, that's technology -- they've invested money to
buy these things it's insane. But it's a combination of I
think ignorance and fear on the part of the adults. Yes,
>> Male #3: I'm Hubert Chang, software engineer here and graduate of the
International Baccalaureate program. So I'm wondering.
There's a book called Freakonomics and another book
called SuperFreakonomics in which the author is talking
about education, I think. So I'm wondering whether you've read it
and what you think about it. Specifically they gave two
points. One point is that the achievement gap may not so
much be the result of going to good schools versus bad
schools but it may be the attitude of the children's
parents. Like in black communities, doing well in school
is sort of considered to be acting white.
>> John Merrow: Acting white yeah.
>>Male #3: Like there are negative consequences of that for those
children. And secondly they also make a point because of
the feminine movement, right now compared to let's say 40
years ago let's say the IQ and the quality of teachers
have decreased a lot because it used to be that a lot of
smart women were teachers and now they're taking other
jobs leaving less smart people to become teachers.
>> John Merrow: There are two sort of complicated thoughts. So I
can -- I may have to ask you to remind me the first one
again. But on the notion of the teaching force. There's
no question that the composition of the classroom has
changed. It used to be that there were very few jobs for
talented women other than teaching and a few others. And
so, schools were filled with capable, smart and so on.
And we had a system then where we trusted the teacher.
Go to your parents. My mom saved all my report cards --
bless her heart. [laughter] And when I was an adult, gave me the
report cards. And by then I had children of my own. And
I was -- and of course I looked at them which was a huge
mistake. But one thing I noticed was that in my
elementary school report cards, there was a block about
this big for the teacher to write comments. Johnny's
doing such and such -- he's running with scissors -- whatever.
Then with my children. My older son who's now 43. It
was smaller. By the time his -- my youngest -- there was
virtually no. There was couple of check places where
they'd say does this or that. What I inferred from that
is we were moving from a system of trust to a place where
we really didn't care what the teacher said. Because we
didn't trust the teacher. And now, we're all about
verifying. We're going to measure how you do on the
test. And then we're going to draw some conclusions about your teacher. So we
move from trust to verify. And it was Ronald Reagan who
said. when talking about the Soviet Union , trust but
verify. And that's really what you need in education.
You need a system which trusts teachers. We have this
big argument going on in this country defining the
problem. Is the problem we don't have enough good people
in the classroom teaching our children? Or is the
problem that it's a crummy job? If you're a teacher, you
cannot get up and say, "I need to use the bathroom." You
just can't do it. I mean, you can't make a phone call.
You don't get to spend time with your colleagues. You
don't have a 20 percent rule or anything approaching that. American teachers spend more time in
front of their children than do teachers in countries
that are eating us for lunch like Finland and South
Korea. Their teachers are expected to be able to watch
each other and collaborate and talk about kids. How's Charlie
doing in your class? So there's a respect for the profession.
So the argument is do we need better people?
Or do we have to make it a better job. The better people are,
you know, Teach for America. Waiting for Superman. If
we could just get rid of those bottom 10 percent. And
next year there will be a new bottom 10 percent. [chuckles
wryly] The 'better job' people say, "no you need to change the working
conditions." Pay is a problem. Teacher pay has not
moved very much in 40 years. 40 years ago the average
teacher made about 49,000 dollars, adjusted for inflation. Today it's 55,000
dollars. That's a raise of 140 dollars a year. I did
percentages but I've forgotten them. 140 dollars a year every year for 40 years.
But it's not the pay that teachers talk about when
they're polled. They want a chance to collaborate. To
do what we do in our work. We don't allow that to
happen. So my hunch is -- and it's the argument of this
book. It's a big argument but it's irrelevant to the
needs of kids. Adults sparring is irrelevant, because as
I said at the beginning, the conditions have changed for
kids in terms of school. But if you made it a better
job, you would by definition -- it would be more
appealing. As you may know 40 percent of first year
teachers leave the profession in five years. It's a huge
drain. And the human capital costs to bring in new
people are huge as well. It's not a rewarding profession
in the sense you have to teach for 20 years before you
start having some real investment. People are saying,
"no, you should pay new teachers more at the beginning.
Forget these pensions. Do an IRA. Give them some
responsibility there and you can change that structure
and bring in different people." But that would be a
necessary condition but not a sufficient condition. Acting white. And the family. I'm probably
an outlier on this. Because I think educators -- the
education profession-- has an arrogance about it that
is entirely undeserved. And that is their attitude implicit
hardly ever stated is just leave your kids at the
door. Leave the money. Leave your kids at the door and
we'll educate them. And that ain't the way it works. The
parents are the principal educators of the child. Whatever
else happens. Child's going to learn more from
you as his mother or father than from a teacher. And
so, schools should capitalize on that, in my view, in
an organic way. And if I were the school superintendent, which
I never will be and I once was -- it's a long story.
I would say in first grade, in kindergarten, the teacher
should say once a week to the class have an assignment
which the parents are a part of. Kindergarten, go home
and ask your mom or your dad your grandmother or guardian what was
the first movie they remember seeing and come tell the class
about it. Go shopping and get the price of this and
that soup and crackers and come tell. Ask your mom about
the first trip she ever took. And you're in second grade
now and so write a little paragraph about it. Interview
your dad about the first movie he ever saw. His favorite
food. Any ordinary humdrum stuff. You know the parent
is going to want to read what her child wrote. And
is going to to want to read what the teacher said about.
And so, it becomes--. It's not that parent involvement
committees that schools set up. It's just in the thing.
In the fabric. And then, you don't get this distinction
between doing well in school as acting white. Rather
it just becomes part of what you do. It doesn't have
to stop in elementary school. They can figure out what
to keep it going. It has to be in the DNA of the education
folks to say, "we know; we're in this together". See?
The job of school is not to teach children. The job of
school is to help grow adults. And they can't do that by
themselves nor should they ever try. But if they say,
"well, my job is to teach." You got it wrong from the get-go.
You say, "our job is to help grow adults." And by the
way, what kind of adults do we want? Listen. Don't give
up. [chuckling] Okay. Come on up. So I mean I think. There's
a way to get around it but it is a real problem. Yes,
>> Male #4: Yeah, so I was wondering what were your thoughts on
studio schools -- thoughts and feelings. And second, it
seems like you really want to evaluate students on a
scalable manner so be able to test them quickly and
efficiently. But your idea of wanting to evaluate each
kid on like what their intelligence is seems like a case
by case evaluation basis. Do you think -- do we have to
break that idea of wanting to scale testing? Do we actually have to have good teaching?
How do you balance those two?
>>John Merrow: Oh, wow -- you have to tell me about studio schools.
>> Male #4: Sorry. So there was a Ted talk about studio schools
schools where work is very project based. They're
running pilot programs in London. Somewhere in England.
>> John Merrow: So can I tell you talk about project based learning
instead? Yeah. I wholeheartedly endorse that as a
concept. I mean, that's really what should be going on.
But it goes back to, journalism school where you're
producing a newspaper or magazine or radio show. That's
project-based learning. When you're in drama and you're
doing a play. It's the kind of stuff that keeps kids in
school when they get to do things like that. I think we
need much more of that. We need -- my quarrel with
things like the Khan Academy which in many ways is
terrific, my quarrel is it's isolating and it's
acquisition of knowledge. Which is important but you
need to go beyond that where you use that knowledge to
create more knowledge. And where you work with other
people. So the more project-based learning the better.
In terms of scalability of testing, I think you need
both. You need something like our National Assessment of
Educational Progress which by the way samples. Doesn't
test every kid. Samples the health of a district or the health of a
school and is reliable. But what you want is if you're
trusting teachers and the teacher is saying 'how are you
intelligent how could we build on that'? Then there's
much more attention to you and there's much more trust of
what I, as your teacher, say about how. And there's some
work that you've done because it's real work. It's more
complicated. It's more expensive than 20 bucks. Yeah.
I think I'm going over time here and I don't want to keep
you from, but I do very much appreciate the opportunity
to talk about what I've been doing for 35 years now and
hopefully for a few more years anyway. Thank you very
>>Male Presenter: Thank-you very much, John.