Monday, March 11, 2013

Seattle Times Column

Hi everyone. I have an op-ed published in the Times today. Here's the link:

To clarify a couple points:

-The bottom 5% is not referring to academically struggling students. It refers to the bottom 5% in terms of behavior--a much more significant metric.

A struggling student who works hard will have a better shot at life than a "gifted" student who does no work and causes all kinds of problems. Talent is not the issue, it's what you do with it.

So people who are bothered by the 5% idea should re-consider it in these terms. If you object to the idea that there is a bottom 5%, then I hope you never supported the idea of the 1%. There's very little difference in concept, just a different issue.

-It's hard to fit a lot of information in a 600 word column, so some things I would normally elaborate on have to get left out (hence this blog, where I can go on for pages). But the other main thing I would have said more about is that I agree suspensions should not be overused. The recent stories about first graders getting sent home for making guns with their fingers and their pop  tarts is just ludicrous.

Suspensions are also better utilized as in-school, rather than as free time at home, as some people have pointed out. This is absolutely true. If we had the personnel, this is the place where some of that behavior coaching could happen, because they actually have the time for it.

-But the heart of the column is that one or two students simply should not be allowed to jeopardize the educations of the rest of the class, and this point  remains true without exception. To say this is not "giving up" on anyone. It's to accept reality. Some students will fail, no matter what we do. See my recent post -- Everyone Must Agree On This First -- for more on this.

Hope this helps.

(By the way, next post will be a comparison of students from North Korea in South Korean schools. What will Michelle Rhee think of this data?)


Bob Topefer said...

I enjoyed reading your recent article. I think your comment about a free education gets lost on most people. It's gets taken for granted or expected that the government will take care of you. I like the idea of losing this privilege (free education) if a student is constantly disruptive and proven to be detrimental to other students that are in school to learn. BTW,I end up paying twice, my kids go to Catholic schools so it really burns me when I see my tax dollars spent on administrators and specialists to assist kids that are disruptive. I think the public education system needs to hold the parents of students more responsible for the actions of their children. Or, maybe if our education system wasn't totally free then parents and students would be more apt to hold themselves accountable and not waste their own money. If everyone has a little skin in the game it changes the outcome.

My Two Cents Worth, Bob Toepfer

Anonymous said...


Your courageous article was great showing the in-the-classroom reality of school. What about the other kids who are not getting an education because of the screwballs? With so many single parent homes today, those kids grow up without two parents there to help with homework and encouragement. And few role models for proper behavior. Our daughter needed a math tutor in second grade, was not much money, but she is now a biochem major and has a great internship at an oil company. There are parents who spend the extra money to get their kid batting or pitching lessons, make sacrifices so they can play select sports but the school is suppose to make them a genuis? I
could go on and on, but I guess it comes down to values and responsibility. Keep on teaching, we need you!!

Anonymous said...


I taught math for 25 years in an inner city LA high school. Now, I work with new teachers at a local state university. You are so right about finding constructive ways to exclude difficult students.

To get better results, we need more disciplined students and more disciplined AND creative teachers. I have found that difficult students are a big impediment to teachers being more creative in their classroom. Just try giving a little more freedom to the "Rheeses" of the world. Disruptive students often kill good teaching.

In my experience, school administrators spend a good amount of time NOT disciplining these students because they're afraid of being sued. The system has no problem with these kids remaining endless victims of a school system. That is, until they drop out and are either forgotten or handed over to the legal system.

It's an ongoing national tragedy, because we don't have the will to deal with these students.

Thanks for your article.


Anonymous said...

We three retired teachers, ages 92, 69, and 72, feel you reflect the exact feelings of the classroom teachers who strive to do a good job. Bravo on an exceptionally well-written article.

Anonymous said...

I thought you were brave to write the truth. What fascinates me about this week's histrionics into SPS, let's count them this year in total shall we? Is that the focus is on African and African American children. And not Asian, Latino, Indian, Native American, LGBT, Gender based on any other factor or attribute. In a district with a very large percentage of African American Administrative staff I find this current dilemma most interesting.

What is also interesting is that we are teaching a "discipline" a "science" a "subject" in which no distinctions should matter. The idea that you can learn is only a matter of skill set and that does have distinctions based on needs outside of race, color, creed, etc. But no we now have to teach in a culture way that is exclusive and yet inclusive. In a classroom of many colors, incomes, identities this could become the full time job adjusting the method to meet the demands of 35 or so in the room. Forget the subject matter or the idea of community. Nope teach the test may be just a real good idea oh but wait the test discriminates too.

This is a broken record in a broken district.

I should be able to teach a subject color blind an a child should learn it the same way. But this is not about that this is much deeper issue that divides this community.

Sad.Pathetic.Grim. No wonder I quit teaching it is not about Education it is about making sure that you tow the line of whomever is throwing it in your direction. In a district with as many Superintendents as in years, this is a farce and just another waste of valuable time and resources.

---Former teacher

Seattle Teacher said...

Thank you all for commenting and considering these ideas.

And I agree about the idea of considering a fee. And more teachers are open to this idea than you might think. Even a small fee, like $10 a year, might produce a difference for people if they realized this isn't free, and is quite a privilege compared to the hardships faced in lots of other countries with regard to education.

Anonymous said...


Your article is great, and your point is absolutely 100% correct. I am a teacher in Illinois, 6 years at a middle school, with 95% free and reduced breakfast and lunch. I have broken up 3 fights so far, witnessed about 10 more, and saw three teachers leave on extended absences after being injured while trying to break up fights. Thankfully, my classroom is safe and peaceful for the most part. I do have some of the 5% in my classes, but the majority of our school's problems are in the hallways. As of now, the 5% has turned into 25% and the administration's choice is to sweep everything under the carpet, and rationalize the problem away, "kids will be kids". Many of these "kids" are so bad they need an alternative to alternative school. Teachers are powerless and must endure the attenders at the expense of learning. If you complain you are told, "maybe you are lacking some where in your instructional delivery". Our moral is at an all-time low and when we go to staff meetings we look at data for two hours, because as you know, "everything must be data-driven". We can't go to the bathroom unless the data says so. The worst part is that the silent majority of students are expected to endure this pathetic behavior of their peers. Your courage to speak out is inspiring and may get me to do the same. Hey, I'm fine, I've got tenure!