To: Letter to Wake County Board of Education, 09.18.2010

Did you ever stop and wonder if we're going about this all wrong?

I have, and so have others.

I'd like to start with a link to a discussion in the White House Group at, "Teaching Our Way to a Stronger Economy "...

While there are well over a hundred comments as of this date, some of the most recent ones have brought to light opinions and ideas which I think should be given serious consideration by the Wake County BOE and everyone in the County [and State(s)] who are concerned about teaching, learning and education in general...

This is one link to get in...

Since there are so many comments, you're better off to jump to the "most recent comments" and work your way backwards...

I'm "following" this discussion and have posted some of my thoughts there, but for now, let me quote some of the comments from others for your consideration... in chronological order...


  • Victor,

    "It was and is a socialized centrally managed affair in every state and district. Other countries abandoned this system several decades ago for a school optimized system, delegating all decisions practically to teachers, who are better paid than ours, achieve much higher results with about 90% job readiness. BUT...the cost per student is lower than ours. Why? Because we have enormous central management organizations with good ole boy networks, that cost a mint, and are more hindering than helping innovation in education. That's their comfort zone."

    I think you hit the nail on the head. We have an antiquated system that is extremely "administration heavy". Put all the decisions in the hands of teachers and put them on a productivity based compensation system and the get out of their way.
    Posted by James Walters, D.V.M.

  • Be very careful when considering that charter schools are the emancipation of all of our educational woes. They are just much better at supplanting their dogma in more insidious ways. They know how to circumvent rules and regulations made by states without repercussions. Charter schools, often by design, attract the fringes of students who have difficulty with more traditional education. Charter schools will not save the education system in the US. Nor will home schooling. Teachers who are allowed creativity and not mired in test scores, burgeoning class sizes, and administrative incompetence will save the system. We have great ideas if we are allowed to implement them.
    Posted by Denise Gerdes
  • Alan, [reference to my page at]

    very good ideas. The question is how do we make it real? To me, education is impacting everything, and it is endangering our country seriously today, so that is my first target. I am 70, so it may be my last target. I spend a lot of time getting the message out with the suggestion to vote out any School Board member and any politician, who is not trying to solve it, we have done it.

    The obstacles are plenty, mostly special interests. In our case in Knoxville, TN the press and media flat does not engage this subject and school failures. The press! And yes there is an entity who is the largest newspaper buyer and largest advertiser. I wonder if they are it, but I don't want to go there...yet.

    Alan, we are just talking here. We have to act and not give up. Informing the public repetitively is key. Build local networks of people. Write to provide facts that cannot be argued. Be very focused and focus others.
    Posted by Victor Spencer

  • Denise,

    the Charter School idea is not new. There were a good number of failures, but the percentage of successes are increasing. Much better than public schools, and many are absolutely fantastic. For example, Google the Harlem Success Academy in probably the worst demographic area in the US. The results are absolutely mind boggling. That's what we need.

    They offer an alternative for the parent at no cost. Traditional public schools need competition. Parental choice of school is vital. Competition is the great creator of quality.

    If a Charter School is not producing great results, they fail. The child lost nothing. He can go to another school.

    Traditional public schools are a monopoly doing a poor job that has been failing the entire nation. There are exceptions among them, between 5 and 10%, but extremely few produce as a good a result as our International competition who are eating our lunch because of it. Maybe 5 in the nation? That's all. I did a very thorough job investigating this subject, and would be happy to answer any questions..
    Posted by Victor Spencer

  • The quality of education has diminished over the years with the rise of standardized tests and the reliance on them. These took the place of the regular teaching programs. Most of my fellow teachers complained about having to teach to the tests. When I began teaching in the 60's, I was pretty much given freedom to teach the subjects of my certification. I used pre and post testing and learned about teaching individually, since I knew that no two kids were exactly alike. My students, many of whom had learning problems, learned the subject matter.

    Since the dumbing-down of today's children and the unions protection of tenure and bad teachers, the children have paid the price. Federal and state dollars tied to test performance is phony and does nothing to increase the abilities of the students. What is needed is a system that educates all children well, not just those who can pass the tests.

    One way to improve education for all children is through the use of distance education, where the best teachers can provide learning opportunities to large numbers of children and the classroom teachers can be assistants who help individual students and be the human support that our kids need. Those who achieve the status of an educators who have demonstrated their abilities to motivate and light the fire of learning should be paid the highest. Those who are able to work individually with students who may have learning problems should also be paid well. Those who merely assist by proctoring exams or keeping records of individual student scores could be paid accordingly. In other words, there are many different levels of teaching and those who are better at what they do should be certified and paid accordingly.

    The school year is not long enough nor is the school day long enough in today's world. The day should be lengthened and the kids be given some down time to pursue individual interests, yet be in a safe and protected environment so their parents don't have to pay extra for child care. The vacation month could be staggered so that the schools are always open for those who need or want extra study time.

    Teachers and administrators have taken a bad rap but it is not their fault they are part of a failed system. That's why government needs to work with educators and focus on how to get our children the best education and fulfill our future requirements in this democracy. No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top need to be strengthened and schools need to be either built to provide what the children need or refurbished to include areas that will be set up for new purposes. The schools should all have access to protected information through the Internet and World Wide Web and all students need access to them.
    Posted by Sandra Brinker

  • Sandra,

    Excellent points. Teaching to tests is a travesty. Just gives politicians something to point at and quote in their campaigns. Does nothing for children.

    Bad teachers should be fired and good teachers rewarded. For every teacher fired, 3 administrators should be fired.

    Children should go to school 5 days a week from Labor day to Memorial Day with a 2 week break at Christmas. No more pupil free days.

    School day should be 8-4 and I would like to see an hour for supervised/assisted homework from 4-5 so that kids can go home, spend time with their family, and get a proper amount of sleep.
    Posted by James Walters, D.V.M.

  • Teaching to the test is an abomination. I know many Asian countries like Japan do so. But that system clearly does not work here in America. I don't agree that school days should be longer b/c there is law of diminishing returns that applies to sitting at a desk for hours on end. Besides, kids need to be kids and have a life too! The quality of education is what matters. That's how universities work! Why not apply the short classes and critical-thinking education concepts to primary and secondary education?

    Finally, this push for charter schools benefits only a fraction of children who remain stuck in a overly bureaucratic public education system. The administration should definitely push the teacher unions to concede to greater overhaul measures that are creating charter school success stories. Because the unions are probably the greatest obstacle to the necessary change.
    Posted by Terence Gill

  • Sandra,

    I found 95% of the causes of this dumbing down mostly management issues above schools, with some contribution by NCLB and other laws like you indicated. More than 200 teachers confide in me in confidence locally.

    You have to qualify teaching to the test. No way it would be acceptable to not test kids at least per quarter against what they should have been taught. I found out that for quite a few years, in order to show better grades, teachers were mandated to do practice tests that were actually published for this purpose right before the real test. They are kept under considerable security. The practice test problems are virtually identical to the real test for grading, and the solutions are explained in class before the real test. Obviously that produces better grades, but not knowledge. In TN, the state test was based on such tests. As an example, an average school district score in math was 87%. BUT...the national test on exactly the same grade and subject showed it to be 21%. That is how parents were hoodwinked about how their hard-earned tax dollars were being used. At least I participated in changing that situation and a few other things that will help to improve this system everywhere. You may not have seen this happening in your school, but I found this practice very common in most states. That is what local teachers explained to me teaching to the test means, before I investigated it.

    Teachers are so poorly treated here, that for the first time I see a good reason for a union that protects them against such treatment only.

    But, we need performance reviews annually at every level, that is measurable with numbers, education achievement based, objective, no tenure at any level. We do not have that. Like you said poor teachers need to be in another job.

    Boards and Central administrations are the biggest contributor to this problem. Management systems are antiquated at all levels, making accurate visibility of what is really happening impossible.

    I agree with many things you are saying, but I think you should dig a little deeper beyond what you experience on the inside.

    I could use your help on something. What do you think would be a fair, objective performance evaluation for teachers and principals. Provide backup please. Since you may be using your name, you can communicate with me at .
    Posted by Victor Spencer

  • Denise,

    the Charter School idea is not new. There were a good number of failures, but the percentage of successes are increasing. Much better than public schools, and many are absolutely fantastic. For example, Google the Harlem Success Academy in probably the worst demographic area in the US. The results are absolutely mind boggling. That's what we need.

    They offer an alternative for the parent at no cost.

    Traditional public schools need competition. Parental choice of school is vital. Competition is the great creator of quality.

    If a Charter School is not producing great results, they fail. The child lost nothing. He can go to another school.

    Traditional public schools are a monopoly doing a poor job that has been failing the entire nation. There are exceptions among them, between 5 and 10%, but extremely few produce as a good a result as our International competition who are eating our lunch because of it. Maybe 5 in the nation? That's all. I did a very thorough job investigating this subject, and would be happy to answer any questions.

    Denise you need to investigate all your assertions above. They are simply uninvestigated thoughts, and this is a vitally important subject.

    Home schooling produces a better ACT outcome than public schools. Evidence shows that 10-30 class size makes no difference in performance. For facts you can go to , my Web site.

    Charter schools "They are just much better at supplanting their dogma in more insidious ways". Give me some facts, because I have not seen anything like that anywhere. "Charter schools, often by design, attract the fringes of students who have difficulty with more traditional education". Not true. State governments restrict them to low performing areas like some inner cities. They are a government sanctioned form of a public school by the way. Did you know that?

    I can guarantee you that I did not get into this subject purely based on my personal opinion. I investigated the situation, I present facts on my Web site that cannot be argued, and I am hell bent to do something about it. It is all there to help those who want to take action in your own geographic areas.
    Posted by Victor Spencer

  • Terence,

    Japan does not teach to the test as I explained it. The university model brought down into high schools is a great idea. That's why our universities are among the best in the world, and HS are 34th. However, the best performer in the world has been Finland for a decade. They were one of the worst 35 years ago. Why don't you just look at some small examples of how they are doing it. It is always better and faster to apply the methodology from the best in the world, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel. This site may come up in Finnish but Google can provide a perfect translation of the entire content.

    James W all good ideas. The question is what we are going to do about it. To be successful, we have to focus on one or two things like a laser, get it to the point of implementation.

    For me, the two most important elements are:

    • Performance measurement at all levels, and I have very specific comments here, and
    • Lean down Central Management in every school district to what is absolutely necessary. I have very specific info for this area. The bottom line is that we are running at 5-10% of annual budget, and the high performers are running at or below 1%.
    • Fat central management organizations are in trouble in any business or organization, because they become self serving forgetting what the organization's objective really is.
    Posted by Victor Spencer
  • Hi Victor,

    Refer to the following link for proof that Japan does teach to the test:

    I have friends from Japan and Taiwan who educated me on the differences between our system and theirs. Pretty much, they engage in rigorous test-taking because how you score depends on if you go on to say Tokyo University or vocation school. The problem with this approach, as we can see with NCLB, is that teaching to the test excludes teaching for critical thinking. The article, in a more pointed and sarcastic manner, points to this weakness.

    This model works for them as evidenced by the fact that Japan is the #2 or #3 economy in the world, depending on which indicators you're looking at.

    I suspect that the reason the rigorous-testing model doesn't work here is b/c of outside school influences: single-parent households, high numbers of students where English is a second language, high rates of poverty among urban child populations, poor diets which are highly-influential in one's ability to learn, and so on...none of which Japan or Taiwan suffers from in their homogeneous populations.

    Finally, I wouldn't agree that Finland is the best in the world when the only innovative firm they have is Nokia. The way we ultimately judge schools, at all levels, is how well we innovate and our levels of production. The U.S., Germany and Japan are still innovation leaders. Nokia, on the other hand, just hired a Canadian to run their firm and are losing market share in the business that they dominated for years. But I digress..
    Posted by Terence Gill

  • Terence,

    I worked as a director for Fujitsu in Japan and I am very familiar with that society, history, schools and behavior.

    There is absolutely no doubt that they kicked our butts in the world market place. Just look at the products around us from heavy machinery, high technology and several other areas. Historically we have been better innovators. For example [W. Edwards]Deming who created the classic quality control theories, was American, but was not followed by our industries. But Japan did.

    They were famous for copying others technology if it was not legally protected. Japanese ethics explain that, not the same as ours, and one cannot say that it is worse. They don't "take" but "adapt", due to less original thinking for centuries. However, I must tell you that they are masters at optimizing quality and product ergonomics, and have an enormous capacity to take another product and make it better than it was.

    In Japanese society, sticking out, both better or worse than the group has been considered bad for many centuries. You absolutely cannot confront your boss or even suggest a better idea. Harmony at any price with anybody else, right or wrong, is extremely important and has been so for many centuries. I don't think that this is a positive trait. However, their work ethic is so deeply inculcated that they do outperform everyone else. We could certainly use that, because ours is heading south along with the education.

    Your article's definition is different from what I learned "teaching to the test" means. It is frequent testing of academic topics in the curriculum and in that sense, as one goes onto a high school it is very important, because to Japanese in addition to learning, the impression that one makes within society is extremely important. I don't quite agree, but I would not argue with that society's ability to deliver products successfully.

    One more thing. If you are not part of Japanese society, and most foreigners cannot cross that bridge, it is quite difficult to judge them. They are not an open society and even the language itself requires seven different ways of talking to people of another level, higher or lower, we have only one, and most other societies have two. That is how one can tell if a Japanese speaking person is Japanese or not, even if he/she speaks Japanese. High school is much more performance demanding and all kids study enormous hours until midnight or even after.

    Yes we have a number of better qualities in general, but we have become worse optimizing our assets than they are optimizing theirs. Our falling secondary education created that situation. We are hardly in a position to criticize them and unfortunately many others. WE MUST CHANGE THAT.

    The most accepted international standard in the testing of 15 year olds in science, math, and reading and writing are the OECD-PISA tests. A lot of smart people decided on that being THE best measure of how high schoolers perform. No individual can hope to offer any theory to convince other smart people to the contrary, because they are wrong.

    The worst possible thing anyone can do when you compete industrially is not to realize exactly where you are, and keep thinking that you are the better - as you lose your shirt.

    What I am about is recognizing where we are and getting people to move to literally save this country and its population from becoming like Mexico. We are not too far from that unfortunately, meaning we now are within 10-15 years of that.
    Posted by Victor Spencer

  • Good point David HT. And there are many other components to the problem we are facing.

    One thing is for sure. Without a good education, we will produce jobless people in a much higher percentage than before. Kids who are not well educated today will be the losers, along with the entire country. The problem is that bad.

    I hear increasingly from many employers that "Today's high school grads cannot communicate well enough in English and cannot even do basic math, whereas high school grads 5 yrs ago could and we could teach them. We cannot even teach them today."

    We are actually losing to other countries the ability of creating jobs. I know of several companies that decided to go to other countries for this reason, not labor cost. The labor cost is an old story. The Japanese industry controls industrial robotics. It beats low labor cost now, and has done that for a number of years. We graduate too many dummies, and the No Child Behind Law is a major contributor. It diverts resources for education into areas, where you cannot and will not see better performance.

    I saw an extreme example of this. A child with a severe learning disability could not go beyond 1st grade. He was very hostile with anyone. Soon he grew into a 300 lb boy, requiring 3 strong teachers in a private classroom and a private bus for travel where the 3 teachers had to accompany him. I know the lead instructor. They were beaten up every day in the bus by this kid. The average cost per child in our schools here is about $9000. This kid cost more than $200K a year until age 22. And for what?

    Teaching has become a very unpleasant and hard job, I can tell you that. And they are not allowed to lay a hand on any child or they will lose their job. Nice, isn't it?
    Posted by Victor Spencer

  • Vic:

    By the way, I noted a Japanese observer of the United States remarking, "Your country has the most amazing workforce I've ever seen. And the worst management." My own experience corroborates this. I mean heck, here we are the great melting pot of the planet.. why are our human resources so mismanaged? You'd think out of our diversity we'd outshine the other gene pools.

    Those OECD -PISA tests, Vic, are still testing at a language based level. I've got a notion that this does not provide an adequate metric for performance in the future into which we are plummeting. Language skills are of course crucial if we want to hang on to the lessons of the past. But those particular skills are not, any more, always so necessary in order to derive a useful result. You might notice the complex tasks you can accomplish clicking on an icon in a graphic interface.

    But of course anyone with an appreciation for human genius realizes how much of this brilliance is encoded in a linguistic codex. Can it be translated into a higher abstraction level? Some people seem to think so.
    Posted by David Hugh Tyson

  • Hey Vic,

    I think we're both in agreement about what "teaching to the test" means. I only conducted a quick Google search to emphasize that we're not the only society that possesses an over-reliance on tests. To that effect, as you mentioned, it has worked to Japan's benefit but not to ours. I recognize Japan maintains a very strong cultural influence on its citizens which emphasizes respecting your boss (even if the boss is a jack$$$).

    As for Nokia, I was incorrect in saying that it is the only innovative firm in Finland. I meant to say that outside of Nokia which is a hotbed for R&D, there isn't much innovation that is reflective of such a highly-educated society. Whereas here, despite our lackluster primary and secondary education system, we continue to top every country on the planet in terms of innovation (patents, trademarks, etc.). All this to say that I wouldn't draw conclusions that b/c Finland is #1 in primary/secondary education, the U.S. is doomed based on our actual product of innovation.

    To me, what draws more horror is knowing that more and more kids simply aren't graduating from high school. And to that point, I agree with your other posts that our methodology for teaching to the test is just plain wrong. Per capita costs in places like Washington D.C. are in the thousands of dollars but result in one of the lowest ranking systems in the country. The education system is massively bureaucratic and really needs to be streamlined. It makes no sense that teachers in GA average about $30k-$35k/yer but the administrators in each country earn well over $100k. What in the world justifies one person making the salary of 3, 4, even 5 teachers...if they're not even teaching children????
    Posted by Terence Gill

  • Robert,

    you are totally correct. The proof is that we are the 4th largest spender in education, delivering the 34th result in math. Also in my experience and I am 70, I am yet to see a problem that will be solved with more money. So one always checks management basics, standard ratios, controls being up-to-date and management skills at all layers of management, along with measurable goals past year with actual achievement and measurable goals YTD and current YTD actual achievement.

    The biggest problem in my opinion is a very fat and incompetent central management, and if the superintendent is from the Education "Industry" if I may call it that, they are not well management trained, and survive on politics. I think business people would be better and in cases that tried them, they were. The student side can be solved to a great degree in my opinion.
    Posted by Victor Spencer

  • Linked-In Groups
    Group: White House
    Discussion: Teaching Our Way to a Stronger Economy

    Alan, Obama is pushing a program to patch up what public education screwed up for the past 40 years. This is called throwing more money at the problem that robotics will reintroduce anyway in 5 years if our goal is high school grads only and vocational training only.

    Interestingly enough, our private schools deliver 90% college readiness in four years, AND most cost less than the tax dollars spent in public schools per student. Arizona private schools cost half the public school cost per student.

    David, we have to keep things simple. We cannot do good R&D except for a couple of industries, because we do not have enough science and engineering PhDs to drive them.

    About the primary cause: poor secondary education.

    When you do not measure number based educational outcome results like the ACT, you don't know what you are getting as you keep pouring in the money. We get mostly shit.

    When you do not have an operating plan with measurable outcome goals for every person in order to reach that ACT goal, you will get shit. Guaranteed.

    When you hire a superintendent who never managed more than a few people and an $8 million budget, and now he has to manage a staff level of 8000 with an annual budget of $370 million, you will get shit. Guaranteed.

    When you have a central management group that is 3-4 times larger than what is needed, full of highly paid good ole boy networks, you will produce shit. Guaranteed.

    SHIT in this case means that more than 90% of freshmen in high school will be unemployed for life. Including all the babies they will make on your couch, in a car or in school.

    We have all the above in the Knox County, TN education system, and we are not alone.

    The first step is always the establishment of measurable objectives, like an ACT score as a target, so that the public can understand it. We don't have that, and that also produces shit just by itself. Guaranteed.

    And that is all for my shitty comments today.

    Posted by Victor Spencer

  • Thanks for reading this...