Friday, January 13, 2006

John Stossel: Stupid in the Studio

A Play-by-Play Reaction to 20/20's "Stupid in America"

Round One: I am so tense right now watching 20/20's special, "Stupid in America." Serious flaws in America's public schools do need to be exposed (that's what my blog is all about), but John Stossel is way off base. He started the show by mocking teachers and polarizing educators vs. parents. He has yet to include an interview with one American teacher about the issue. How could he and his 20/20 producers miss the fact that he is so blatantly doing exactly what many of the bureaucrats who run America's public schools are doing: disrespecting America's teachers by ignoring our voices and diminishing our professional experiences.

Round Two: Now Stossel is interviewing Joel Klein, Chancellor of NYC's public schools, about how hard it is to fire "all the bad teachers" who do awful things, such as a teacher who sent sexual emails to a student. As NY Times Education Reporter Michael Winerip pointed out, the problem is not how hard it is for the NYC Dept. of Ed to fire the relatively few awful teachers. The real problem is that NYC cannot, to save its life, hold on to its good teachers. The teacher turnover rate in NYC is out of control - so out of control that the Dept. of Ed literally has to go up to Canada to recruit teachers. Two of my Canadian colleagues who took the bait are absolutely horrified by how teachers are treated here. One of them, an amazing teacher, just quit. I'm almost out the door myself. Why? Because I feel thoroughly rundown by administrators like Klein who don't support special education, and I found a private autism group that respects me. So while I agree that America's public schools could use more competetiveness from private education groups, the manner in which Stossel is "reporting" this issue is only making me feel more beaten down, disrespected, and misunderstood as a teacher in America. His point about economic competition is overshadowed by his clear cluelessness about my job.

Ding ding ding! Round Three: The predictable anti-union tirade. Okay, as anyone who's followed this blog knows, I am not exactly a fan of my own union. I get what's ridiculous about it. I have been yelled at by colleagues for not supporting it. I'm not happy about having to pay $85 a month in union dues. That said, Stossel is so blatantly biased against UFT (United Federation of Teachers) leader Randy Weingarten, it's embarassing. Seriously, this interview is an insult to journalism. Stossel's just waiting for soundbites to prove his pre-conceived point. What happened to fair and accurate news reporting? What about pointing out the ever-abounding absurdities of Joel Klein and the Dept. of Ed's bureaucracies? When did 20/20 become a sounding board for Stossel's libertarian theories? (And by the way, "The Rubber Room" portion of this show was a total rip-off from local reporters. Actually, everything related to NYC was ripped off from local stations. None of it was new.)

Round Four. Stossel's laughable predictability continues with his complaints about how easy teachers have it because we only have to work six and a half hour days. How does he not get that those are the bare minimum contracted hours that we are required to stay in the school building? Most teachers I know stay beyond those hours. Add to that an average of at least 15 hours a week at home planning lessons, grading papers and calling parents. Sure, some teachers don't do those things. I know a teacher who doesn't. And I know about 300 who do. For new teachers who are still struggling with lesson planning and learning to efficiently grade papers, it's more like an extra 30 hours a week. And even without these extra hours, six and a half hours of teaching classes with 25-35 kids in each class is enough to put anyone in a post work-day stupor. Guess what Stossel? I've worked as a journalist. Now I'm a teacher. Teaching is harder. And you shouldn't be calling yourself a journalist anyway. I don't know about you, but I went to a school where journalism ethics were stressed. If you don't have ethics as a journalist, what do you have?

Round Five: Fifty minutes into the show, and Stossel is finally interviewing some teachers. Well, not really interviewing them - he has a few soundbites from charter school teachers about how they are anti-union and anti-tenure to prove his point. He still hasn't interviewed one public school teacher, and he has not even touched on the issue of teachers' barely above cost-of-living salaries. Nice, coming from a guy who makes six figures, if not more, for emulating Geraldo Rivera.

Wait, did that show really just happen or was it just the hallucinatory nightmare of a hard-working, exhausted public school teacher? If I'm this upset, I can only imagine how all the union-supporting teachers I know are feeling. But you know what really knocked me out? What really makes my blood boil? I missed an hour of swooning over Anderson Cooper for this crap. Never again 20/20. Never again.


Anonymous Heather said...

I found this link through lj, and I just wanted to say your comments are fabulous.

9:29 AM  
Blogger Jim C said...

First of all, Stosel is a Geraldo Rivera wanna-be...which is a rather low target to shoot for if you ask me.
Two, my kids went through a public school education and I believe are the BETTER for it. Are there crummy teachers? Of course. Just like there are crummy doctors, lawyers, news reporters. Take any large group and there will be good and bad. That's life.
Three, Stossel's job is to get ratings and raise ad revenue. We've all seen what passes for 'news' these days is little more tha editorialized info-tainment packed to tittalate rather than inform.
Sorry for ranting in your space...

5:08 PM  
Anonymous Jenny_1981 said...

I wish i had cable so i could have seen that. i hate when any "news" type show only shows one side of the story. at least i know most parents understand how hard we work.

5:44 PM  
Anonymous Kari B said...

One thing that I haven't seen addressed anywhere is Stossel's "research". He compares American schools and European schools at ages 10 and 15. He fails to take into account the differences in educational models. At age 10, the American and European systems are similar. However, by age 15, students in European schools have been tracked off, to either vocational or university-prep schools. Wanna bet which group is tested and held up as an example? I'll give you a hint--it's not the vocational ed kids! This is a stark contrast to America, where we test ALL of our students and hold ALL of them to the same standard.

Stossel needs to address THIS. He wouldn't, however, because this might actually make his story a tiny bit less biased.

9:13 PM  
Blogger Miss Dennis said...

Okay, I got an abusive, anonymous comment here that perfectly illustrates the kind of teacher abuse I feared 20/20's show would encourage. It almost doesn't dignify a reponse, but I think people need to understand how abusive some people can be toward teachers in America. An anonymous poster wrote:

"Let me guess: You're an underperforming public school teacher, and an enthusiastic dues-paying member of the powerful and left-leaning NEA. Right?"

Huh? I clearly say that I am not a supporter of the union. This person didn't read my post. They only saw that I disagreed with Stossel, and they started ranting against teachers. But I guess I shouldn't be surprised that those are the types of fans he encourages.

This person goes on to say, "The inaccuracies in your post are amazing. Are you sure you should be teaching kids? Mr. Stossel's piece included interviews with many teachers, including their militant and politically-driven union head."

Huh? Why is Anonymous informing me that Stossel interviewed union leader Randi Weingarten? I clearly discuss the interview with Ms. Weingarten in my post. And no, he did not include interviews with "many teachers." As I stated, he only included a few soundbites from charter school teachers at the very end of the show to prove his point. A soundbite is not an interview. Aside from these soundbites that were clearly used only to prove Stossel's pre-conceived point, there were no teacher voices in the story.

The only thing Anonymous pointed out that actually was inaccurate in my post was that I misspelled Mary Kay LeTourneau's name (that portion of my post was up for about 30 minutes before I deleted it). Interesting though, isn't it, that Anonymous knows so well how to spell this criminal teacher's name but can't spend a few minutes actually reading and considering a working teacher's opinion.

With attitudes like this about teachers, is it any wonder why America has a teacher shortage?

11:24 PM  
Blogger Walter said...

Miss Dennis, I think you and Mr. Stossel may agree more than you know. Stossel is agititing in favor of school choice. School choice is an excellent tool to fight against bureaucracy and parent apathy.

Those of us who are unhappy with the current school system are well aware that if the system is dismantled the very same teachers who are in the public schools will be teaching in private schools. This doesn't bother me - I assume that someone who makes a career in teaching is committed to the ideals of education. It's the system that's flawed.

11:28 PM  
Anonymous John said...

My wife is a elementary school teacher in another state.
The thing that is really wrong with American education can be summed up in four words - No Child Left Behind.
In her 30+ years teaching she said the No Child act has resulted in state core tests being dumbed down so scores look good to the feds.
Plus, no child is allowed to be held back or failed. And forget classroom discipline.

1:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stossel should try my job. This is my first year. I was given no help, I don't have half the books, thanks to NCLB I have about 15 LD kids in a class with no collabrative teacher, I have had no help with lesson plans, the kids don't value education and neither do their parents which is told to me often in many ways, and I've already had a nervous breakdown and lost 20 lbs by november thanks to all the stress (it doesn't help that I was already underweight. Now I don't have any energy.)

Perhaps Stossel should shut his mouth.
My kids refuse to be disciplined.
Their parents are nowhere to be found.
I have limited photo copies and no grammar books so I lose all my copies on copying the grammar book for them.
I'm barely surviving. If I had acted like half of these teens, I would have killed myself out of sheer shame. They have no respect and only seem to care about looks and how they can get the most money, which always seems to be either being a famous rapper, NFL player, or a drug dealer. God forbid you do regular work.
I don't know how much longer I'll last.

5:04 PM  
Blogger but anyway... said...

As a public school teacher in Queens,it bothers me that these reports make us look like we are all lazy and jaded. There are indeed some people who do the bare minimum, but this is rare. Most of us are spending hours on lesson plans, giving up our own money for supplies, and playing not only the role of teacher, but of social worker, nurse, and parent to many needy children.
Retention of quality teachers is the key. I came to teach through The New York City Teaching Fellows, after working in a high-pressure corporate job. Teaching has proven to be far more stressful. It is sad that this occupation is so undervalued.

6:49 PM  
Blogger EdWonk said...

Maybe Stossel should try a little substitute teaching. It might change his perspective and adjust his attitude.

About the program:

I thought it intriguing that the wife of the governor of South Carolina was emphatically saying that her children would not be receiving "special treatment" by being enrolled in one of the higher-performing public school districts that surround the state capital, Columbia. (Apparently, Columbia's own public schools are considered "underperforming.")

So far so good.

But then the governor and his wife blew it by sending their own progeny to an exclusive private school. (Episcopalian, of course)

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: America will have better public schools when America's elected officials are expected by the voters to send enroll their own children in them.

3:06 AM  
Anonymous OTBL said...

I have to admit the teachers, administrators, union, and apologist for government-run education are undeniably right; we should do it for the kids! Why do we as parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, or just concerned neighbors spend thousands of dollars, whether it is for government schools or private schools? Those on the pro-government side are absolutely correct; it is for the kids. And why do we educate our children? When you dig through all the theoretical dung, it ultimately is for one reason. It is to give our children the tools of critical thinking and problem solving, the ability to effectively communicate with others, and to learn from other’s failures and successes, so they can become self-sufficient individuals whose lives are incrementally better than our own. If this is not the goal of education; then we, either as individuals or as society, have a catastrophic moral deficiency.

The debate should not be about buildings, population projections, or any of the other peripheral topics. It is about how well our children are prepared in a competitive world to be self-sufficient and the effectiveness of the delivery systems which are charged with accomplishing that goal. Here are the facts on the accomplishments of the union dominated, government-run education system over the last thirty to forty years: 1]Student achievement in this country as compared to the rest of the industrialized world has literally gone from the top to the bottom[ there have been numerous reports on this]. 2] Forty to forty-five percent of our students entering college wind up taking at least one remedial course. 3] According to a recent survey by the National Association of Manufacturers [surveyed 800 companies], 61% of the companies reported that those workers who had a high school GED were ill-prepared for entry level work. 55% reported students deficient in employability skills, and 51% reported students deficient in math and science skills. The bottom-line according to the results of the survey is a growing skills gap and the blame is being pointed right at government-run K-12 education see report. ( The consumers of the government-run education product are dissatisfied!

Are these the results we want for our children? Is this, what is meant by the phrase, “Do it for the kids”. Is this the quality product you expect from a process which costs three to four times the amount of its’ competition; yet whose quality is often quite inferior to the lower costs systems. Do you really believe that after spending billions and more billions on government-run education that results will be any different after a 54 million or 100 million dollar referendum. If the goal truly is “for the kids,’ then it should be obvious to all, including those who are the only true beneficiaries of the system, that it will not! So by all means let us debate, “It’s for the kids.”

8:09 AM  
Blogger narrator said...

Remember John Stossel is just quoting his company's (Disney) line. Unions are bad, taxes are bad. He's completely worthless as a reporter.

I'm no fan of education-as-it-exists, but every time you hear a fool like Jack welch quoted re: public policy you know that it's a joke. First thing GE would do if it ran education is to stop trying to educate any kid who seemed "unlikely to pay off." If that's the kind of schools John Stossel wants, well, he's going straight to hell, along with his corporate benefactors.

9:18 AM  
Blogger Jeff Haught said...

I've seen many valid criticisms of the program, but the issue seems to keep coming back to 'how do we keep the good teachers'. However, the unions don't allow administrators to recognize the good teachers, either by giving monetary rewards or public recognition. Never mind the fact that poor teachers may receive Cost of Living raises and not be in danger of losing their jobs. If success can be recognized then I think teacher retention would be less of a problem.

10:40 AM  
Blogger KauaiMark said...

"...EdWonk said:
Maybe Stossel should try a little substitute teaching. It might change his perspective and adjust his attitude...."

Only if the cameras are hidden, he gets called at the last minute with no prep time and no lesson plan. Now THAT might be interesting to watch.


11:55 AM  
Blogger NYC Educator said...

Actually, teacher retention is no problem whatsoever in all the districts surrounding NYC, and none of them offer the differentiation you suggest. They simply pay better, and attract hundreds of applicants for each position.

I'd like to correct the blog-writer--NYC has recruited not only in Canada, but in Spain, Jamaica, Austria, and various other places round the globe. Intergalactic recruitment will be the next big theing, just you watch.

Thanks for a thoughtful analysis of what I couldn't bother watching. I knew what Stossel would say well before he aired--the same predictable nonense spouted by all far-right idealogues who want to abolish public education.

Everyone knows what makes a good school--small classes and good teachers.

I realize it's inconvenient Steve Forbes has to support it. Oddly, I'm unmoved by that argument.

I'm adding you to my blogroll.

3:18 PM  
Blogger Miss Dennis said...

NYC Educator, Thanks for your comments. I actually don't support differentiated pay, especially not based on test scores. What a nightmare that would be for special education teachers!

Miss Dennis

7:01 AM  
Blogger Libby said...

I just found this blog thanks to Yahoo Picks, and while I didn't see Stossel's report, I want to give you a big hug for your comments! I just quit teaching for many of the reasons you state. Frank McCourt says in Teacher Man that teaching is one of the only professions where everyone who ISN'T one has an opinion on how you should do your job. Yech. I'll continue to try and reach kids, just not in the public education forum; I'm tired of all the brick walls I keep hitting...

11:44 AM  

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