On Your Bottom Line

We have the best advice on getting out of debt, finding jobs, securing a better mortgage, saving for college, paying off student loans, managing your retirement dollars, and a whole lot more.
April 27th, 2012
03:59 PM ET

Best & worst from America's classrooms

From Christine Romans

The most important job in America is a good teacher at the head of a classroom. The very future of our country – its innovation, its military, its ability to compete against a rising China – depends on the kind of skills we are giving our kids.

By the same logic, the most dangerous job is the ineffective educator. Wasting time going through the motions just doesn’t cut it in today’s world. (Minnesota is the only state where college-bound high school grads met at least 3 out of 4 ACT benchmarks for college readiness.)

Find out how your state fares in college readiness

Even worse, though, is someone in the classroom who is actually hurting a child’s education.

This week I reported on the extremes.

First – the good. I interviewed the 2012 National Teacher of the Year on CNN's Starting Point. Rebecca Mieliwocki is a seventh grade teacher in California who uses lessons from her business background to run her classroom. She’s into accountability and results – metrics from the private sector she applies in school every day.

Many have noted that Rebecca’s path to the class room began in the public sector.

“I didn't start out as a teacher.” she told me. “I kind of came into teaching from the business world, and in that community, results matter. You have to be on your game. You have to get your job done. And you have to be good at what you do, and that's how you rise to the top. And I took that idea, that ... unusual business model into the classroom, and it's about getting results with kids.”

Specifically, how does she do this?

“I make sure that kids are front and center in their own learning, that they're taking ownership of what it is that they want to know, and then, I help explain to them what it is that they need to know. We'll do things like we do a lot of small group activities. They'll partner together.”

She pushes group projects that will have meaning in the real world, but are also fun for kids.

“One of the assignments I had my kids start the year with was they all designed an app for a Smartphone that an incoming middle schooler can use to help navigate school life and whether it could be an academic app that could help with homework or study tools, whether it would be a bully locater, whether it could be cafeteria lunch rating system, those kinds of things.

They have to design the app and do the little thumbnail write up and the graphic. Those are real world skills. They might go to work as a computer programmer or some sort of designer, graphic designer. That might be a job they could have, and so, I design projects that give them an outlet for work that they may do when they grow up.”

Brava. Mrs. Mieliwocki.

But then there’s this.

Cherry Hill, New Jersey. A suspicious dad wires 10-year old special-education student and is heartbroken to hear adults in that classroom laughing at, ignoring, and even mocking his son.

To listen to those seven hours of tapes is to hear a child bullied by school employees that taxpayers pay to help him.

The father told me this week that listening to those tapes were the worst minutes of his life.

Parents and teachers of kids with special needs know the drill. Sensory processing can be difficult for some kids. (Loud sounds, bright lights, change in routine can be devastating for a child.) Some have a hard time making transitions and need positive reinforcement about what is coming next. Difficulty communicating is a hallmark of Autism Spectrum Disorder as well. The wide range in behavioral differences in children is what professionals are trained to understand in the classroom.

The women whose voices you hear on this tape seem oblivious to these simple facts. They sound actually cruel to this child. If you haven’t heard of this case, you must watch Saturday 9:30 am ET for Mary Snow’s in-depth report on the boy and his father. The district tells us an aide has been fired and a teacher reassigned. As the week unfolds, a 23-year veteran teacher in that classroom is now fighting back, and denying she heard anything inappropriate and says she was not in the classroom for the first hour of the tapes. She is accusing the father of being “disingenuous.” The father says the tapes speak for themselves.

On the show you can hear advice from an attorney who represents families fighting their school districts to get the care they deserve for special needs kids in public schools.

These stories this week reinforce my belief that like real estate and politics, all education is local. Please tell me what you are seeing where you live. What separates the effective schools from the rest? What’s the best tactic you’ve ever seen in teaching? And for teachers – what is your biggest frustration?

Watch us on Your Bottom Line Saturday 9:30 am Eastern, and let’s keep the conversation going here.

Have a great weekend!


Filed under: Educating America • Web Extra
soundoff (No Responses)

Comments are closed.