I was going to write about the book Yo Miz! by Elizabeth Rose. I was going to tell you that it looks good to me. A substitute teacher taught in 25 schools in one year and then wrote about how messed up schools are.

She has good bullets in her promotional material.

  • Journalists are not allowed inside
  • Teachers are punished for speaking out publicly
  • Lawmakers are clueless

But then I realized people would not take this book seriously because it’s from a teacher in New York City public schools. Everyone with kids in school will say, “My kid’s school is better than that. This doesn’t apply to our school.” Even though those three bullets are true of every school, not good schools and bad schools.

Then I saw a memoir, Confesssions of a Bad Teacher, by John Owens. The book got good reviews, and he taught in a highly rated school, and I like that he takes a meta approach to education. For example, he knew within his first few weeks of teaching that he was a bad teacher, because the Gates Foundation and all the other big spenders in education assume that the problem is the teachers. Which means everyone who is teaching is a bad teacher.

I knew most parents would say that they’ve been lucky and their kids’ teachers have been, for the most part, fine. Which is, of course, not true, because all teachers have to teach the proscribed lesson plan rather than a self-directed lesson plan. But parents have cognitive dissonance. Parents can get on board for the idea that teachers are not doing a good job teaching. But they can’t get on board for saying their own kids’ teacher is terrible because then how can they continue sending their kid to school?

We have a lot of data at our fingertips about how poorly our schools function. The problem with it is that it’s so easy to deny that it applies to anyone’s specific school. And this is, largely, how parents continue to send their kids to school. They deny the specific research and believe specific data points don’t apply.

So, what makes a good school? Test scores. That’s it. If you believe that test scores define a child, then you can pick a school for your child. And it might have high test scores. But it’s the same type of school as the schools ex-teachers write about in their memoirs: it’s a school that values test scores more than anything else.

Homeschool is not something you can evaluate with test scores. It’s why parents are scared to do it. They wonder how to know when you’re doing well.

So good schools are ones that let parents feel like they are good parents and continue to deny all the research that proves them wrong.



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43 replies
  1. Caroline
    Caroline says:

    I had a brief discussion about homeschooling the other day with a 72-year-old woman whom I consider intelligent and kind. In looking back on her kids’ schooldays, she mentioned that her older son when in middleschool regularly got his lunch money stolen on the bus, and her daughter was gang raped in highschool. Her concern about me homeschooling my daughter was socialization. Cognitive dissonance is an understatement when you consider reasonably smart and caring parents whose children suffered

  2. Hubbard
    Hubbard says:

    I would say that test scores are simply a lagging indicator of what’s actually happening: your child will become like the students he or she is around. People really do become the average of the five people they spend the most time with. So look at the potential classmates of your child, because over time, your child will become like them.

    If nobody cares about schoolwork, your child will eventually stop caring, too—assuming, of course, that he or she cared in the first place. If everything at the school orbits the football team, your child will live and die by the team, too. If they’re a bunch of status obsessed snobs, your child will become a status obsessed snob.

    And at bigger schools, pay attention to the circles available. Roughly one third of my high school classmates dropped out before graduating, but I was insulated from this because most of my friends were either honors kids or on the swim team or were honors kids on the swim team.

    When you pick their classmates, you’re picking the models that your children will shape themselves around. Pick carefully.

  3. mh
    mh says:

    The “good schools” aren’t.

    The “good teachers” aren’t. Although the young ones generally mean well. But young teachers are unskilled teachers, so they aren’t “good teachers” either.

    Everybody knows there are bad teachers, just like everybody knows there are bad cops. The “good teachers” cover for the bad teachers, and they continue to work within a corrupt and coercive system that is bad for students. This makes them all bad teachers.

    Tomorrow is back-to-school day in the mountain west. Our non-school family will be celebrating, but oh, those poor schoolkids.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:


      When we had my oldest daughter in school she suffered from teacher abuse, as did the other kids in her class.

      I didn’t know this because my daughter was only 5 years old at the time and didn’t tell me what was going on, only a few years later did she open up to me about it and tell me what happened.

      After I withdrew her from school a few of my friends whose children went to the same school came up to me and told me something along the lines of “Oh if only you had such-and-such as her teacher things would have turned out differently” I wasn’t aware at the time that schools keep bad teachers, but they do. How often do I hear someone in my family saying that the teacher’s are great a their school until they get to X grade and they get X teacher, and they try to find a way to just deal with the insanity? One time is too many times.

  4. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I don’t agree with “Homeschool is not something you can evaluate with test scores.” I think you can evaluate school about as well as homeschool with test scores. You’re evaluating the student and I think you’re coming up short in both environments with test scores only. It’s just that the evaluation of the student isn’t so pronounced by using tests in a homeschool environment. The homeschool setting is much more flexible and is open to customization. Even the inclusion of tests if desired to see the outcome of any learning progress. It wouldn’t be used necessarily as a pass/fail as it is in school. Test scores by themselves are not evil. It’s how they may be used to hold up, punish, scare, intimidate, etc. that can make the use of test scores detrimental.

    • Mark W.
      Mark W. says:

      I’d like to add to the above a link to a short post in the Atlantic I just came across this morning on test scores and grades – http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/08/when-success-leads-to-failure/400925/ . It’s an excerpt from the author’s book – ‘The Gift of Failure’. It basically describes what happens when the student focuses on test scores because that’s how they’re rewarded in a school setting. The joy of learning and discovery is diminished in the pursuit of test scores and grades. It’s test and evaluation overkill in my estimation. This overabundance of testing appears to me to be more for the benefit of the teacher, administration, school, etc. as opposed for the benefit of the student.

  5. Emily
    Emily says:

    “Homeschool is not something you can evaluate with test scores. It’s why parents are scared to do it. They wonder how to know when you’re doing well.”

    This statement is the truth for many parents. I was homeschooled in grades 5-12 back in the 1990s, and sadly, because of the questions I received from so many people outside of our family (Can you even read? How do you know anything?), I wondered if what I learned stacked up against my friends who attended school. Then I went to college and realized that actually, I knew what I needed to know. My parents never seemed to have any anxiety that we were learning “enough,” and I don’t know why I did. But for some reason, I did.

    This part of your post really resonated with me because I had this concern as a student.

      • Emily
        Emily says:

        I do plan to homeschool. Right now my son is only 2.5 years old, so we have a little while before we are there. Homeschooling is the only form of schooling my husband and I agree on right now:) I think people’s attitudes about it have changed a lot over the years, so I hope we will not encounter nearly the number of blank stares and downright hostility my family experienced back in the day, although I know for sure it is out there. I love the fact homeschooling allows for so many activities besides sitting still in a desk learning, and I hear horror stories about the amount of homework kids have these days. Plus, I taught in a “good” school and saw what traditional school days look like, and I just think there are more efficient ways to do it that might work better for our family life.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:


          My ex-teacher friend confirms this too by telling me that in her elementary school experiences, children received less than 15 minutes of one on one time with a teacher per WEEK. The word babysitting came to mind as soon as she told me that.

      • Emily
        Emily says:

        Also as a follow-up, when I was applying to colleges, I was offered a full tuition scholarship at one state school. However, another school in the same state was only going to accept me on a probationary basis, I was not eligible for any scholarships during my first year there, and I was required to take a remedial English class, all because I graduated from an unaccredited high school. So, I attended the school that offered the scholarship, but being treated so differently was frustrating and didn’t ease my concerns about whether or not I was really prepared for college. Nine years later, my brother received a full tuition scholarship to the same school that was only going to accept me on a probationary basis. Our standardized test scores were only different by 1 point. Times change, and sometimes for the better!

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      We can only control so much, but again in a different income category (those who do not even mention public school in their vocabulary, those who expect their children to run multinational family businesses or go on to do other big things with their time)…people question less. Why? Because it is so much less about *THE manner of schooling. I can imagine, though, it helps that nowadays so many people are now doing *Independent Study (as they like to call unschool/homeschool).

      Are the stakes really that high for those considering going against public school? What is the worst that can happen? Seriously. When school is put into perspective, it makes things a lot easier.

      I make sure my kids are exposed to kids in and out of different schools- they have friends that go about life several ways (it’s convenient where we live) and if my son has questions about their learning and lives we reflect on the MACRO of their situation versus the MICRO (This might be why those decisions today are being made). When we look at the bigger picture of where we are heading and then the tiny details (such as school or not) are not the primary concern.

      I think this is important for my kids to understand. What is urgent in the moment, might not be that important in the long run and it very rarely is.

  6. Emily VA
    Emily VA says:

    This part: “all teachers have to teach the proscribed lesson plan rather than a self-directed lesson plan” is demonstrably false in at least some schools. I know because I taught in a public high school for the past four years, and had complete freedom to make my own lesson plans.

    • PenelopeTrunk
      PenelopeTrunk says:

      Oh my gosh. The research about self-directed is that THE STUDENT directs their own learning rather than being told what to learn by the teacher.

      The reason self-directed learning could not have happened in your classroom is because most kids would not have chose to be in the classroom, and also one teacher cannot guide 25 different paths.

      More than that, though, is that I hear teachers make this error all the time – thinking self- directed means the teacher. I think the frequent misunderstanding is because teachers become obsessed with carving out some form of autonomy and control in the classroom.


      • h
        h says:

        “The research about self-directed is that THE STUDENT directs their own learning rather than being told what to learn by the teacher. ”

        It’s not a matter of research, it’s simply the definition of “self-directed”: self-directed learning means that learning is directed by the student.

        Students can be self-directed within a prescribed lesson, if the lesson is designed with self-directed learning in mind. Some types of schools set up the classroom (Montessori) and/or lesson (inquiry-based) for self-directed learning. It might not look like the self-directed learning you see in an unschooling set up, because yeah, the teacher is responsible for a group of kids rather than one or two, and the teacher is accountable to diverse parents, the government (in the case of public school), and society.

        There are trade offs — there are some boundaries set around a student’s self-directedness in a school-based “self-directed” curriculum, but some kids need–or some parents believe their kids benefit from–those boundaries. My kid is one of those kids. I think it’s great that you’re able to do something different that works better for your kids.

  7. Tiana LaGrone
    Tiana LaGrone says:

    I’m nervous all the time about homeschooling. Then there are those moments when my kid has ample time to finish the novel he’s immersed in, or he reads those kids biographies on Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Bruce Lee, and we watch movies or interviews featuring these people, and he gets inspired to write his own movies or to be focused, or learns philosophy…”be like water” (complements of Bruce Lee). During work time they learn the traditional stuff like math, grammar, spelling, science vocabulary and processes, history, etc. But we also spend time learning how to write a screenplay in Scrivener, we analyze the three act structure in books and movies, how to sketch, or learn how to make a blog. They eat three home cooked meals every day. I have eyes on their interests. The neighborhood kids come over during the summer and after school. We go to the bookshops during the day, we follow comic book series together and talk about how one becomes a comic book artist. My kids seem be getting the sense that people can work on art and learn a lot on their own through books, talking to experts, and researching on the internet (YouTube, documentaries), and making experiments. For some reason, because I know that the traditional school system is so huge, and because I came from the traditional route, I feel like I’m stealing or something, or like because this homeschooling situation is so pleasant that my kids will suffer in the future because they didn’t learn what the other kids learn at school. So they learn the traditional stuff, but they have so much time to explore their interests. They are discovering their talents and cultivating them too. They get to see me work on my own projects. They have two pets that they care for. They fold their own clothes, do dishes, dust, vacuum. My nine year old sews. It seems so good, except I don’t get much time to myself, lol. When I was a kid, I created as much as could within the system, then I spent the entire weekend on my creative projects. I loved to read, but no one paid attention in my family. I owned like five books, so I read a Jehovah’s Witness book like 20 times, The Pill Book, coupons, the Funnies, every cereal box, can, package, and my the literature books from school. By Junior high I ventured to the school library and checked out books, even though none of my friends read. By the time I got to high school I read all the good stuff the teachers assigned. Then read great stuff in college. Now my shelves are filled with all the books I want to read. I wish though that somebody might have noticed my desire read and write books when I was a kid. Then I could have read the Box Car Children and Harriet the Spy when I was a kid, instead of now at 34.

  8. Musthafa
    Musthafa says:

    Schools are not factories which produce commodities.
    Students and teachers should not be enslaved under a rigid curriculum.
    Sole purpose of education is to produce cultured, disciplined, productive human beings. Schools are only worried about test scores and ranks. Teachers are put under stress to go for scores and ranks. Those who work to achieve good scores are accepted as good teachers.Unless, this mindset is changed, bad teachers are going to exist forever.

    • Zellie
      Zellie says:

      Many people say what they think education/school is about, but it’s wishful thinking. Look at the way the Common Core has been developed. And earlier versions of compulsory education. It is not to develop anything but the kind of people “we” want populating the country and doing the kind of work “we” want them to do – these days STEM.

  9. Musthafa
    Musthafa says:

    Schools are not factories which produce commodities.
    Students and teachers should not be enslaved under a rigid curriculum.
    Sole purpose of education is to produce cultured, disciplined, productive human beings. Schools are only worried about test scores and ranks. Teachers are put under stress to go for scores and ranks. Those who work to achieve good scores are accepted as good teachers.Unless, this mindset is changed, bad schools and bad teachers are going to exist forever.

  10. Hannah
    Hannah says:

    Good schools are composed of teachers who are good at getting students to care about “outcomes based learning” My sister is one such teacher in one such school. Her students love her, the administration love her, and her students consistently grow in their reading and writing test scores at rates that are twice as fast as the state average. She’s effective as a teacher because she believes in testing and she gets others to believe in it as well. I honestly think that there are very few teachers who don’t believe in testing. Just some are bad at achieving their objectives and some are good.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      …What is the point of the testing?

      Looks like she is great at coercion. My son had one of those super popular teachers. She bribed her way through everything. Lollipops, dance parties, cake and cookies, …you name it. The verbal and emotional abuse (that was disguised as *encouragement*) was the icing on her cakes. I’m not saying your sister is that kind of teacher, but I am from now on extremely wary of one teacher over 25 kids and magically making shit happen. Kids are being coerced, one way or another.
      …And why do kids need to care about what the teacher deems appropriate (which also happens to effect her employment)?

      • Hannah
        Hannah says:

        I definitely don’t think my sister is abusive or even that she uses crap incentives, but I do think she believes testing is a powerful tool for good.

        I can’t answer the point of testing, because I don’t think testing is helpful in education, which is also why I won’t be sending my kids to school. I merely meant to point out that good teachers and good schools believe in testing, and they get their students to believe in it too.

        It probably would have been helpful to use the term “Good” as opposed to good, but I hate using quotation marks for things that aren’t quotes.

  11. Christopher Chantrill
    Christopher Chantrill says:

    Let’s say that in the old days a “good school” was one that turned the children of peasants into industrial workers.

    And then let’s say, a “good school” was one that turned the children of industrial workers into knowledge workers.

    But really, who has a clue how we should educate children today?

    Apart from PT and the readers of this blog!

    • mh
      mh says:

      The readers of this blog (many of us) are putting their money where their mouth is. Pulling kids out of school is still a risky proposition. I expect the reward will more than offset the risk, but there are no guarantees.

      I can’t understand the mindset that recognizes the deficiencies of school and … Waits around for school reformers to do … something … about … it.

      Everything is a tradeoff.

      • jessica
        jessica says:

        Unless there are issues in the home that need to be resolved, I actually have come to believe it is riskier to put kids in school where they learn their freedom comes second at all times. Sure, in their head they may be free, but their time is severely miss managed in the classroom.

  12. Erin
    Erin says:

    When I was studying for my BA in English , this was the blunt impression students had of each other within the department:

    The dumb ones went for their teaching certifications to teach high school. The smart ones went to grad school or went on to other endeavors.

    Furthermore, growing up with a mother who was an English teacher, I was also very aware that the coveted teaching positions were at High Schools and the bottom-of-the-barrel positions were at Middle Schools.

    So, presumably, kids in NY State taking English between grades 5 and 8 probably had some of the worst teachers around. As if dealing with puberty and pre-teen angst wasn’t enough.

  13. Arina Nikitina
    Arina Nikitina says:

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I’m taking a look at Waldorf approach to education, in Waldorff schools there are no grades at all. A student is treated like an individual with his own sets of talents and abilities, so there is no need for grading and tests.

    • Tiana LaGrone
      Tiana LaGrone says:

      When we lived in Germany, my kid attended a Waldorf preschool. It was awesome, except for him getting bullied there. They did inside gym, played in cardboard castles, went on forest walks every other day, and learned to cook in the kitchen. The kids there don’t start hard academics until they are like seven. I also visited a cool Montessori school in Frankfurt. I thought it was awesome too. The parents basically dropped the kids in whenever they wanted and picked them up whenever they wanted too. I mixed in some Waldorf chalk drawings for the kids at home to learn some basic math, but we mostly use Montessori manipulatives, open shelves, and books all around. Actually, I read every book by Maria Montessori. Her method is step up in comparison to traditional school. Especially the ones which allow the kids to move freely about the room throughout the day, and move inside and outside at their own leisure. I used the Montessori way to allow my kids to learn to read. They know so many things that I never even taught them. So I can see the merit in unstopping too. People don’t give kids enough credit.

  14. Aquinas Heard
    Aquinas Heard says:

    What an excellent and bold ending to Penelope’s post:

    “So good schools are ones that let parents feel like they are good parents and continue to deny all the research that proves them wrong.”

    She nails it.

  15. crisH
    crisH says:

    “So good schools are ones that let parents feel like they are good parents and continue to deny all the research that proves them wrong.”

    And who are you (or me or anyone) to dare bring them into the light when they are super content to be in the dark??? That’s one of the biggest lessons I myself have learned through 8 years of homeschooling and many of lost friendships.

    • Tiana LaGrone
      Tiana LaGrone says:

      Yeah, I keep my trap shut. I actually tend to avoid discussing our homeschooling to avoid those awkward conversations.Homeschooling is a touchy subject like gay marriage, or political affiliation with some people. Sometimes just you doing it pisses other people off, like you’re offending them by your very action, even if you don’t say a word. Then some people (those people who we meet on our outings during the day while all the other kids are in school) are pretty sweet about it. It wouldn’t matter to me either way what others think of it though at this point. The only thing that would stop me from homeschooling is if it was no longer financially feasible (like if I had to go back to work) and couldn’t afford someone to facilitate it for me while I was away. Or if someone could prove to me that there was a better day time situation for them that I could afford.

      • Aquinas Heard
        Aquinas Heard says:

        Obviously where and when you decide to bring up or defend homeschooling is up to you. However, I would encourage those out there who are hesitant to do so, to reconsider. It would still depend on the situation. Your outspoken agreement/support (or defense) of homeschooling in some of those moments can rightfully sow doubt in the pro-schoolers’ mind about their position. Also, if this discussion or debate is happening in a social setting, it can sometimes “instill” courage within those who share your views but don’t fill as confident expressing them as you do.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          I have had four long-time friends take their kids out of school and start homeschooling or unschooling solely because of my example and what I show on social media and very little to do with my words.

          IG & FB have gone a long way for example, people reach out to me privately on social media asking about unschooling. It can be a time suck, but I try to help out as much as possible if I’m asked.

          I don’t feel obligated to defend myself to those who don’t have at least an open mind about it, it really is wasted energy at that point. Those who do have an open mind will help to create a conversation that is full of depth and meaning whether they agree with me or not.

          But I freely tell people that I unschool or homeschool, it comes up in just about every conversation I have because people either know or assume I have kids and they ask “how school is going” for them. I have yet to be met with hostility, and people are generally supportive when I tell them. But I still get the vibe “Well that is awesome…for YOUR kids.”

          Well, I think it’s great for ALL kids! :)

          • Aquinas Heard
            Aquinas Heard says:

            YMKAS, I appreciate the effort you do put into spreading the unschooling approach.

            My suggestion for parents to reconsider their decision, to not voice their views about homeschooling, was not meant as a duty implication for them. I don’t waste my time discussing homeschooling with those who I know *for sure* will not change their mind. The only time where that could be different is on a facebook discussion where I know people are paying attention to what I say.

            I’ve had 2 long-time friends decide to homeschool based on discussions I had with them. I’ve had 1 shorter term friend decided to homeschool one of her children based on discussions I had with her and because of the way I was with her kids over a few years. I’ve had many other friends change their overall behavior towards their children (but not homeschool) based on discussions I had with them over the years.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:


            That makes total sense to me! Online discussions can be much easier for discussing alternative learning since there is oftentimes more opportunities for it.

            I always appreciate when you share your thoughts here.

          • Aquinas Heard
            Aquinas Heard says:

            Thank you.

            I’d pay to read more blogposts by YMKAS and several other contributors to this site, including Penelope. Lot’s of good stuff here!

  16. Tiana LaGrone
    Tiana LaGrone says:

    Yeah, I agree with some of what is said here. I have a lot of people around that are very nay-sayer about every choice I make. Most choices I make are unorthodox, so I hear a lot. Also, my in-laws are retired public school teachers, and my sister-in law is a public school teacher, so I keep my trap shut. They know I homeschool. I’ve safely avoided much discussion about it. I used to have some pretty heated discussion with my in-laws about politics and religion, and I think they sort of don’t like me for voicing my opinion. I’m trying to keep me trap shut, so I don’t say much anymore, and I don’t plan to. I don’t feel like defending myself during times that are supposed to be pleasant, like Christmas, and other holidays. I always say homeschooling is great to those who know I homeschool, but I do not engage with people in a debate about it, especially when I can see the tone is going downhill. I advocate for homeschooling. I used to blog about it. I even started a small private school in my community that was set up like a homeschool. Texas is pretty lax with its requirements for opening up private schools. I had to close it because we couldn’t fund it anymore. I say it’s great, but I won’t say it’s better than public school to just anyone even though, my INTJ brain has judged it to be so. It pisses me off when people try to tell me that their way is the only way. Some people treat me bad because I try to do something different. They go out of their way to try to make me feel like a sucky person, so I try not to do it to others. To each his own. I know where my cookies go in the pantry. Plus, in my neighborhood, everyone is not in a position to homeschool and in some ways, I might be hurting someone by magnifying that I can do it and they cannot. Think abusive family, single-parent, military community, and some people are too poor to do this. I know people do it under those circumstances, but I don’t insist that they do. The homeschool discussion can actually skew elitist if we’re not careful. This coming from someone who lives a decent life, but I grew up in the projects, eating government cheese, and then ended up at LMU and USC for college. I grew up in South Central Los Angeles. There were nights I ducked bullets in my living while trying to do my homework. I had to take the city bus to a private school downtown because my mom had to work. I was (latch-key) to the fullest my whole entire life. No one has done what I have done in my family in terms of how I raise my kids, so I do it alone, and it isn’t easy. That’s why I’m not so quick to suggest to everyone that it’s the right thing. Because school saved me, until I became “educated” because I was poor. I wouldn’t know half the things I know, if it weren’t for school. There weren’t any intellectual people around me when I was growing up. Now that I’m an adult, I can get as intellectual as I want because I have had some guidance from somewhere. I learned about Shakespeare (my love), Nina Simone, Erica Jong, Hemingway, Updike and so many other artists I love, at school. There were a lot of teachers who told me I could be many things…a college professor like them someday, or I’d make one hell of a lawyer, or novelist. I learned a lot at school, but it was different back then. School seems different now. It seems like prison. And even though I don’t have a lot of money, I don’t want my kids to grow up feeling mentally poor, and I think today’s schools can do that to some kids, at least to the ones in my neighborhood. I live post-racial, but the rest of the world doesn’t yet.

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