Friday, March 19, 2010

How We Reform Schools: Bill Maher Versus John Legend

GOOD Education > Amanda M. Fairbanks on March 17, 2010 at 12:30 pm PDT

Ever since Central Falls High School in Rhode Island fired 93 teachers and staffers for poor performance, the debate around school reform has taken all sorts of interesting twists and turns.

President Obama voiced his support. Newsweek devoted a cover story to it, whose headline "The Key to Saving American Education," was nearly obscured by the subtle refrain: We must fire bad teachers. We must fire bad teachers. We must fire bad teachers.

If schools are failing, how do we reform them? And are teachers solely to blame?

Enter Bill Maher, stand-up comedian versus John Legend, pop star.

On Friday night's Real Time with Bill Maher, he criticized Obama's stance on backing the Rhode Island superintendent.

Some highlights of Maher's rebuke: “Let's not fire the teachers when students don't learn—let's fire the parents. Isn't it convenient that once again it turns out that the problem isn't us, and the fix is something that doesn't require us to change our behavior or spend any money?"

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Yesterday, John Legend responded by penning a letter to Maher for The Daily Beast. It began:
Hey Bill,

So, from one man without children to another, I think you were pretty off base in your closing monologue about education on Friday.

You were right about some things: Parental involvement really matters. Parents should turn off the TV, encourage reading, talk with their kids about their day, help with their homework, hold them accountable, and get involved in their education.

However, a child’s academic success does not only depend on parenting. Parents control what happens at home. But parents do not control what happens at school where students spend a large portion of their day being educated. Parents don’t determine whether the books are woefully out of date, whether the school and surrounding neighborhood are safe, whether there are too many kids in the classroom, and whether the teacher leading the classroom knows what they are doing. Individual parents can’t always influence those factors, especially when they themselves may be struggling in poverty or working double shifts just to make ends meet.

In the battle to reform schools, whose side are you on—Maher's or Legend's?

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