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I can’t care about education anymore


Call me cynical, but there’s no hope for US public schools

Image created by the author for her dissertation, 2019

I had lunch with a friend today and we talked about the state of education in the US. We mostly shared stories of experiences in the broken system of higher education but recognized the issues in public education run all the way through. I thought I might review spending and how it relates to student achievement and write a little blurb. I read several articles and started coalescing data, and then it dawned on me. I don’t really care anymore.

I’ve spent the better part of 30 years trying to imagine creative ways to engage students, teach them how to learn, and inspire them to be curious about the world around them. I am passionate about teaching and learning. Making connections between seemingly disparate facts and ideas excites me. But teachers generally don’t get to teach anymore, at least in the public school systems. They administrate, discuss, assess, test, review, and file paperwork. There are exceptions, of course, but by and large, the reason teachers are leaving the field in droves is that they have little autonomy and even less respect.

It’s not even about money. There is ample money provided for education. The issue is, that money doesn’t go where it’s needed most: classrooms and teachers. Look at these statistics:

  • Federal, state, and local governments provide $764.7 billion or $15,120 per pupil to fund K-12 public education.
  • The difference between spending and funding is $97.85 billion or $1,935 per pupil.
  • The federal government provides 7.9% of funding for public K-12 education.
  • Public postsecondary schools spend an average of $28,977 per pupil.
  • The national gross domestic product (GDP) grows 71.6% faster than public education budgets.

Give teachers control over $7k per student and see what happens. Limit class sizes to 24. That gives teachers $168k to spend on curriculum, texts, supplies, and their salaries. That still leaves more than half the money for administrative costs, custodians, buses, and whatever. Fund libraries. Serve breakfast and lunch to all students. Free teachers to do the work they know and love. Let them meet students where they are and take them to the next level. Let older students tutor younger ones. Make sure every kid has a book to take home. Teach parents how to read to their kids from Kindergarten on.

We have the research to prove that small class sizes lead to better student success. We have the research to prove that parents reading to their kids benefits the whole family. We know that kids with full bellies learn better. We know that individualized instruction means, not only better test outcomes but also better learners in general. The data is readily available, but it gets ignored.

Where does the money go if not to student needs? Publishers, superintendents, bloated administrations, programs, and a plethora of PR.

In 2020, when schools shut down for the pandemic, I had great hopes of an education reset. It was a perfect opportunity to evaluate and remediate priorities. It was a chance to reorganize and start fresh with new ideas based on research. But no. Instead, the people running the system doubled down on all the things that don’t work. Standardized tests benefit no one and actually harm students in rural America and poor inner cities. More emphasis on expensive curricula developed by “experts” in towers where no one under 17 is permitted. “Read the script,” they said, “read the script and everyone gets smarter.” Except scripts generalize and students are individuals. Who wins? Publishers and the “experts” who rake in the cash.

I’m tired of thinking about it. I’m tired of caring. If learning isn’t a priority, then scrap the whole school thing. It’s a convenient and very expensive babysitter for too many people. I don’t have answers. School choice? Maybe. Neighborhood school pods? Probably not, although homeschooling families seem to be making that work. It doesn’t really matter anyway, because the system is broken beyond repair. And I just can’t care about it anymore.

But I do.


Hanson, Melanie. “U.S. Public Education Spending Statistics”, June 15, 2022,

Don’t like it? Tear it down.


Then what?

We all know the aphorism: Nature abhors a vacuum. Yet in these post-pandemic times (and in spite of new iterations, the COVID-19 pandemic is largely part of history now) there seems to be a growing wave of resentment toward institutions bleeding over into hatred of people.

The government is no longer a reliable authority. The left demonizes the right and the right blames the left for all the evils of the nation. The fact is there is plenty of blame to go around, and most Americans are somewhere in the middle. Is democracy really dead? Is the republic really over? Maybe, maybe not. But at the moment, both sides seem to be more intent on winning than on governing.

What does the political war have to do with education? Everything. Because every routine, text, plan, and purpose of teaching is so politicized that teachers are either afraid to teach what they know their students need or they quit. Statistics may be the most subtle form of lie, but when there is a teacher shortage of 300,000 in a single year statistics tell a story. did an excellent article about the reasons 44% of teachers leave the field before they’ve completed five years–data from before the pandemic. Low pay and benefits force 26% to exit–more in places where the cost of living is exorbitantly high. A Yahoo news article on September 6, 2022 told the hopeful story of a Bay Area school district that decided to address the inability for teachers (most of whom have Masters’ degrees) to find housing by asking school parents to provide “a room or small space on their property for our educators.” California has a teachers union, but instead of advocating for better pay, improved benefits, and more classroom autonomy, the CTA spent 1.815 million dollars ensuring the governor survived a recall and another 3.5 million on ballot measures largely unrelated to teachers and teaching in 2021.

COVID made things worse for teachers. An NPR interviewee said, “But this last year was the hardest yet of my career. And after finishing the year just completely drained and demoralized, I felt like there had to be something else out there. I couldn’t do another year like that. With COVID, the workload has increased. Each year, the demands from parents, from legislators, from school districts and the lack of trust and respect that we’ve been given as professionals – I just reached my breaking point.” Another former teacher added, “I mean, any teacher in America will tell you how from 2020, we went from hero to zero. You know, in the spring of 2020, when everybody was, oh, teachers, how do you do it? And then by – it’s summer 2020, get back to work. Go in the schools. You know, take care of our kids. And, you know, just the stress of all that, I think, was a big part of it. And at the end of the day, you know, in – as much as I hate to say it, it was a financial choice. And I had to walk away from a job and a career that I love deeply.” For these and many other teachers who have walked away, the lack of respect for their professionalism stems from politicians who have little to no education experience making policies built on impossible expectations.

It seems like the US education system is being torn down by outside forces: politics of unrealistic expectations, ineffective corporate curricula, and noise about issues that teachers don’t actually have time or training to deal with (e.g. student mental health, community poverty, crime, violence) AND inside struggles: top down dictates for student performance, having to cover for missing a teachers, lack of respect for professional knowledge, and salary that doesn’t match either the education or skill of the teacher. Lee Allen said,

“We have a shrinking pipeline of students going to college and studying to become teachers and even students in college that finished teacher preparation programs aren’t going into the field. And a lot of the people that are staying, if they’re in a bad situation or just trying to hang on until they can get to retirement and they’re not going to be as effective teachers. So you’re losing the highest part of your talent pool like we’ve seen here. Unfortunately, children are the ones that pay the price. But it’s hard because as teachers, we have to take care of ourselves. And we still have individual lives and feelings, and we have mental health to worry about as well. So if things don’t get better, I really do worry about the future.”

Lee Allen, 2022 Gwinnett County Teacher of the Year, PBS Newshour, August 20, 2022)

Allen has good cause for worry. Unless the political bickering about whose fault it is that US children continuing to lag behind their Scandinavian counterparts stops, the freefall towards Gomorrah (we’re way past slouching –apologies to Judge Bork) will only accelerate. If business is going to be a stakeholder in education, then it needs to be transparent as to exactly what and how corporations will involved themselves. If the goal is to offer US students a “free and equal” public education, the school boards, superintendents, and elected officials must listen to both teachers (who have the required expertise) and parents (who know their kids) and build something before the black hold of chaos ruins any hope for teaching and learning in neighborhood schools. Are schools going to be social support programs or places of ideas, problem-solving, and communication? More and more young adults are choosing vocational paths away from teaching, a fact that will continue to contribute to teacher shortages and burnout.

Tear it all down, but unless there is a plan for what follows the only result will be chaos.

UNLV-my academic home sweet home


COVID19 has done a lot of damage. It has devastated the economy, wreaked havoc on schools, and caused unparalleled harm to people around the world. COVID19 quarantines meant the spring semester finished online, and I felt cheated out of my one-year adventure in Las Vegas.

My contract was only for a year, and I knew that I couldn’t stay even if I was offered a second year because my family was still in Georgia. I loved Nevada. I never thought I would, but I did. My colleagues at UNLV were welcoming and made me feel immediately at home. I was part of the Teaching and Learning community from the first day. It was special. I loved the student body, with all its true diversity. I learned about more cultures than I imagined possible in such a short time and small space. My classes were places of discovery and dialogue, connection and community. Of course, there were a few people who didn’t love me or my teaching style, but for the most part, student comments were positive and their critiques genuinely useful for my growth as an educator. I was truly sad that I would only have a year there–and then that year was truncated by a pandemic.

A hiring freeze further killed any hopes of continuing my career at UNLV. I applied for several jobs, and interviewed for one not far from me, but was passed over for other applicants whose skills better served the needs of those universities. I started to think about alternatives to the academy. I wasn’t entirely sure what those looked like, but I was open to pretty much anything.

And then I started to hear questions from my colleagues. Would I be interested in remote work? Would I be available for online classes? Would I be willing to host live Zoom sessions of evening classes on Pacific time? That last one gave me pause, I’ll admit. 7-9:45 classes are hard enough, but when the actual time for me is 10p- 12:45a? I’m a night owl, but…

Finally last month I had conversations with the department chair about a one year visiting assistant professor position that would be fully remote. It would require a pay cut, but since I wouldn’t have to maintain a separate home, that was not an issue. The offer came, I accepted, and I’m pretty sure people in Las Vegas heard my shouts of joy. No one saw my happy dance, but it was exuberant.

So, my new home office (perks of being an empty-nester) is buzzing with new ideas, preparations for classes, both new and familiar, and plans to make the best of a new school year filled with challenges and possibilities.

Why writing? an addendum


Last October I wrote about why I write for National Writing Day:

I write to think. I write to process information. I write to learn. I write to explore. I write to understand. I write to encourage. I write to teach. I write to implore. I write to celebrate.

I write because I am a writer.

However, as a writer, writing is my nature. An astute student in class last night wanted to know what to tell her students who DON’T write why they should. What is the purpose of writing for non-writers in the real world?

A really good question.

Sepia toned image of an open journal, a pen a lamp base and flowers.
writing to reflect

I think writing is essential for communication. The type of writing may vary, but writing clearly ensures that your ideas, needs, plans, and instructions are understood, whether you are a mechanic, scholar, or game designer. I can’t tell you how many IKEA builds have gone wrong without actual written instructions. Writing reviews for annual evaluations are a necessary trial in most professional jobs; writing well may determine the raise you get. Testimony is more powerful in writing. My car was rear-ended and I wrote a detailed explanation of what happened before I could forget the details. I didn’t need it (the other party paid for repairs), but if I had needed to work through insurance and police reports, I had a well-crafted, detailed, and timely written explanation.

Writing is a practical way to ensure that your words are not misconstrued and it leaves a trail of conversation that can be useful. The reason I use e-mail for all my student (and parent) exchanges outside of class is so that I have the documentation of any conversation– just in case. Texting offer the same thing, as do any of the video-chat apps that let you keep the recordings. (I love Marco Polo for that.)

Mostly, though, I think we all need to write in order to fully tell our stories and be heard. We learn better when we are uninterrupted in our listening. We can be more explicit in our descriptions of our world views and how we came to develop them. Through our writing we can express what it means to be human in ways no other medium can. Writing matters.

Catching up


Well, that went fast! It was just October, wasn’t it?

So, here’s a recap:

In a nutshell? Half-marathon training in two states, family time, NCTE, more family, food, holidays, art, and exploration.

You are officially caught up– on to 2020 and more thoughts of education. Mixed, of course, with family, food, and fun.

#why I write – a post for the National Day on Writing


I find it interesting that the National Day on Writing is a Sunday. It seems to me a school day would be more appropriate so more people might participate. But I digress.

I write to think. I write to process information. I write to learn. I write to explore. I write to understand. I write to encourage. I write to teach. I write to implore. I write to celebrate.

I write because I can, because I must, and because I am compelled to do so.

I write because I am a writer.

Of content, standards, and humans beings


I was born to teach. When I am in the classroom with students, I feel fully alive. If teaching itself it a high calling, which I believe it is, teaching teachers is even more so. In my four classes, I have about 60 teachers, some traditional pre-service, a couple of veterans, but mostly teachers completing alternative routes to certification, including Teach for America.

I’m grateful this last group is part of my experience as a new professor. Having gone through a traditional program myself, I have learned from them just how stressful an alternative route can be. These teachers are generally placed in high needs schools with just a few weeks of training. They teach based on their experiences as students, and often miss the theory and research behind WHY certain strategies work. This semester I have tried to give them the back story of English Language Arts education as well as encourage them to start teaching their students rather than focus on the standards. It’s a tricky balance. They are often constrained by a requirement to elucidate a number of specific Common Core State Standards they intend to cover even before they begin to compose their unit and lesson plans.

The Standards themselves are flexible and allow for a degree of teacher autonomy and individuality, but too often administrators require teachers to identify the number of the standard they plan to teach. In my opinion, this is backward. As L’Engle (1974) wrote, “You are basically not teaching a subject, you are teaching children.” L’Engle went on to say that machines could probably teach subjects better than humans, but the result would be the creation of little machine. Nearly 50 years later, we know that machines (computers) are useful tools to instruction in subject matter, but children still learn better from and with humans. Indeed, learning is a social action (Dewey 1916/2001).

The teachers who participate in my classes are so focused on the standards that it’s hard for them to think about anything else. I have constructed class activities to purposefully avoid the official standards, knowing that good teaching will ultimately connect to them. It has been a challenge convincing some of the teachers that they can address the standards LAST instead of first. Some are beginning to see that they don’t have to be rigid, and that they can deviate from a scripted curriculum to better meet the needs of their students. Some are relieved, feeling validated by knowing that they’re on a positive, if unorthodox, track. Still, habits die hard. These teachers learned to write five-paragraph essays, so that’s what they think they have to teach. Never mind that no one ever writes in five-paragraph essay form after high school or early college. Even most of the standardized assessments have dropped that requirement.

I understand the purpose of Teach for America and other Alternative Routes to certification, especially for people choosing to teach as a second career. These non-traditional teachers often bring a wealth of real world experience to the classroom that makes it a rich environment for learning. I do wish the alternative routes included a crash course in theory and research before placing new teachers into classrooms. The focus on assessment, rubric, and classroom management that most students experience dulls them to the human part of teaching. And it’s in humanity that the most effective teachers find their passion. The content of a course is the vehicle for helping teens find their identities, learn how to be in community, and consider the importance of others. Do students need to know how to speak and write in conventional English? Of course. But their thoughts and ideas are where the real learning comes in. CCSS, standardized tests, packaged curricula– these may be easily managed and measured, but they only tell a fragment of the stories in student learning.

My goal for this year is to assuage the apprehension new teachers feel when they try to do creative and innovative projects in their classrooms. I want teachers to feel confident that speaking to student lives in conjunction with literature makes for a meaningful experience that ultimately still leads to the test scores so many school administrators are after. But the students, as humans with individual stories, histories, knowledge, and experiences, have to come first. If the goal of education is to prepare people for global competitiveness (Department of Education), then it seems to me that the most important element is to focus on the people. People cannot be measured solely by a checklist of standards. And teachers must be afforded the agency to direct their classrooms in accordance with their students’ needs, interests, and stories first.


Dewey, J. (2001). Democracy and education. Hazelton, PA: Penn State Electronic Classics. Original published in 1916.

L’Engle, M. (1974). A circle of quiet. [Kindle version]. Retrieved from

The Doctor is in.

Office sign with name, title, and job description
The sign by my office door made everything real.

It’s been a couple of weeks since I took this picture. Moving across the country (temporarily), doing all the new faculty events, composing syllabi for four classes, and the first week of teaching kept me busy. After next week, I think I’ll begin to find a new routine for this exciting time of my life.

One thing I already know for sure. This is the kind of job I was born to do. I love surprising students with the unorthodox kinds of classes I like to teach.

I opened each class with a song from Queen (Don’t Stop Me Now) or The Who (Who are you). I borrowed and tweaked a couple of ideas from Aaron Levy. I read aloud from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. I used slideshows heavy with images and light on text (the way slideshows are supposed to be used). I asked questions. I left the syllabus off the agenda until the closing moments of the first class–with a quiz to make sure everyone at least opened it. Having a quiz meant I could hold them accountable to the material in it without having to take class time for it. These are teachers; they should know how to find and read a syllabus.

I borrowed another element from Dr. Levy’s class: the feather circle. I changed it up and made it the red pen circle. Full disclosure: a red pen was the only prop at my disposal, but I made it work by talking about how red pens were associated with poor work, disappointment, and a restriction of personal voice. I gave writers the power back by giving the holder of the red pen the uninterrupted power of the floor until it was passed to the next person. I’ll expand the whole concept in another post, but it was a great first day exercise.

I also introduced don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements to two classes and asked them to collaborate on posters for their classrooms that represented each one. Again, not the usual way to begin a semester, but I think everyone enjoyed something a little unorthodox.

By the end of the week I was absolutely spent. And absolutely content. It’s going to be a fantastic year.