Are Gift-Giving Parents Out of Control?


Are Gift-Giving Parents Out of Control?


All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth and a Ferrari


James L. Casale, Ph.D.

If giving is better than receiving when is giving inappropriate? This is the giving season. Shall we rain all manner of gifts upon our children, or is this time of year a teaching moment that will last throughout this season and beyond. Gifts, gifts, and more gifts result in more, more, and more clutter and, worse, lessons lost on the recipients. No, you cannot have a Ferrari. You have to wait until you are 16.

Unfortunately for the recipients, gifts may flow throughout the year as prizes or rewards that are not deserved. You givers know who you are. Taking out the garbage, making your bed, brushing your teeth, getting good grades, being nice to your sister, or setting the table are NOT occasions that deserve gifts. Enough already! There are special events each year that warrant gift giving, but moderation is the watchword even if you can afford the Ferrari.

Just because your ninth-grader wants a $400 Gucci belt doesn’t mean he gets it. The latest iPhone? Forget it, pal. And I can’t believe what my grandson wanted for Christmas. Actually, I never heard of it, but it’s the rage at his high school in Connecticut, and kids are paying big bucks for it. It’s a shirt called, Supreme. Kids will pay several hundred dollars for the privilege to wear a shirt that doesn’t even have Mickey Mantle‘s name on the back. And according to my grandson, prices can go as high as a thousand dollars. OMG


Even if you can afford elaborate gifts, don’t do it. If begging persists, my standard answers would be the following:

Use the money you have saved.
Wait until you have saved enough.
Maybe when you graduate from college.
Yeah, right. Not this year.
Ask your grandmother.
Do you need more Legos? You have enough to open your own Legoland. How about some Lincoln Logs?

Lessons learned

Here’s a lesson on giving. Depending on their age, buy your children a few gifts each that are earmarked for a child or a family in need. Then, with your children accompanying you, deliver the gifts to the family or the organization that will distribute them. No, you cannot sit on my lap while I drive. For example, Toys for Tots, sponsored by the United States Marine Corps, will welcome your contributions, as will the local homeless center. If your children are old enough to have their own money, allow them the freedom to purchase gifts and decide on the needy recipients. Remember, they are not the needy. If they are, ignore this paragraph.

Many houses of worship have ministries that reach out to the local community to serve the less fortunate. Giving is not limited to tangible gifts but also includes giving the gift of your time to local organizations that serve the community. Time is the same as money.

Get rid of clutter and feel good about it

Do you have a garage or attic full of “stuff” that you or your kids are not using? Don’t wait until that gift-giving time of year to get rid of it. As a family, gather it up, pack the car, and drive to the appropriate donation centers. Now, doesn’t that feel good? And the neighbors will stop talking about you.

A recent article in the New York Post caught my eye. “Present Tense” by Naomi Schaefer Riley references the bestselling author Marie Kondo, who wrote The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Ms. Kondo emphasizes a “minimalist” lifestyle. That sounds like a good idea, but my emphasis is less about clutter and more about establishing a culture in each home that practices the three K’s: Karing, Kompassion, and Kindness. Mark it down but spell it correctly.

Ancient times

During my childhood in ancient times, I didn’t expect much, my parents couldn’t afford much, and I didn’t receive much when it came to gift-giving season or, for that matter, throughout the year. All I ever wanted to survive in my neighborhood were four things that would make me the happiest kid on the block: a bike, a baseball glove, a baseball, and a pink Spalding. We used that pink rubber ball to play stoop ball and stickball.

As a parent and grandparent, I followed suit and never lavished expensive gifts on my children and grandchildren. I usually gave books, money, and good advice about the importance of reading and making your own choices.

Yeah, but it’s 2017

This “me first” generation salivates for the latest electronic goodies, motorized toys, designer clothes, and, God help us, video games. Don’t give in: give out instead to those in your community who need food, clothes, books, a bike, and maybe a baseball glove.


Comments are welcome at


Tough Love Revisited

Tough Love Revisited


James L. Casale, Ph.D.

I’m a big fan of Peggy Noonan. She is a syndicated columnist for the Wall Street Journal. I don’t always agree with her, but I respect her opinions, and I pay attention to her views. She is a lifelong learner as this essay will prove.

The mention of “tough love” conjures up the notion of how we, as parents, are expected to raise our children successfully by not giving in to their every wish and desire and allowing them to figure out stuff for themselves. It also means that when our kids screw up, we should allow them to suffer the consequences of their actions.

Her latest column, which I read in the New York Post (1/27/18), was titled “Tough Love” and focused on the views of Jordan Peterson, former associate professor of psychology at Harvard and a full professor at the University of Toronto, who dares to challenge the left-wing orthodoxy that society is to blame for our personal woes and prefers to champion self-improvement. He proposes that “we should be more critical of ourselves rather than society.”

Since I recently completed my second eBook, Family Manifesto: Words to Live By, which is filled with “growing up” quotes and other words of wisdom, I was inspired and excited to read  Noonan’s editorial on professor Peterson’s views regarding self-improvement.

Peterson’s tough-love school: “Know life’s limits, see and analyze your own, build on what you’ve got and can create.” He states emphatically, “Be brave. Everything else is boring and won’t work.”

He respects the great thinkers of the West and the Christian tradition. In his book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, readers can expect to find the following gems:

Pay attention to the Old Testament. These stories have lasted for a reason.
Grasping at a political ideology is not the answer when your life goes wrong.
Don’t blame capitalism, the radical left, or the iniquity of your enemies.
Don’t reorganize the state until you have ordered your own experience. (AKA—If you want to change the world, start by making your bed.)
Have humility.
If you can’t bring peace to your household, how dare you try to rule a city?
Don’t be arrogant. “Become aware of your own insufficiency.”
Support yourself with people who support your upward aim.


There is more, much more, but as the lifelong learner Peggy Noonan did, I think I’ll buy the book too. This sounds like a book I want in my library. We are all capable of so much more if we will open our minds to the possibilities of self-improvement. Books, magazines, newspapers, courses, and more offer us endless opportunities to raise our children to be lifelong learners, good citizens, and men and women of character. While we are doing that, we will improve too.

Dr. Casale is a state and national award-winning educator and the author of the highly praised book published by Skyhorse Publishing, Wise Up and Be the Solution: How to Create a Culture of Learning at Home and Guide Your Child to Succeed in School and Life. It is available at bookstores and online.

His second parenting book, Family Pledge; Raising Lifelong Learners and Good Citizens, has received five-star reviews on Amazon and is also available at bookstores and digitally.

He is available as a speaker.


Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


Homeschoolers: Chief Cooks and Bottle Washers


Homeschoolers: “Chief Cooks and Bottle Washers”


James L. Casale, Ph.D.

Over the past several weeks, on separate occasions, I have had the pleasurable experience of interviewing two moms on my radio show, Common Sense Parenting on One mom lives in Florida; the other in Colorado.

As a former classroom teacher and school administrator, I have always been interested in the logistics and processes of this endeavor. It appears to require an enormous amount of effort, determination, patience, persistence, enthusiasm, knowledge, skill, courage, and resourcefulness. Add vision and purpose to the mix, and the result is leadership personified.

What did I want to know?

Before the interviews, I hastily made a list of questions about homeschooling that I had been carrying about in my head for years. After all, as a school principal, I hired, mentored, and evaluated teachers for many years. And keeping in mind how difficult effective teaching is and how much work and skill and knowledge it requires; I couldn’t imagine how homeschooling parents did this successfully.

My questions focused on the obvious: Why did you decide to homeschool your children? When did you decide to tackle this job? How many children are you teaching and how old are they? Where do you obtain your curriculum and your materials? You are not a licensed teacher, so who mentors you? How do you measure the progress you are or are not making? Do you have house rules during school time? What are your frustrations? How do your children socialize with other children their age? Are there clubs and sports your children can participate in? Do you have to register with the public school?

I didn’t get all the answers, but…

There was not sufficient time during the radio show to obtain all the answers to my questions. I invited both moms back to continue the discussion at a later date. The Colorado mom had six kids ranging from elementary school to high school. They had attended public school before she decided to homeschool them. The Florida mom had two children, ages six and seven, who had never attended school.

Both moms were extremely enthusiastic about their choice to homeschool. They loved spending quality time with their children. They were fully supported by a homeschooling network and system that included local and state organizations. While their circumstances were slightly different, they never looked back or doubted themselves. Of course, their spouses were also part of the equation. This is a critical component of any household that has high expectations for the entire family.

Leadership at a high level

It occurred to me during one of my conversations that these moms were the “chief cooks and bottle washers” of their organization, which can be described best in John Gardner’s words: “The smallest school in America is the family.” We had quite a laugh about it when I realized and shared with one of the moms that, in addition to being the teacher, she also served as the principal, custodian, cafeteria worker, counselor, bus driver, activities director, media specialist, and teacher’s aide. Multitasking these responsibilities demands leadership. These moms (I’m sure dads are doing this too), to be successful, must be prepared, organized, decisive, communicative, knowledgeable, resourceful, energetic, disciplined, enthusiastic, and devoted to a goal and a mission that surpasses their own self-interest. I realize that these two situations are anecdotal, but so far so good.

Dr. Casale is both a state and national award-winning educator and the author of the highly praised book published by Skyhorse Publishing, Wise Up and Be the Solution: How to Create a Culture of Learning at Home and Guide Your Child to Succeed in School and Life. His second parenting book, Family Pledge: Raising Lifelong Learners and Good Citizens, has also received rave reviews. Both books are available on his website,, in bookstores, and online in print and eBook versions.


Was the Parkland Massacre Preventable?

In recent weeks, I visited two Palm Beach County high schools to drop off scholarship applications courtesy of the Sons of Italy Lodge in Tequesta, FL. At one campus, I was able to walk directly into the front office to state my business. At the other campus, I was met by a huge chain link fence and a security person before I was admitted to the office. I think that if I were a troubled student (known fact) who was recently expelled and carrying a backpack and a duffle bag, I would not have made it to the inside of the chain-link at campus number two. How did this murderer receive access to the campus at Douglas High school?

First Things First

The number one priority of any school district and individual school is the safety and security of students and staff. As a former school administrator, I had OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) when it came to school safety and security. From daily lockdowns and an efficient buzzer system to faulty and dangerous playground equipment and cafeteria spills, I was ever vigilant and my staff and parents knew it. It was contagious. Everybody became more aware of anything in the school or on campus that would in any way be potentially harmful.

What Can Be Done Before First Responders Arrive?

Our first responders don’t arrive until they are notified. Sometimes they arrive during the commission of the heinous act or after the act is committed. God Bless them and their families. The front lines in these cases are manned by school officials, teachers, and parents. Yes, parents must be part of the equation.

Parents send their kids to school with the assumption that they will be secure and safe. Parents put too much trust in school officials including school board members. School safety and security protocols must include input from parents who can and should participate in the establishment of district and school policy.

How Can Parents Get Involved?

First, become informed. Insist on the publication and distribution of a school district manual outlining the district and each school’s policies and protocols that protect your children from harm’s way. This includes everything from playground and bus safety to bullying, cyberbullying, and unwanted intruders.

Second, serve on district and school safety committees that meet each month to gather information and evaluate the effectiveness of these policies. Conduct staff and parent meetings on this topic.

Third, research the policies of other school districts locally and nationally. Utilize the information if it improves your situation. There are enormous amounts of free information available from organizations such as The National Crime Council, U.S. Department of Education, and the Center for Safe Schools to name a few.

Fourth, always include input from your community’s first responders who should be represented on your committee.


There is no issue as important as the safety, security, and health of your child. Do your homework, gather information, get involved and don’t rely solely on the school district or school. Some valuable lessons were learned from Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012.  Find out what they were. While evil cannot always be deterred, we can always be vigilant.

James L. Casale is a former Florida Teacher of the Year and a National School of Excellence principal.
He is the author of two parenting books. He is available as a speaker.


Tragic Fire in NYC Kills Thirteen: Was it Negligence?


Tragic Fire in NYC Kills Thirteen. Was it Negligence?


James L. Casale

Ignorance is not bliss; it’s dangerous. Remember the four-year-old boy who fell into the zoo enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo in 2016? He was unharmed, but the gorilla was executed. The police considered charging the parents with negligence. They didn’t. They should have. Even the gorilla knew more about caring for his offspring.

In New York City, on December 29, 2017, a preschooler playing with the burners on his mother’s stove caused one of the deadliest fires in NYC in decades. Was it the toddler’s fault? Of course not. His mother’s ignorance of her solemn responsibility to protect her child reveals a situation that too often occurs here and around the world. Or is it sheer stupidity and laziness that is part of this deadly equation?

Who pays the price?

Toddlers are NOT tuned in to danger. They are curious about everything they can touch and see and put in their mouths. They, along with infants, are at the mercy of their caregivers, and they often pay the price for it. The boy who fell into the zoo enclosure should have been tethered to a stroller or holding his father’s hand. The toddler fascinated with stove burners should never have been out of his mother’s line of sight. According to reports, this was not his first adventure with the stove. He and his mother escaped unharmed. Twelve others didn’t.

Pool deaths and children left in cars

Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) statistics reveal that 350 children under the age of five die each year because of drowning in backyard pools. In addition, NBC News reports that 38 children—infants and toddlers—suffocate each year as a result of being left in cars where temperatures soar to a high of 120 degrees. Six hundred of these needless deaths have occurred since 1998.

Such negligence causes infinite pain to many loved ones and steals the lives of children who will never have the opportunity to fulfill their dreams. This is the unbearable cost of parental negligence.

What can be done?

If parents and caregivers don’t comprehend the magnitude and responsibility that comes with being a parent, all hope is lost. Yes, parenting is difficult and challenging. But these children didn’t choose their parents; their parents chose them. When you choose to be a parent, you are required to leave your narcissistic cocoon and care for another human being.

Parents can break through their ignorance by reading appropriate books and magazines and talking to teachers, early childhood experts, and other professionals. Most parents are not prepared for what lies ahead of them. If they at least understand that, they may seek to educate themselves about effective parenting and their solemn responsibility. I recommend this before the child is born. Too many new parents busy themselves with decorating a child’s room and buying the right diapers. The focus should always be on the child’s


Four Weeks Without the Car: Allstate’s Unintended Parenting Commercial


“Four Weeks Without the Car”: Allstate’s Unintended Parenting Commercial


James L. Casale

The current Allstate Insurance commercial airing daily on TV depicts a teenager pleading his case to his parents after he was engaged in a minor fender bender. For me, the commercial is less about Allstate’s accident forgiveness policy and more about a demonstration of effective parenting techniques. Parents, please pay close attention the next time you see it.

The Scene

The parents are sitting up in bed reading as their teenage son enters their room. The boy shows no fear or trepidation. On the contrary, he displays a certain amount of both comfort and cockiness. He states his case eloquently about his fender bender in a narrow drive-through while intimating, but not directly saying, that it is no big deal. Having done his research, the precocious teen proceeds to flatter his parents for being “so smart.” After all, they are Allstate customers who benefit from an accident forgiveness component in their insurance plan.

I See the Seven Cs of Effective Parenting

The parents listen attentively. Their body language is perfect. They are stoic, and there is no grimacing or eye-rolling.  Their eyes never leave their son. They show no emotion; they do not interrupt his plea.

Based on this particular scene, communication in this family is evident. He speaks; they listen. All this occurs while each family member remains calm and civil. If parents expect their children to be calm and civil, they must model these characteristics and many others with planned consistency. Kids learn by what they see and not by what is preached to them. We all may have our moments, but consistency, which requires collaboration between parents and a consistent devotion to a parenting plan, is a key ingredient of successful parenting.

The fact that this teenager would enter his parents’ bedroom and initiate this discussion reveals more than just the ability to communicate in this family. It also reveals a connectedness among family members that is characterized by trust, confidence, and open-mindedness. Trust must be part of the family culture if raising lifelong learners, men and women of character, and good citizens are the goals.

After listening intently, showing no emotion or negative body language, and allowing their son to conclude his case, his mother calmly says, “Four weeks without the car.” Hearing the verdict and accepting the decision, the teen executes a perfect 180 and says, “OK, goodnight,” and then he hustles back to his room. They speak; he listens. Communication and connectedness rule.

Among all the other positive techniques displayed throughout this commercial, mom and dad also exhibit a commitment to work with each other and execute a plan that includes all of the above boldfaced Cs as well as providing consequences as they see fit.

Parenting Is Not Easy

As comedian Jim Gaffigan said, “Most of the time, I feel totally unqualified to be a parent. I call those times being awake.” If you are a parent, you already know this, and I want to add that it takes courage to be a parent especially in the rough seas of the 21st century. These are the seas where distractions are limitlessness, where electronic devices rob our children of their childhoods, where face-to-face socializing is passé, where kids are not building forts, playing in empty lots, or enjoying nature, where the self-esteem movement seems to rule our public schools and our homes, where everybody gets a trophy, and where our college students need safe places, counselors, and now “baby goats” (University of Maine) to relieve their stress.

I exhort my fellow parents to hold your heads up high, walk tall, talk straight, coddle less, model your expectations, allow your children to suffer the consequences of inappropriate behavior, create a family mission statement that establishes a culture of learning at home, and devise a plan that includes the seven Cs of common-sense parenting. These tenets will help parents navigate the parenting journey.

Dr. Casale is both a state and national award-winning educator and the author of the highly praised book published by Skyhorse Publishing, Wise Up and Be the Solution: How to Create a Culture of Learning at Home and Guide Your Child to Succeed in School and Life. His second parenting book, Family Pledge: Raising Lifelong Learners and Good Citizens, has also received rave reviews. Both books are available on his website,, in bookstores, and online in print and eBook versions.


School Safety: Five Guiding Principles


School Safety: Five Guiding Principles for Parents


James L. Casale

Part 1

The number-one priority of every school must be the safety and security of students and staff. If, as a parent, you are not content with the district’s policies and procedures, you have two choices: remove your child or become an agent of change.

In 1984, I was appointed the new principal of Purchase School, a small K-5 school in Harrison, New York. I was greeted with a bevy of complaints from teachers, staff, and parents about a steady stream of strangers roaming the hallways looking for the main office and seeking directions to nearby locales. The school was located at the busy intersection of Purchase Street and Anderson Hill Road in a residential area devoid of commerce. The two large parking lots were conveniently inviting to those who were lost.

The lower-level parking lot on Purchase Street had two points of entry. Both remained open all day. The other parking lot faced Anderson Hill Road. It had one point of entry, which led to the main office. It was as clear as the morning bell that greeted students each day that this AAA service had to stop immediately.

Phase one of the plan was easy. All entry points would be locked when the late bell rang. Signs directed latecomers, strangers, and visitors alike to report to a single entry that led to the main office.

Phase two of the plan required a buzzer system at the main entrance. All visitors were required to state their name and their business before being “buzzed” into the building. This phase took a little longer. It needed the approval of the school board and the superintendent. This was and still is a small school district, though. Innovations could get done quickly, especially when buttressed by teacher and parent support.

These protocols put an immediate stop to intruders wandering the halls looking for help, but more importantly, they made everyone connected to Purchase School feel safer.

Could any of this have prevented a Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland, or Santa Fe incident? After all, it was 1984 and BCCSM (Before Computers, Cell Phones, and Social Media). We thought we were being innovative, but in today’s world, our innovations would fall far short. There is so much more to be done, and parents can lead the way.

The tentacles that drive gun violence have their roots in a variety of societal maladies that include but are not limited to dysfunctional families, divorce, mental illness, violent video games, a movie industry that glorifies violence, pandemic bullying, and the misuse of electronic devices.

Inept school officials and a dearth of comprehensive A-to-Z school policies that address total school safety and security are part of the disaster in waiting.

And let’s not forget the so-called uninformed, lazy, and apathetic “intact two-parent families” that coddle their children, enable inappropriate behavior, and devote themselves to their children’s self-esteem instead of embracing their responsibilities as their children’s first teachers and role models.

Part 2

Principle #1—Assess Your Parenting Skills

School reform starts at home. Do you have a family mission statement that guides each family member to become a lifelong learner and a person of character and virtue committed to kindness, compassion, respect, and responsibility? No? Create it now and hang it on the wall.

Do you have a plan to raise your children within the guidelines of your expectations as outlined in your family mission statement? Are you committed to building trust, communication, and connectedness? Are your decisions consistent and collaborative? Do you teach by example? Do you even have the courage needed to be an effective parent?

Principle #2—Become Informed

It is your sacred responsibility to protect your child. Obtain copies of the school and school district’s safety and security policies and procedures. These are not limited to protecting children from the deranged psychopaths, sociopaths, and predators who are intent on murder, destruction, and chaos.

Policies must be comprehensive, protecting kids on the playground, in the cafeteria, on school buses, and in the hallways. They must also include bullying and discipline protocols. Additionally, the cleanliness of the building, health protocols, and a campus that is devoid of dangerous hazards such as unsafe playground equipment, fencing, or debris are also part of the safety equation. Fire drills and emergency evacuation procedures are standard policies usually observed by all schools.

Those interested do not have to reinvent the wheel. Information and guidelines are readily available from national, state, and local organizations.

Principle #3—Get Involved

Don’t become proactive until you acquire accurate information (see Principle #2). Complacency and apathy are your enemies. There is no such thing as safe enough. There is power in numbers. Connect with like-minded parents. Form a committee and/or insist that there is a safety committee in your school and that parents are well represented.

The committee should meet at least once a month. Require your school’s parent organization to conduct an annual meeting devoted to safety and security policies. Create communication lines to all parents. If possible, volunteer your time. Adult-student ratios always need a boost. Include input and recommendations from your community’s first responders. They should also be represented on your school and/or district committee.

Principle #4—Hold Elected Officials and School Officials Accountable

South Korea leads all nations in school achievement. When President Obama asked the South Korean president what his biggest complaint regarding the education system was, he replied, “The parents are too demanding.” This is in stark contrast to what I have experienced as a public school educator for more than 40 years. American parents are not demanding enough.

The state is responsible for the education system. The governor, his appointees, and state legislators work for you and must be held accountable. These people are not educators and, more often than not, know little about schools. You must remain connected to them and organize yourselves into a group they will listen to.

The same goes for school officials. Don’t wait for a school tragedy. Demand that they do their job and remind them constantly that their number-one responsibility is to protect your children.

Principle #5—Assess and Reassess

As managing expert Ken Blanchard says, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” When Ed Koch was the mayor of New York City, he was always seeking feedback from his fellow New Yorkers. While walking the streets of the city, he would shout out his now-famous saying, “How am I doing?”

School and district policies and protocols must be scrutinized and regularly evaluated for their effectiveness. Maintain logs and statistics to guide you. There is always room for improvement.


Good things will happen. Kids, staff, visitors, and parents will feel safer and be safer if parents do their “due diligence.” There is no shortage of solid information. While there are no guarantees—unless you buy a toaster—being the best parent you can be, becoming informed and proactive, working and collaborating with like-minded people, and holding state and local officials accountable is a formula that may curtail the next accident or tragedy. It’s worth trying.


Teacher Effectiveness

Why Did Bill Gates Lose Millions Investing in Teacher Effectiveness?

Bill Gates is famous for being the founder of Microsoft and an admired philanthropist for many causes around the world. He’s a smart guy but he knows little about public education and, unfortunately for him, teacher effectiveness and its impact on student achievement. In fact, he doesn’t even know who to consult with when he wants to learn about school improvement.

I read years ago that he consulted with Harvard professors about staff development, aka professional development, as the possible cure-all for public education woes. College professors are not a good starting point. While they teach, research, and advise the unknowing, they probably haven’t been in a public school classroom for decades. And if they have, I doubt they were the most effective teachers or principals or superintendents.

The Purpose of the Study

According to the Rand report on this study, the Gates Foundation invested heavily (more than 200 million dollars) along with three school districts who also contributed 300 million to this failed effort. Let’s do the math; that’s half a billion dollars. The purpose was to identify teacher effectiveness as a means to improve teacher evaluation. They seemed to rely heavily on the correlation between standardized test scores and teacher evaluation. If what these teachers did to affect the desired outcomes on high stakes testing could be measured or identified, the teacher evaluation process would be transformed and academic performance would improve. The initiative also included awarding bonuses and boosting staff development as a means of retaining the best teachers. It didn’t happen.

This is a non-starter. Even colleges and universities seem to finally understand that the work and progress of students, their community experiences and their volunteer work are more important indicators of future achievement than one or two high stakes tests. But that’s not the major flaw of this grandiose and expensive study.

The Results

The 526-page report on this waste of money concluded that the seven-year study was unsuccessful. There were no measurable improvements in student test scores. There were no measurable improvements in teaching effectiveness. There were no increases in the retention of effective teachers. After concluding that they didn’t know what went wrong, the participants offered up this little gem: “Insufficient attention to factors other than teacher quality.” No kidding.

The Fatal Flaws

They did not get advice from the people in the trenches. If they had started by talking to effective teachers, principals, and superintendents instead of college professors and Arne Duncan, a former secretary of education, they could have saved millions.
Advice from knowledgeable people who advised against this effort was reportedly ignored.
Linking teacher evaluation to standardized tests is a false premise.
There are too many variables that affect student performance. Quality teaching is only one of them.
Parent involvement was ignored.

Students are not machine parts. Each comprises a set of variables that render them unique. For starters, background knowledge, ability levels, previous school experiences, test-taking stress and anxiety, and parental involvement should all be considered. Achievement at a specific grade level must also factor in the teachers the students have had previously and the length of their enrollment in that school. At my school, when analyzing results, we considered how long the student had been enrolled.

An Anecdote

In the mid-90s, I was the principal of Samuel J. Preston Elementary School in Harrison, NY. One year the school’s third-graders outscored the other three elementary schools on the state reading exam. This had never happened before. Two of the schools were in affluent areas of town and they had always been the top performing schools. The third-grade teachers and I, the parents, and even the superintendent were ecstatic, but not for long.

The following year we were once again one of the lower scoring schools. Gee, what happened? We had the same highly effective third -grade teachers, same principal, the same welcoming school that the kids and parents adored. But the results were not the same.


As the Rand report concludes, there was “insufficient attention to factors other than teacher quality.” I opine that no attention was paid to the key contributing factors that affect student performance on high- stakes testing. (see list of fatal flaws above) As an author of parenting books, I would stress parental involvement in their children’s education as a key factor in school performance. I’m not alone.

In 1966 the Coleman Report concluded that given all the factors regarding school success, the “quality of the family” is the most important predictor. Let’s fast- forward to 2018. Robert Pianta, dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia after seeing the results of this study, also came to the same conclusion:

On nearly every single outcome that we assess, public schools have a marginal impact that is really small relative to the impact of families. The things we worry about in terms of the state of our country are more a function of the families the kids are growing up in than the school, they go to.

I maintain that school reform starts at home. If Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Lebron James and countless others who are willing to try to improve public education invested in some form of parent academies, the results would be better.