Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!

Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!
Photo courtesy of

Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. ~ Author Unknown

My goal is to reveal one teacher's humble journey of self-reflection, critical analysis, and endless questioning about my craft of teaching and learning alongside my middle school students.

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'." ~ Dan Rather

Monday, October 31, 2011

We need more teacher leaders!

Much of the problem with the career of teaching is a lack of options to expand within the profession, other than administration. It is often refreshing to hear accounts from teachers who have become instructional leaders in their building and stay in the classroom because of it...

October 18, 2011

Making Room for Teacher Leaders

Renee Moore
The idea of hybrid roles for teachers is not all that new. Some of the happiest moments of my teaching life were spent at Broad Street High School in Shelby, Miss., where some courageous administrators attempted to set up teacher-leader roles within the district. I say attempted because neither my employers nor I were sure what that meant when we first started in 1998.
Initially, the administration wanted to simply anoint certain persons to be the Lead Teachers, but later I convinced them to redesign it into a teacher leadership program selected by our peers throughout the district. Once they accepted the new design, I resigned my position and reapplied for the team under the new guidelines. My principal told me, "You're nuts! You're going to take a cut in pay and reapply? What if they decide not to give it to you just out of meanness or something?" But I believed in my colleagues' integrity and their intelligence. I laid my credentials on the table and was selected for the team.
Only then was I truly a teacher leader.
Originally, I taught classes half the day. The other half I spent working with the teachers in my building individually and in groups around whatever professional development issues needed attention. Most often I was helping teachers figure out the new computer software we were required to use. One of the bright spots of being an impoverished rural school was that we qualified early for technology grants that put Internet access and computers in all our classrooms. Downside, of course, was that little or no training for faculty came with it.
So we would help each other.
We developed lesson plans. We worked together on revising our own curriculum guides. We designed our own professional development, including putting together a database of skills and talents from among the teachers in our own district and using them as the trainers for these sessions. Morale went up; test scores went up; parents' confidence in our school system went up.
And then ... as with so many education reforms, the entire program was scrapped as the administration ran after yet another grant, another promise of quick results. This experiment, however, showed that career alternatives were possible even within existing school structures. Certainly, with thoughtful and collaborative planning, such hybrid roles could become more common.
Creating hybrid roles for teacherpreneurs would particularly benefit small rural schools, where staff is extremely limited, and everyone must fill multiple roles anyway. In such settings, blurring the lines between teachers and administrators is not only pragmatic, but stabilizing since it would minimize the often traumatizing effects of teacher or principal turnover.
Renee Moore has taught English and journalism for 20 years in the Mississippi Delta region at both high school and community college levels.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Are virtual classes the way of the future?

It's hard to imagine the next generation completely being taught online, but maybe it's more possible than we think...

States, Districts Move to Require Virtual Classes

State and district measures require students to take virtual classes

Two years ago, Tennessee’s Putnam County school system adopted an online-learning graduation requirement for its high school students. But district officials realized that not all students had high-speed Internet access at home, or even computers, so they came up with a variety of options to allow students to fulfill the requirement.
The state of Tennessee already mandated that all students take a class on personal finance, so Putnam County put its version online, complete with the district’s own online teachers. Students can complete the course independently before they enter 9th grade; do it at school, in a computer lab with the support of an in-house coordinator, during their four high school years; or take the course in a computer lab that includes both an in-class teacher and an online instructor. Students can also fulfill the requirement with online Advanced Placement courses or online credit-recovery classes, says Kathleen Airhart, the director of the 11,000-student Putnam County schools, based in Cookeville, Tenn.
The goal is to make sure students get an online-learning experience in a low-risk, supportive environment, Airhart says. “The reality is, when a student leaves us, whether they’re going to a four-year college, a technical college, or going into the world of work, they’re going to have to do an online course,” she says. “This helps prepare the students.”
More districts and a handful of states are starting to agree with this notion. They’re requiring students to get some form of online learning on their résumés before leaving high school.

Kelsey Stephenson, right, with friend Bianca Watkins, splits her time as a high school junior between Upperman High School in Baxter, Tenn., above, and Cookeville High School in Cookeville, before turning her attention after school to working on online courses.
—Shawn Poynter for Digital Directions
But concerns remain about issues of student equity, particularly in rural areas, where high-speed Internet access may be uncommon or difficult. Some cash-strapped school districts may also view such a state policy as an unfunded mandate.
“Districts have fixed costs and structures, … and equity can be a major issue,” says Bruce Umpstead, the state director of educational technology and data coordination for the state department of education in Michigan, the first state to make online learning a requirement for graduation. “But for us, [the requirement] was a signal to schools that online learning is a legitimate way of delivering instruction, and students are going to have to know how to use online learning to get ahead.”

State Measures

In 2002, Michigan began instituting its requirement that students complete 20 hours of online-learning experience to graduate. Students can start collecting hours in 6th grade, and most are satisfying the requirement through an online career-planning tool used to devise an Educational Development Plan, called for by state education policy, Umpstead says.
Initially, the intent was to have the online experience be a credit-bearing course. But concerns that such a requirement could be interpreted as an unfunded mandate by local governments—something prohibited by state law—resulted in a scaling-back, Umpstead says.
Other states have followed Michigan’s model. Alabama makes an online-learning “experience” one of the criteria for high school graduation. New Mexico has a similar requirement, but it provides students with the option of meeting the criteria through an alternative method.

Students at Upperman High School in Baxter, Tenn., participate in a class in their distance-learning lab while students from other schools attend the class virtually.
—Shawn Poynter for Digital Directions
Idaho is weighing a more beefed-up requirement. The state board of education passed a proposal in September to require each student to complete two credits of online learning before graduation. To address equity issues, the proposal includes a plan for the state to buy some form of mobile-computing device for all high school students, but the expenditure would be offset by cuts to funding for teachers.
Now, lawmakers are seeking public comment, and it will go back before the board and then before the legislature in January 2012. However, the proposal is also slated to appear on the November 2012 ballot as part of a package of education changes for Idaho voters to weigh in on. That vote could ultimately derail the controversial plan.
“I don’t think there would be nearly the pushback we’re having if families and kids could make the choice, and if it wasn’t pulling dollars away from the teachers,” says Dick Cvitanich, the superintendent of the 3,800-student Lake Pend Oreille school district. Students in his district are spread over 52 mountainous miles near the Canadian border, and often, he says, it’s hard to get Internet access in some of those areas.
“We have kids that live in the valleys with a lot of snow and obstructions to getting service,” he says. “Some are on dial-up, some have no service, and some have [satellite] dishes. At school, we can create a level playing field in terms of access to technology, but when kids go home, that level playing field will, by and large, not exist.”

Online Options

While Cvitanich says he believes the concept is a good one, and would give students important experience with online learning, he argues it should be optional and shouldn’t force a choice between online courses and fewer face-to-face teachers.
Districts and schools are struggling to deal with the fairness of some of the requirements, says Matthew J. Wicks, the vice president of strategy and organizational development for the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, or iNACOL, based in Vienna, Va.

Julie Mayfield teaches an advanced Spanish class at Upperman High School in Baxter, Tenn., while her online students taking the class from other sites listen and watch.
—Shawn Poynter for Digital Directions
“The issue of equity exists,” he says. Working with community organizations and local libraries, as well as having school computer labs open before and after school hours can help, Wicks says.
“Does it make it an equal playground?” he says of such arrangements. “Absolutely not, but clearly there are things that can be done to provide sufficient access to be able to complete your course online.”
For example, in Putnam County, not only does the district offer a variety of options for meeting the online requirement, but it also provides a limited number of laptops that can be checked out by students on an as-needed basis, says Airhart, the district director.
She points out that schools must continue to adapt to such needs even if they don’t have an online-learning requirement. “The reality is, education is changing and we, as educators, need to change with it,” she says. Other opportunities are also on the way, says Wicks. For example, the cable-TV provider Comcast Corp. pledged to boost broadband access in their service areas nationwide as part of its deal earlier this year to take over NBC Universal. The company is now touting its Comcast Broadband Internet Essentials program, which offers Internet access for $9.95 a month to families with students who qualify for free lunches under the National School Lunch Program.
The company is also offering the families enrolled a “netbook-style laptop” for $150, access to free digital-literacy training, and free Internet-security software. However, the program would only aid students who qualify and who are in the Comcast service area.
In Florida, which is kicking off its own statewide requirement for an online-learning credit with this year’s freshman class, there’s no shortage of online options, says Mary Jane Tappen, the deputy chancellor for K-12 curriculum, instruction, and student services for the Florida Department of Education. The state boasts the nation’s largest online school, the Florida Virtual School, which served 122,000 students during the 2010-11 school year, and individual districts in the state often offer their own virtual courses as well. 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Free Live Webinar on 11/1!

Here current school administrators speak up about leveraging technology to drive student outcomes!

Free Live Webinar:

Also available "on demand" any time 24 hours after the event.

Free registration is now open.

In this special webinar sponsored by K12, Inc., Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow, will share an exciting new set of Speak Up data that directly answers this critical question: How are today's administrators leveraging technology to close the achievement gap? The webinar will include key national research data on how online learning directly addresses several of the critical challenges that are waking up our nation's administrators in the middle of the night. Additionally, Ms. Evans will facilitate an interactive panel discussion with three of the nation's most innovative administrators, who will share their first-hand experiences tapping into technology solutions to drive enhanced student outcomes.

  • Barbara Cruse, principal, East Valley Virtual School, East Valley School District, WA
  • Rick Fast, paraprofessional, at-risk programs, Nevada School District, MO
This webinar will be moderated by Julie Evans, CEO, Project Tomorrow.
Register for this free webinar.

Education Week is serving only as the host for this presentation. The content was created by the sponsor. The opinions expressed in this webinar are those of the sponsor and do not reflect the opinion of or constitute an endorsement by Editorial Projects in Education or any of its publications.

All Education Week webinars are archived and accessible "on demand" for up to six months after the original live-streaming date.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Recognizing the Signs of Bullying...

Here’s an article I found on about bullying.  I though everyone might be interested.

Recognizing the signs of bullying 

Sunday - 10/16/2011, 2:43pm  ET

    WASHINGTON - It used to be that a child was bullied on the playground. But, now there's a new bullying frontier on social networks.

    October is National Bullying Prevention Month and Dr Colleen Logan, coordinator of the family counseling program at Walden University says in this techno-driven world, the bullied are followed home and on to social networks.

    "The cyberworld is something that's there 24 hours a day, seven days a week," she says. "It's incessant, you can't escape it and you get boxed into a little corner where there is nowhere around where I feel safe."

    Logan says parents should look for the signs of being bullied.

    "Is your child developing excuses for not going to school? We know that over 160,000 kids are avoiding school each day so that they won't be bullied. Are they coming home from school hungry because they had to miss lunch and didn't want to be bullied?"

    She says if parents think their child is being bullied, they should take immediate action.

    "Talk to your child. Talk to the school counselor. Talk to administration. Stand with your child and make sure it stops," Logan says.

    If parents suspect their child is a bully, they can look for certain things.

    "Some of the signs would be easily angered, easily frustrated, hotheaded, dominant," she says.
    And, your child is a bully, parents should look in the mirror.

    "Bullying starts at home. How do you speak to others? What is your behavior like?"
    Logan recommends talking about acceptance and diversity, and making sure there are consequences for your child's bullying.

    WTOP's Debra Feinstein contributed to this report. 

    (Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

    Tuesday, October 25, 2011

    Check this out!

                     THIS IS FABULOUS

    Almost better than being there because you can see all the paintings up close without straining your neck. TO VIEW EVERY PART OF THE MICHAEL D'ANGELO'S MASTERPIECE JUST CLICK above on the red words Sistine Chapel then DRAG the ARROW IN THE DIRECTION YOU WISH TO SEE.

    In the low left, click on the plus (+) to move closer, on the minus (-)   to move away.     Hold down the left clicker on your mouse to rotate the picture.


    This virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel is incredible. Apparently done by Villanova at the request of the Vatican , but I thought you  would enjoy the quality and a bit of Rome on your computer.

    Monday, October 24, 2011

    Can experienced teachers serve as the BEST mentors for new teachers?

    Contrary to popular opinion, senior teachers can support new teachers and evaluate them well, Julia Koppich and Daniel Humphrey write. I tend to agree, depending on the person!

    Published Online: October 10, 2011

    Getting Serious About Teacher Evaluation

    A fresh look at peer assistance and review

    You can hardly open a newspaper or major magazine today without finding a story about another incarnation or overhaul of teacher evaluation. But underlying nearly all these detailed descriptions of state and local programs is a near-unanimous and long-standing assumption: Whoever is in charge of improving teachers shouldn’t also be in charge of evaluating them.
    It’s an assumption that makes perfect prima facie sense, but as our research shows, the assumption is wrong.
    Good teacher evaluation is critical, and evaluation programs should be rigorous and comprehensive. Truly effective evaluation programs combine accountability and support.
    We just completed a study of two district programs of peer assistance and review, or PAR, in California—one in Poway, in San Diego County, and the other in San Juan, near Sacramento. These districts and their teachers’ unions gave us unprecedented access, and the study provides eye-opening lessons about teacher evaluation.

    —Jonathan Bouw
    Peer assistance and review is a relatively simple proposition. Carefully selected experienced teachers, called consulting teachers, step away from their own classrooms for their PAR terms to give a year of intensive support to beginning teachers and to underperforming veterans and, in most cases, conduct their summative evaluations. (The consulting teachers are paid a stipend for their services in addition to their salaries.)
    PAR is overseen by a joint labor-management governing board whose members are selected by the district and the local union. The board has primary authority for reviewing consulting teachers’ reports and making recommendations to the superintendent and school board about the employment status of the teachers in PAR.
    Our study revolved around three foundational questions: (1) What does the work of consulting teachers look like? (2) What makes the PAR governing board tick? and, (3) What kind of labor-management relations underlie PAR?
    We focused first on the work of consulting teachers. We interviewed many of them and watched them work with both beginning and experienced teachers. The unions and the districts generously provided us with redacted personnel files on PAR teachers so we could examine the written record of the support consulting teachers provided, the progress of individual participating teachers, and the evidence that led to their evaluations. We also reviewed principals’ evaluations of many of these same participating teachers.
    What we found belies conventional wisdom. Integrating support and evaluation works. The common assumption is that a single person cannot both provide support and conduct an exacting review of practice. We found the opposite to be true.
    In Poway and San Juan, consulting teachers offer intense, one-on-one, tailored support. They diagnose each participating teacher’s strengths and weaknesses and examine each teacher’s practice based on comprehensive knowledge of the district’s standards. They then develop a targeted yearlong program of improvement and work with the participating teacher to implement it. Along the way, consulting teachers are careful to document their efforts. Their files on individual participating teachers average 190 pages in length and include multiple summary reports and detailed notes of every classroom observation and conference. They annually complete as many as 30 informal and five formal observations of each participating teacher.
    Consulting teachers conduct rigorous, comprehensive evaluations solidly grounded in the evidence they have amassed—annually for beginning teachers, multiple times a year for tenured PAR teachers. These evaluations determine whether a teacher moves successfully out of PAR into the classroom or the district pursues other action, including nonrenewal of contracts for beginning teachers and dismissal for tenured teachers. Many teachers make it out of PAR, but some don’t.
    We also examined the principals’ evaluation files for many of the participating teachers. What a difference. To be sure, principals do not have the time consulting teachers do to provide deep support and comprehensive reviews. Nevertheless, the contrasts were striking.
    Principals’ evaluations were much sketchier than those undertaken by consulting teachers. Their ratings were based on many fewer observations. Their analyses of teachers’ practice tended to focus on one or two areas rather than on the whole picture of teaching. Documentation and evidence were sparse. Their files averaged seven pages in length.
    "The common assumption is that a single person cannot both provide support and conduct an exacting review of practice. We found the opposite is true."
    We were privileged to observe the Poway and San Juan PAR governance boards in action. We found that board members rarely play to their roles. Listening to the discussions, we were hard-pressed to distinguish district-appointed board members from union-appointed members. Conversations focused on intensive, high-level questioning and probing about serious matters of teaching and learning. The boards ensured both that consulting teachers focused on improving instruction and that their evaluations of participating teachers were based on solid evidence.
    The governance boards also oversaw, de facto, principals’ often-parallel evaluations of PAR teachers. Board members questioned principals with the same intensity they questioned consulting teachers. When the boards found principals’ evaluations to be inadequate, or in other words, not sufficiently grounded in evidence, they sent the principals back to redo their work.
    Another aspect of the governance boards was revealing. These boards turned out to be problem-solving arenas where district officials and union leaders collaboratively addressed operational and policy problems that might otherwise have ended up as grievances or gone unresolved. We watched as a consulting teacher reported on a facilities problem in one of her teachers’ classrooms. The assistant superintendent fired off an email to fix the problem. We looked on as a governance-board discussion led to the realization that a local policy was hampering special education teachers’ work. The district and the union agreed to a solution on the spot.
    Finally, we were struck by the collaborative labor-management interactions that form the foundation of PAR. Though both Poway and San Juan have in the past experienced rocky union-district relations, PAR has served as a springboard for building strong connections. More than simple collaborative efforts, through PAR, management and unions are doing the hard work of confronting tough, high-stakes issues and reaching accord on how to proceed when decisions carry real and human consequences.
    Our PAR study served to remind us of several key issues that often seem to get lost in contemporary policy debates about teacher evaluation.
    First, effective evaluation is about accountability and support. It is aimed both at improving teaching and ensuring only good teachers are in the classroom. Second, districts under increasing pressure to ratchet up the frequency and comprehensiveness of teacher evaluations confront an enormous capacity challenge. Who has the time and the knowledge to do this important work? PAR reminds us that at least part of the answer lies in the use of consulting teachers. Third, making tough decisions about individuals’ employment status is never easy. But it must be done, and done with care and rigor.
    Through a collaborative labor-management structure like a PAR governance board, districts and their unions can make these high-stakes decisions in ways that are both fair and accountable.

    Sunday, October 23, 2011

    As a follow-up to American Teacher

    A colleague and I watched American Teacher this past week. This article is particularly interesting after viewing the documentary:

    Sunday, Sep. 25, 2011

    Teacher, Leave Those Kids Alone

    On a wet Wednesday evening in Seoul, six government employees gather at the office to prepare for a late-night patrol. The mission is as simple as it is counterintuitive: to find children who are studying after 10 p.m. And stop them.
    In South Korea, it has come to this. To reduce the country's addiction to private, after-hours tutoring academies (called hagwons), the authorities have begun enforcing a curfew — even paying citizens bounties to turn in violators. (See pictures of Seoul, the world's most connected city.)
    The raid starts in a leisurely way. We have tea, and I am offered a rice cracker. Cha Byoung-chul, a midlevel bureaucrat at Seoul's Gangnam district office of education, is the leader of this patrol. I ask him about his recent busts, and he tells me about the night he found 10 teenage boys and girls on a cram-school roof at about 11 p.m. "There was no place to hide," Cha recalls. In the darkness, he tried to reassure the students. "I told them, 'It's the hagwon that's in violation, not you. You can go home.'"
    Cha smokes a cigarette in the parking lot. Like any man trying to undo centuries of tradition, he is in no hurry. "We don't leave at 10 p.m. sharp," he explains. "We want to give them 20 minutes or so. That way, there are no excuses." Finally, we pile into a silver Kia Sorento and head into Daechi-dong, one of Seoul's busiest hagwon districts. The streets are thronged with parents picking up their children. The inspectors walk down the sidewalk, staring up at the floors where hagwons are located — above the Dunkin' Donuts and the Kraze Burgers — looking for telltale slivers of light behind drawn shades.
    At about 11 p.m., they turn down a small side street, following a tip-off. They enter a shabby building and climb the stairs, stepping over an empty chip bag. On the second floor, the unit's female member knocks on the door. "Hello? Hello!" she calls loudly. A muted voice calls back from within, "Just a minute!" The inspectors glance at one another. "Just a minute" is not the right answer. Cha sends one of his colleagues downstairs to block the elevator. The raid begins. (Read about South Korean schools going paperless.)
    South Korea's hagwon crackdown is one part of a larger quest to tame the country's culture of educational masochism. At the national and local levels, politicians are changing school testing and university admissions policies to reduce student stress and reward softer qualities like creativity. "One-size-fits-all, government-led uniform curriculums and an education system that is locked only onto the college-entrance examination are not acceptable," President Lee Myung-bak vowed at his inauguration in 2008.
    But cramming is deeply embedded in Asia, where top grades — and often nothing else — have long been prized as essential for professional success. Before toothbrushes or printing presses, there were civil service exams that could make or break you. Chinese families have been hiring test-prep tutors since the 7th century. Modern-day South Korea has taken this competition to new extremes. In 2010, 74% of all students engaged in some kind of private after-school instruction, sometimes called shadow education, at an average cost of $2,600 per student for the year. There are more private instructors in South Korea than there are schoolteachers, and the most popular of them make millions of dollars a year from online and in-person classes. When Singapore's Education Minister was asked last year about his nation's reliance on private tutoring, he found one reason for hope: "We're not as bad as the Koreans."
    In Seoul, legions of students who fail to get into top universities spend the entire year after high school attending hagwons to improve their scores on university admissions exams. And they must compete even to do this. At the prestigious Daesung Institute, admission is based (diabolically enough) on students' test scores. Only 14% of applicants are accepted. After a year of 14-hour days, about 70% gain entry to one of the nation's top three universities. (Read "Asia's Latest Miracle.")
    From a distance, South Korea's results look enviable. Its students consistently outperform their counterparts in almost every country in reading and math. In the U.S., Barack Obama and his Education Secretary speak glowingly of the enthusiasm South Korean parents have for educating their children, and they lament how far U.S. students are falling behind. Without its education obsession, South Korea could not have transformed into the economic powerhouse that it is today. (Since 1962 the nation's GDP has gone up about 40,000%, making it the world's 13th largest economy.) But the country's leaders worry that unless its rigid, hierarchical system starts to nurture more innovation, economic growth will stall — and fertility rates will continue to decline as families feel the pressure of paying for all that tutoring. "You Americans see a bright side of the Korean system," Education Minister Lee Ju-ho tells me, "but Koreans are not happy with it."
    South Koreans are not alone in their discontent. Across Asia, reformers are pushing to make schools more "American" — even as some U.S. reformers render their own schools more "Asian." In China, universities have begun fashioning new entry tests to target students with talents beyond book learning. And Taiwanese officials recently announced that kids will no longer have to take high-stress exams to get into high school. If South Korea, the apogee of extreme education, gets its reforms right, it could be a model for other societies.
    The problem is not that South Korean kids aren't learning enough or working hard enough; it's that they aren't working smart. When I visited some schools, I saw classrooms in which a third of the students slept while the teacher continued lecturing, seemingly unfazed. Gift stores sell special pillows that slip over your forearm to make desktop napping more comfortable. This way, goes the backward logic, you can sleep in class — and stay up late studying. By way of comparison, consider Finland, the only European country to routinely perform as well as South Korea on the test for 15-year-olds conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. In Finland, public and private spending combined is less per pupil than in South Korea, and only 13% of Finnish students take remedial after-school lessons.
    Koreans have lamented their relative inefficiency for years, and the government has repeatedly tried to humanize the education system — simplifying admissions tests, capping hagwontuition, even going so far as to ban hagwons altogether during the 1980s, when the country was under a dictatorship. But after each attempt, the hagwons come back stronger. That's because the incentives remain unchanged. South Korean kids gorge themselves on studying for one reason: to get into one of the country's top universities. The slots are too few — and the reward for getting in too great. "Where you attend university haunts you for the rest of your life," says Lee Beom, a former cram-school instructor who now works on reform in the Seoul metropolitan office of education.
    But this time, the administration argues, its reforms are targeting not just the symptom of the dysfunction but also the causes. It is working to improve normal public schools by putting teachers and principals through rigorous evaluations — which include opinion surveys by students, parents and peer teachers — and requiring additional training for low-scoring teachers. At the same time, the government hopes to reduce the strain on students. Corporal punishment, an entrenched and formalized ritual in South Korean schools, is now prohibited (although students told me it still happens occasionally). Admissions tests for prestigious, specialized high schools (like foreign-language schools) have been eliminated. Middle schoolers are now judged on the basis of their regular grades and an interview. And 500 admissions officers have been appointed to the country's universities, to judge applicants not only on their test scores and grades but also other abilities. (Read "Tiger Moms: Is Tough Parenting Really the Answer?")
    The Parent Trap
    No one defends the status quo in South Korea. "All we do is study, except when we sleep," one high school boy told me, and he was not exaggerating. The typical academic schedule begins at 8 a.m. and ends sometime from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., depending on the ambition of the student. To be sure, some students opt out of this system — those who go to certain vocational high schools, for example. But most cannot transcend the relentless family and peer pressure to study until they drop from fatigue. "It breaks my heart," another teenage boy tells me, "to see my classmates compete against each other instead of helping each other."
    Parents remain the real drivers of the education rat race, and they will be the hardest to convert. Han Yoon-hee, an English teacher at Jeong Bal High School in Ilsan, a suburb of Seoul, says parental anxiety is profound. "I suggest to [my students] that they should quit hagwons and focus on school," she says. "But their parents get very nervous when they don't take classes at night. They know other students are taking classes. They have to compete with each other."
    Sometimes it's hard to know who is competing with whom — the students or their mothers. In 1964 a school entrance exam contained a question about the ingredients in taffy. But the exam inadvertently included two right answers, only one of which was counted as correct. To protest this unfairness, outraged mothers — not students — began cooking taffy outside government offices using the alternative ingredient. Eventually, the mothers won the resignation of the Vice Education Minister and the superintendent of Seoul, and several dozen students received retroactive admission offers.
    Still, the Education Ministry can point to one recent victory in this long fight: spending on private instruction decreased 3.5% in 2010, the first drop since the government began tracking the figure in 2007. Does the decline signal a trend? Well, Koreans still spent 2% of their GDP on tutoring, even with the downtick. Andrew Kim, a very successful instructor at Megastudy, South Korea's largest hagwon, says he earned $4 million last year from online and in-person lectures. He agrees that the system is far from ideal, but so far he has seen no impact from the reforms on his income. "The tougher the measures," he says, "the more resilient hagwons become." In response to the government-imposed curfew, for example, many hagwons have just put more lessons online for students to buy after hours at home. (See TIME's special report on what makes a school great.)
    Other hagwons flout the law, continuing to operate past the curfew — sometimes in disguise. The night of the Daechi-dong raid, the inspectors I am following wait for the door to open. Then they take off their shoes and begin a brisk tour of the place. In a warren of small study rooms with low ceilings and fluorescent lights, about 40 teenagers sit at small, individual carrels. The air is stale. It is a disturbing scene, sort of like a sweatshop for children's brains.
    This is technically not a hagwon but an after-hours self-study library — at least in theory. Self-study libraries are allowed to stay open past 10 p.m. But the inspectors suspect this is a camouflaged hagwon. The students are studying from the same work sheets, and there are a handful of adults who appear to be teachers.
    One of them denies any wrongdoing. "We are just doing our own work here," she says indignantly. "We don't teach." Cha, the squad leader, shakes his head. "I've allowed your excuses before, but we're getting too many tips about this place," he says. "It's an open secret in this community that you've been operating illegally."
    Afterward, the squad makes a few more stops at other self-study libraries. It finds nothing suspicious. At about midnight, Cha lights a cigarette on a corner and chats with his colleagues. Then they head home for the night, having temporarily liberated 40 teenagers out of 4 million.
    — with reporting by Stephen Kim / Seoul
    Ripley is an Emerson fellow at the New America Foundation
    This article originally appeared in the October 3, 2011 issue of TIME Asia.