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Guest Posts, Leadership and Activism, School Stories, Student Voices

Tale of a Broken System: A Student’s Perspective

Public education is a system of failure in America; it’s a system that no longer holds any true promise to a great future that one can build on. Over the past few decades its capabilities has seemed to have narrowed and its structure has seem to falter to the point of near catastrophic collapse. However, there is a large majority of people out there who believe that the American education system is working fine and that those who wish to sound the alarms have no idea what they are talking about. I’d dispute that assertion with my last breath though because the system has failed me before and I know, beyond a reasonable doubt, that it’s failed many other deserving children. This system has become unconcerned with providing education to every child like Horace Mann envisioned and it has become disconnected from those who depend on it .Instead it has become entangled in the dance of politics, bias profiling, and stereotypical behavior that has essentially demoralized it from the bottom up.

I say these things about public education in America not to just say them, not just to have something to complain about, not just to bash a system that generations of great (and bad) teachers, principals, and superintendents have worked to build.

I say these things because some teachers, administrators, and principals within the education system have literally lost hope for their students, they have decided to take the cowardly way out by only choosing to educate  students seen as the marginally smart to the distinguishably exceptional.

I say this because I have attended schools who decided to push me by the wayside because of some  computer program called Accelerated Reader and some standardized test scores based on standards that are more redundant and inadequate than the national average. I say this because once I was identified as high risk I was ignored in the public education system because no teacher wants to waste their time trying to teach a high risk black kid when there is a moderate risk white kid sitting right next to him. The bad part about this is that it’s not even the tip of the iceberg as to what I’ve experienced inside the classrooms of traditional public schools.

See, I was a product of the Cleveland Public School District (now Cleveland Metropolitan School District) where schools were secretly encouraged to weed out their best performing and to “take care” of their worst performing. When I was in the district there was no broad expectation that every child was to succeed regardless of circumstances that existed outside of the home. Then (and now) the district was only interested in making sure that there were enough “smart” students enrolled in each building so the school could meet the “Continuous Improvement” status, which when translated into letter grades is no better than a C.

My school, O.H.Perry was the beacon school of that practice; the school was located in the then middle class neighborhood of N. Collinwood, directly bordering the better performing Euclid City School District. At O.H.Perry, I was being cheated out of an education and I knew it. I had been declared “At-Risk” and had been called “special” by my teachers and was sent to the special education classroom even though I didn’t have an I.E.P or a 504 plan because they didn’t want to spend the time to properly educate me. I would feel academically inferior to the other students as I would be forced to walk pass the other classrooms where students were being engaged and actually seemed like they enjoyed being there to a dimly lit room where the teacher just gave us worksheets of 2nd grade math and sent us to sit at a desk.

At the end of that school year, I had been promoted to the 5th grade even though my grades were all horrible and that’s when I finally had enough, I knew I had to get out of the Cleveland school district, if I was ever going to be as smart as I felt I could be. It was then when I found a charter school in the neighboring district that was operated by the big chain EMO National Heritage Academies and I pounced on the chance to be freed from Cleveland schools. I took the initiative to enroll myself via the EMO’s online enrollment system and that following school year Pinnacle Academy became my new school.

However, my joy was short lived because during the previous school year I was a 4th grader but this year I was 6th grader and there was no official paperwork to justify my grade jump, but the interim principal was fine with it. He however, left just weeks after the school year began and didn’t inform the new principal and halfway through the school year NHA did an internal audit and figured it out. So there I was a struggling 6th grader who was in the wrong grade and a school in trouble with the ODE because of me. I never felt bad for that though, I knew I did what was right for me, but the school had to make an example to its sponsor out of me so I was forced to do 2 years of 5th grade, which actually benefited me.

Nevertheless, I left the school after my second run of the 5th grade and ended up at another charter before being expelled for missing At-Risk Saturday school because I was out of state. I ended up at another Charter operated by the CMO Lighthouse Academies that was truly “open door.” It was there that the principal made it his initiative to make sure that I learned 4 years worth of schooling in just one year. Needless to say that he succeeded and even though the school was forced to close due to financial issues most of its students is now a part of the city’s best performing public magnet and charter schools.

No child should have to go through what I went through before we find equitable education. Every child deserves to be equally educated, regardless of zip code, race, political connections,or  standardized test score and no student should ever be pushed aside like a broken piece of equipment.  No child should ever be told that they are defective, special, or remedial and no teacher should ever lack so much morale that they feel the need to encourage that. It’s that behavior that causes stagnation in education and leaves children behind in academic promise and ultimately leads to a system that’s left in dire despair.

This is the reason I dispute any assertion that the public education system is not broken and that its some false story cooked up by a few individuals that want to profit. The system is broken and the longer we stay in denial the worse it will get. I don’t think that anyone can honestly say that education isn’t failing unless they live in wealthy districts because it’s hard not to notice.

However, the education system can’t and won’t be fixed unless those whose voices matter the most stop worrying about what charter schools and vouchers are doing to students and start worrying about traditional public education. If all the time and energy that is spent trying to discredit charter schools is spent on developing innovative policies and practices for traditional public education than there would be no need for charters or vouchers to even exist. If districts find ways to stop the wasteful spending, the appeasing of union leaders, the leakage of morale, and rid themselves of ineffective curriculum’s, teachers, and leaders than more children would be granted access to equitable education than even 500 charters or 15,000 vouchers could ever do. Until this is done, than children will continually be left by the wayside and led down the side street toward destructive and unproductive futures.


This post was written by Jay Chisley, a 17 year old virtual high school student/activist/coalition owner who has had it with the public education system in America. Who believes that if the education system is going to be reformed than students must put themselves at the epicenter of the reformation and demand actual change and foreseeable results.


7 thoughts on “Tale of a Broken System: A Student’s Perspective

  1. Jay obviously is very bright and writes a poignant story of failure in our school system that cannot be ignored. As a teacher who loves what I do, my heart breaks over what he has experienced at the hands of some who disregarded his right to a quality education. It is outrageous that this can happen in America, but the reality is that it does. I do not know the answers or solutions to making education better except that whatever we do as teachers must be child-centered, no matter what. Making it big business creates something quite different. We have moved away from a relationship-building endeavor to a corporate institution that supports the notion that students can be managed as if they were assembly widgets who must be manufactured to be all the same. Consider the cookie factory analogy. Imagine that all students arrive with the same ingredients to be baked and packaged exactly the same. Students arrive in our classrooms with all kinds of limitations AND potentials. We must go where the student is, each, indivdually, in order to help them understand themselves and where they will go in the future. That takes time, effort, patience, tolerance, compassion, guidance, insight, knowledge, perseverance, kindness, determination, awareness, acceptance and so much more. The system has created so much distraction in its debate over reform that we may have forgotten the purpose of education, which is to foster and support an individual toward becoming a decent, knowledgable citizen with the skills to contribute something valuable to society as an adult. I’ve always been humbled by the apparent power of influence I have as a teacher. I take very seriously the important duty and responsibility of saging the nature of a child in a positive way that respects her integrity, humanity and spirit. I occasionally witness teachers who seem agitated by students, unapproachable, intolerant, short-tempered and ill-mannered…and I ask myself why they continue to show up for at a workplace that is teeming with children when they obviously don’t enjoy the experience of being with them? Children, by their very nature, are unique and needy. We house them among cold, sharp-edged, drab environments for 6.5 hours 180 days a year and expect them to embrace it as if it’s the most natural thing to do. A classroom is foreign to the organic development of a child. To manipulate them as if they are pawns in a game is undignified and harmful. With the punitive outcomes of high-stakes testing supported by the corporate moguls who know little about the relationship business of teaching, it is no wonder children like Jay feel disappointed, swindled and ignored. To put a value-added-measurement on a human being is barbaric in the 21st century. As a society, as parents, as teachers, we should know better. The last decade of maniacal focus on performance standards trumping the natural development of a child has created animosity among teachers which translates to rising frustration levels, isolation, lack of confidence, fear and confusion. I would like to adjust the gaze toward the needs of the student as being a priority. Nothing happens unless it benefits a child. The education pyramid is inverted. Instead of being widest at the top with the student, teacher and parents weighted down at the bottom, they should be at the top with all the support at the bottom. And the pyramid should be much smaller in diameter. I suggest that we prune the levels of so-called support staff. Good bye to the DOE and DOs full of positions that only exist because of students, teachers and parents willingly providing learning. The majority of the work load at the district levels is merely to justify their positions. All the business of shuffling papers and rearranging the furniture and searching for the next program to implement and add to my trove of failed programs from the past is unnecessary expenditures. I teach people, not programs. I need the invaluable clerical staff to maintain the documentation that validates my position, but certainly we don’t need all the redundant management teams to call the shots from on high. Those people are furthest from where the learning takes place, they know it, but must find something to justify their fraudulent importance, thereby making decisions like those made for Jay that impact his experience in many negative ways. And we teachers turn a blind eye on the shenanigans day in and day out. We are so weary from the unteathered pressures from the top guns in the system, we hardly can manage our caseloads, much less enter into battles with higher officials. Again, the pyramid is upsidedown…and growing bigger by the minute. If students show up, parents support them, and I have enough books, computers, paper and time…education will happen. Heck, a student can practically teach himself. I am the sage on the stage. Most of the extraordinary learning takes place in spite of my presence. Think about that one. I am no more important than the support I lend to a student to do the learning. The less distractions from those who don’t matter in that effort, the better I can teach. All I need are the students. In fact, my work doesn’t exist without them. I am education. Not the misguided funders, administrators and politicians. The students, their parents and I are the points of importance. The trifecta, the delta force. Anything that takes that vision away from us is not part of the solution. That top-heavy pyramid is getting very wobbly right now. It is ready to topple from the outrageous collection of non-essentials in education and they know it. That is why they are digging their heels in deeper and deeper to maintain the fallacy that they matter in the business of building relationships, citizens and solutionaries for the future. Jay, you have sounded the call and I admire your courage. On Monday, I will be ever the more diligent to serve my students with integrity, honor, respect and joy as I remember your story. I will go where each student is in his learning and make it my pledge to be a watchdog for all students so they do not experience what you have experienced in schools. I am proud to teach, but not very proud of the system in which I teach. I will work to make it better…one student at a time.

    Posted by Sandy | November 6, 2011, 6:49 am
  2. Perhaps the most important thing I wanted to tell you, Jay, is that I have no doubts about your future…it will be bright and productive. You clearly are well on your way to finding your voice and will be successful in whatever it is you wish to do. I applaud your courage and articulation about this most important topic. As a teacher, I ask that you forgive the system for its faults and adjust your gaze toward that something special that you are bound to achieve. Sah-weet revenge, if ever there is one. Are you thinking of teaching, by any chance?

    Posted by Sandy | November 6, 2011, 7:37 pm
    • Sandy, I must admit that I do have passion for education and its workings but I don’t think I could ever be a teacher as I wouldn’t be able to put up with the annihilation that profession is facing. I do want to be an education/civil rights law lawyer though so I can work to ensure that other children don’t get trapped in the inefficient workings of the system. I have the feeling I can help students escape the horrid Cleveland Metro Schools and its two suburban districts Cleveland Hts.-Univ.hts and East Cleveland City and all the other equally horrid districts someday.

      Posted by equalityschools | November 7, 2011, 1:20 pm
  3. Jay, I applaud your bravery at speaking out, and unfortunately your story is very familiar to me. I applaud you in taking charge of your own education, and I urge you to join with the many many others around the country, students, teachers, parents and folks outside the system, who believe it must be transformed.

    We’re working with lots of them at IDEA.

    The first step is speaking your truth, and telling your story. You are on your way.

    In admiration,


    Posted by Kirsten Olson | November 7, 2011, 2:42 pm


  1. Pingback: Tale of a Broken System: A Student’s Perspective (Guest Post by Jay Chisley) | Alternative education | - November 6, 2011

  2. Pingback: Public Schooling Is The WD-40 For The Tyrannical Machine « The Education Vigilante - January 12, 2012

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