Return to Transcripts main page


The American Public School System; Crossing Zip Codes to Get a Better Education; The Bamboo Ceiling: Faults in Tiger Mom Practices

Aired May 14, 2011 - 09:30   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, HOST: The public school education you receive shouldn't depend on your zip code, but in some parts of the country it does.


In a moment, the extreme measures parents and some students take to try to get a quality education no matter where they live. But, first, let's begin with the conventional wisdom on American education courtesy of "Saturday Night Live."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This week children at more than 1,700 schools in North America sang the song "I Want To Play" at the same time while simultaneously in China over a billion kids were doing math.



ROMANS: Ouch, but true.

L.Z. Granderson wrote an opinion piece on this week. He says kids maybe should go to school year round, in part because we're trying to compete with the rest of the world where they're pretty serious about education.

Hi, L.Z.

L.Z. GRANDERSON, COLUMNIST: Hey, how are you doing?

ROMANS: I'm great. So, what prompted you to write this piece?

GRANDERSON: Oh, man, (INAUDIBLE) good place.

ROMANS: I know.

GRANDERSON: You know, it really started with my own frustrations as a parent. I have taken my son to four different schools in about two years desperately trying to get him in a school that challenges him, is going to push him, and have him ready to compete with the rest of the world and this is both public as well as private schools and I finally found somewhere and I'm lucky because I have the resources and the abilities to do that but everyone in this country doesn't and that really concerns me. ROMANS: You know, we see the United States, on average you go to school 180 days and you can see, we're going to show you in the pack where that is with other industrialized countries. But, you think that maybe if kids spent more time -- longer -- a longer school year that would help. But, I'm going to challenge you a little bit because in Finland they have just 190 days of school and they're way at the top on the math and science scale. So, you know, maybe it's what we should be doing better in the days we already have in school, not necessarily adding more days to the calendar.

GRANDERSON: Well, you know I -- in the piece that I wrote, I actually looked at a multi-pronged attack and -- and the summer school was one part of that conversation. You're absolutely correct.

Finland's only in school an average of 10 more days than we are but what they have done culturally is shift their attitudes about education so that teachers, the position of being a teacher, are highly sought after, they're respected. Education is more respected and the way they evaluate and test teachers is much more stringent than what we do right now in the United States.

And, so, our attack towards education is not as good as Finland's but I still believe that because of the three month gap studies show that kids forget things too and, so, maybe we can do both; have better teaching but also get rid of this three month break in which our kids are forgetting things and then having to relearn them in the following fall.

ROMANS: That's interesting because with two working parents sometimes you know that summer gap, it -- it's tough because you're trying to figure out child care, you're trying to figure out how to handle the summer when, for the parents at least, things haven't really changed.

Kim Anderson is with the National Education Administration.

Kim, I want to bring you into this conversation, ask you from a teacher's perspective and an educator's perspective, should we have a longer school year?

KIM ANDERSON, NATIONAL EDUCATION ADMINISTRATION: Well, I don't think there is any question that educators know that the more time a student spends on task the better off they are in terms of the chance that they have to succeed. The more time you're spending learning, the better off you're going to do in school. The question in terms of extended school policies is whether or not they're designed in conjunction with the community and educators. We're all for it. That's happening all over the country.

In Massachusetts, they experimented with extended learning time and are seeing great results so, we would encourage proposals that give students a greater opportunity to succeed but we also want to make sure that educators' voices and parents' voices and community voices are brought into that process as they design that policy.

ROMANS: So, let's leave that discussion for a moment and switch to something else.

Steve Perry is our education contributor.

Steve, in your state there is a story that has really -- really gripped a lot of parents and educators, 26 families were outted by a school district for sending their kids to a better school. Problem is, they didn't live in that school district. One of the moms was even charged with larceny. You're seeing a picture of her in court right now. That's from back in April.

I want to ask you. Does this, to you, represent sort of the unevenness of the public school education in this country?

DR. STEVE PERRY, CNN EDUCATION CONTRIBUTOR: It is the American low point. It is the worst that we have to offer. When a person is damned to failure by virtue of the fact that they live in a poor neighborhood, that they don't have the resources to go to a better school, that they're confined by the limits of policy and provincialism, this is the worst that American has to offer its children because we can do better. One of the reasons why we don't have absolute school choice is because we fight so hard to make sure that teachers get to keep their jobs come what may.

But, when we put children first and we focus on their needs we find, as the parents said earlier, there are so many parents that I meet that are constantly looking for a better school for their children but they may not have the resources to either move their entire family or to purchase an education.

So, when we look honestly at vouchers, this doesn't happen, meaning that we don't get arrested for sending our child to a better school. How do you get arrested for going to a public school? These are public resources that are used to run this school. The notion that people pay their local taxes and that's what pays for a local school is a -- is a bygone one.

When you receive state funding, that means everyone in the state paid in some way to make sure that school runs. When you see federal funding, that means throughout the country federal taxes were, in some way, collected to make sure that that school could run. So, a public school is truly a public school, not a local school.

ROMANS: Kim, let me let you jump in here because some people try to use this case and others like it, there have been others in Ohio and elsewhere, as a -- as a reason why vouchers should be available so that people have the opportunity to use a voucher and get where they want to outside in the private school system. What do you think about that?

ANDERSON: Well, we remain opposed to vouchers. What vouchers do is they take scarce resources and divert them to private and religious schools. We have absolutely no problem with parents who choose to pay for a private education. That is their choice.

But in an era with an economic crisis and the downturn in school budgets, to skim off the top and take a small amount of money to affect a small amount of students isn't the right answer. The right answer, now let me -- let me finish. The right answer is about having policies that force school districts and states all across this country to have equity everywhere in every school.

ROMANS: Let-- let's talk about school performance for a minute because I wanted to introduce you guys to Booker T. Washington High School. This is a school where this school, its students, its parents, its teachers, they -- they took matters into their own hands. They increased graduation rates from -- from all the way up to 80 percent, 81 percent. They won the President's Run to the Race to the Top competition.

They did it by, among other things, separating boys and girls in the freshman years, adding some AP classes. What you're seeing is a video that they put together to try to win this Race to the Top commencement competition. So, the president is going to come there and give a commencement address.

L.Z., let's talk about what they were doing right, all of the stakeholders, as they say, in this community, what they were doing right. There are places where we are seeing public schools, despite the odds, managing to raise their graduation rates.

GRANDERSON: You know, the one word that you rarely hear when politicians and educators and the teachers unions all get together -- you rarely hear the word parents and that to me has been number one.

I know what the research says. The research says that if you have better teachers and better quality of teachers that the kids will succeed and I -- and I would argue with the numbers. But, if that child goes home and education is a priority in that home, the kid is going to feel empowered, the children are going to feel empowered and they are going to want to work harder because that's the expectation for them back at home.

And, so, I understand the -- the political and the -- the -- the ideological arguments that's happened between the teachers unions and politicians but we've really got to get back to the parents because it's about what's happening at home and what's important at home and that's what you saw at Booker T. was the parents getting involved and that inspired the kids to want to push themselves and to achieve.

ROMANS: L.Z. Granderson, great piece. We're going to link to it. Want everyone to read it, very good stuff. Kim Anderson from the National Education Association and Steve Perry, our education contributor. Thank you everyone.

You've heard of the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, haven't you? But, what about the battle scars of the Tiger Children? One author is asking, "What happens to all of the Asian-American overachievers when the test taking ends?"


ROMANS: I want to introduce you to high school junior Maria Castro. She thinks education is her way out of poverty. She dreams of studying engineering at Stanford University. It's one of the most competitive schools in the country. But, does her public school give her the quality of education necessary for admission and what can she do about it?

CNN Special Correspondent Soledad O'Brien reports.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maria, what is the ratios of the 45?

MARIA CASTRO, STUDENT: The 1, the 1 and the radical 2.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Maria wants a career that pays well and is pushing herself and her school to get it.

MARIA CASTRO, STUDENT: I was like, well, why isn't anybody challenging me. I mean, I would do a whole weeks' lesson a class period and I was like, OK, this is too simple for me. I was like, OK, what's next.

O'BRIEN: Do you worry that when you go off to college you're not going to be prepared to compete?

CASTRO: Yes, I -- and especially like with, just example, we're learning how to capitalize and when to capitalize. That's things that my little sister should be learning, you know.

O'BRIEN: It's because more than half of the 2200 students at Maria's school don't pass statewide tests in reading and math.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When they come to school, you know, they come at a fourth grade reading level and behind in math so we really have a lot of catching up to do.

CASTRO: It's just my little sister and I (INAUDIBLE).

O'BRIEN: She's the sixth of seven children.

CASTRO: All of my brothers and sisters were straight A students.

O'BRIEN: And they went from being A students to dropping out?

CASTRO: My sister, she got pregnant when she was younger and everybody was just kind of expecting me to follow into their same footsteps, you know.

O'BRIEN: Everybody, including her father. She overheard him two years ago at her Quinceanera, her 15th birthday party.

CASTRO: He was like, it's just a matter of time before she fails.

O'BRIEN: Fails.

CASTRO: Yes. He's just like, it -- it doesn't really matter what she does right now. I mean, she'll -- she'll eventually give up. O'BRIEN: Did it motivate you in any way.

CASTRO: Yes, it did.

O'BRIEN: It did?

CASTRO: Yes. Now it's like, OK, if I'm going to get straight A's, it's not just for you any more, it's for me.


ROMANS: You can hear more about how Maria, despite everything, is overcoming the problems in America's schools.

Soledad O'Brien's special report Don't Fail Me, Education in America, it premieres tomorrow night, 8 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN. And here's a striking juxtaposition to Maria's story.

Another education debate. This one about Tiger moms who demand nothing short of perfection but is all that pressure just pushing your kid into the bamboo ceiling. (INAUDIBLE).


ROMANS: Congratulations class of 2011. You're the most indebted graduates ever, $22,900 That's the average debt among college students in this years' graduating class. It's up 8 percent from last year, it's nearly 50 percent higher than a decade ago.

So, for those who have yet to declare a major, what are the most useful degrees. The Daily Beast ranks them like this. Number one, Biomedical Engineering followed by Business, Education, Software Engineering, and Petroleum Engineering.

The least useful college majors: Fashion Design, Advertising, Agriculture, Horticulture and, yes, Journalism.

We're all groaning here of course but, you need to take whatever you are good at that someone will pay you for and try to get out fast in the world to make money with that degree so you can pay off that student debt.

Of course, Tiger mothers already know all this. They're pushing their kids for absolute excellence in their field but, do all of the violin lessons, math league competitions and spelling bees guarantee success after school?


ROMANS: Well the Tiger mom is back in the headline. Amy Chua is a Tiger Mother who wrote an Op-Ed in U.S.A. today this week saying, "If, in their early years, we teach our children a strong work ethic, perseverance, and the value of delayed gratification they will be much better positioned to be self motivated and self reliant when they become young adults." I think we all agree on that, but there's another, including a New York magazine article, that says, you know, this push to excel in the classroom is not prepping many for the real working world.

Carmen Wong Ulrich is the author of "The Real Cost of Living." Jeff Gardere is a clinical psychologist, and Jane Hyun is author of "Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling" and is a leadership strategist and executive coast.

I want to start with you Jane.

What is the bamboo ceiling? Because we hear from the Tiger Mother about excellence, perfection in math, perfection at the piano, perfection in violin. The only perfection, the best grades, the best degree and then you write about the bamboo ceiling. What is that?

JANE HYUN, AUTHOR: Thanks for asking. The bamboo ceiling, as I could find it, is a combination of individual, cultural, and organizational barriers that keep Asians from reaching the top ranks of companies. And so, it's self-inflicted in the sense that there are cultural barriers or differences that impact our behaviors. There are also some organizational barriers that keep us from really moving to the top.

ROMANS: We have, I think, 91 percent graduation rate from high school for Asian -- for Asian students, you know, that far and away is much better than any other ethnic group in this country, Carmen, yet only 9 CEOs or executives of Fortune 500 companies are Asian or Pacific Islanders. So, where is the gap between all of this talk about Tiger mother and Tiger children in the -- in the "real world?"

CARMEN WONG ULRICH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, not to be controversial, listen, we all have expectations when it comes to certain ethnicities or names. I am the product of two very different expectations being the Asian side and the Hispanic side--

ROMANS: Your dad isn't against --

ULRICH: No, my mother --

ROMANS: Your mother is --

ULRICH: Yes. And, the thing is that with the Hispanic culture, for example, they're very, very low education rates and so the expectations there are very low. When it comes to the Asian expectations in the workforce, it's this kind of we are excelling just as we did in school, but the problem becomes the personality that folks say or look at and say, you know, this person doesn't look like what I'm used to seeing a CEO look like. Whether you're brown or whether you're another color or a woman, they don't see that and is that personality traits that you need, are they there in your culture beyond the book learning and that's a lesson that I learned early on out of college. It's a lot more than a meritocracy out here.

ROMANS: Right. Well, Jeff, you know it's interesting because the -- the -- the battle hymn of the Tiger mother, which was the parent -- extreme parenting story--


ROMANS: -- has translated into the battle scars of the Tiger children and now you're hearing from all of these kids who are saying, "oh wait, it's not all it's cracked up to be." I mean, it's -- you can memorize all you want but there are still life skills that -- that Tiger mothers maybe aren't giving.

GARDERE: Well, that is the point that when it comes to success, yes, you can be prepped and go to all of these programs so you can do better on standardized exams but where are you developing the social skills so that when you get to college you can hang out with all of these different ethnicities and get involved in sports and so on.

Because, in the real world, that's where you excel and then when you add on what we're not saying the term is, but I'll say it, the institutional racism or prejudice, when that becomes at play, the way that you're going to have to get through that is to learn to play the game the way that the majority do.

ROMANS: It's interesting because there was a discussion earlier this year at Davos, which is, you know, a big -- a big gathering of the worlds' leaders in Switzerland and Amy Chua and Larry Summers, the former Treasury Secretary, and President of Harvard actually got in kind of a tiff about this and he said, "Look, the A students are professors. The C students are the wealthiest donors." I mean, think about it.

CHUA: Yes. It's interesting you said people on average live a quarter of their lives as children. It's important that they be as happy as possible during those 18 years. He's really focusing on creativity, innovation, some of the things that, you know, driven parents may be forgetting when they're talking about the violin lessons and all that, Jane?

HYUN: Absolutely, and I think that, you know, when I was doing research for the book, I found that -- I interviewed 100 executives, not just Asians because I wanted to get a broad view of what takes -- what does it take to actually be a leader in a company and I found that there are different stages of -- of leader's development. In the beginning, actually, it is important that you are an individual contributor, that you work hard, that you put in the hours, that you put your head down. At some point in the game, though, the requirements of your leadership skills change and so you need to kind of move away from being an individual contributor to someone who can build credible relationships. And, so, the rules change and I think people sometimes forget that once you work -- start in a company, you might need to figure that out.

ROMANS: You know, Carmen, I think there is something for everybody to learn in both of these extremes and --


ROMANS: -- and that's what's so interesting. ULRICH: Absolutely. And that's what Amy followed up with her. She had an Op-Ed in the U.S.A. Today.

ROMANS: Exactly.

ULRICH: It has to be this combination of both and I think I feel very lucky because I had both. I had to be a straight-A student and excel in everything but I also had a mother who was very, very savvy when it came to how to manage relationships in the workplace and how you need to be in this country and I think the advantage is for all -- all of our groups, whether it is ethnic or racial groups in America is, there is this American culture of this succeeding and how to succeed. It has to be about more than just doing a great job.

ROMANS: Jeff Gardere, thank you so much, Carmen Ulrich thank you, Jane Hyun thank you. The book is called "Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling." Another one is in the works. We'll -- we'll get you in that when it comes out.

Can you have a five-minute conversation without checking your Blackberry? Can you make it through dinner without answering your phone or at least checking your phone? You might need a digital diet. We've got a four-step plan to break your tech addiction and regain just a bit of balance in your life.

Once you're done with your tech diet, then please send me an e- mail at

You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter. I read all of your tweets.

That will wrap things up for us this morning. Back now to CNN Saturday for other stories making news right now.