What Should be The #1 Priority of Our Schools?


With the semester over and summer quickly approaching, I sit here reflecting on the past school year. Thankfully, there were some shining moments for my two kids, my hundreds of students and the many schools I work with nationwide. But as a parent, professor and psychologist, I still have one main educational concern that still rises above all the rest. Can you guess what it is?

If you think it is test scores, you are only half right. We don’t need to be concerned about test scores, because we know where they are going. Despite the obsession with standardized testing in the USA, our test scores have been falling steadily for more than a decade. And rest assured, that with the adoption of the new Common Core Standards, test scores will continue to fall.

I cannot understand why we keep thinking that adopting new standards, new curriculum, and creating new standardized tests is the answer to academic success. We seem to take a slightly-modified version of this same approach every three to five years after failing to make what our lawmakers call Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). History and logic suggest that if we continue to take the same ineffective approach with higher expectations we will continue to get the same undesirable results. And if Vegas had odds on this prediction I would probably be willing to invest my 401k. My concern for our education and students is something much more personally imperative to kids than raising their test scores a few percentage points. Can you guess what it is?

My belief, and what decades of forgotten research documents for us, is that if we strategically focus on the social side of education, better academics will follow. This is why I believe we need to get back to inspiring tomorrow’s citizens to greatness; not academic proficiency. My concern and sincere hope is that we can find a way to redirect our education policy so educators can once again more seriously focus on the number one concern parents of all walks of life share.

That concern, my main concern, is insuring the physical safety, and social emotional wellbeing (aka mental health and positive natural development) of our children. At the end of the day, all I really want is to see my children arrive home safely and get off their school bus with a smile.

Now some experts would think such concerns of safety are uncalled for. They want us to believe violence in schools is steadily dropping annually. I guess if you wear doctor prescribed blinders, or can only focus on one thing at a time due to an extreme Adderall addiction, some statistics do suggest the experts have a point. The number of student to student acts of violence has declined steadily during the past decade or so. But when you look at the whole picture, though the number of incidents might have dropped, reality would suggest the severity of such acts has reached a level never imagined.

We, and more importantly our students and educators, will never think the same way, recover or heal completely after the tragic events taking place in our schools today, such as the shootings at Sandy Hook or Columbine where this nightmare basically all started. In the USA, every month if not sometimes every week, it seems we hear about another shooting, bomb threat, or major act of mass violence taking place in our schools. Just a month ago, before the first bell for class even rang, a small-framed troubled kid with kitchen knives from home stabbed and sliced more than 20 students in a Pennsylvania high school.

And rest assured there are many more acts and threats of violence that our 24-hour crisis news gurus don’t cover in lieu of more important headlines… such as spending one more day, one more week, one more month, hyper-focused on the unfortunate missing Malaysian Jetliner. Sadly, I must admit I watched Anderson Cooper ask the same questions for weeks on end, and only hoped Courtney Love did indeed locate the plane via Google Earth. But such news coverage of events so far from home, so detached from what is really important to families, is trivial to so many other challenges our children face daily in our schools.

After one gets by the shock and horror of such senseless acts taking place in schools, the first question we often ask is “Why” did these possibly Columbine-inspired perpetrators do it? Were they driven to such actions due to possibly being bullied, ostracized, desensitized to killing via over exposure to violent media or video games, or struggling with side effects or withdrawal from dangerous psychotropic drugs? Unfortunately, evidence and research would suggest it could be a combination of such factors. Many of the shooters have been bullied. Preliminary evidence also suggests that during the past fifteen years, in nearly all mass shootings at schools and on college campuses, the shooter was either currently taking or suffering from withdrawal from a prescribed psychiatric drug (e.g., ADHD drugs). With too many young souls being traumatized in our schools, or even worse lost forever, it is beyond time to reconsider what SHOULD be the main priority of our education.

To some, the most important input to schools is more instructional minutes to teach new curriculum, and the output is test scores. The fact that we spend far more billions of dollars on standardized testing than apparently everything else combined, is evidence that our kids safety and helping each student prepare for the test of life is far less important than preparing them for a life of tests. But how can such standardized test scores be more important than providing the basic human needs that Maslow determined to be first and foremost in order to even pursue enlightenment? How can standardized testing deserve more money and attention than just first doing everything we can to guarantee and provide basic safety, healthy food that is actually edible (and doesn’t arrive at the school in microwave-able bag), and a nurturing learning environment capable of inspiring kids to grow academically but also equally important become more caring and contributing citizens?

The sad part is that since we started forcing standardized tests on our schools, the extreme acts of violence have continued and only worsened in severity. We have moved further and further away from our education’s original goal to develop a workforce of dedicated community members. The testing has only contributed to leaving more children left behind. Since we developed this testing obsession, we have gone from worrying about falling from being one of the best education systems in the world to annually producing a body of students that can’t score better than average to below average in comparison to other industrialized nations. Since we started spending billions in the pursuit of prepping for the test, and for some teaching to the test, we have lost sight of what our education system must do first; serve as a social incubator for our children.

Research shows that approximately 32% of our students from elementary to high school are being bullied. Close to a third of our students, more than 3 million, drop out every year because they do not find school meaningful to their goals or feel like no one cares about them in the school. Of those who actually graduate a high percentage are not prepared for college. The situation is so bad, nearly 50% of our new teachers leave the profession within 3 years, and many of our best more seasoned teachers are seeking early retirement or leaving the profession for greener pastures. With stats like these who needs test scores to confirm the failure and challenges of our current approach?

Luckily, there are educators out there, playing the testing game, but also doing what is right. They are putting the personal development of each student ahead of test score concerns. Thankfully, there are organizations such as Rachel’s Challenge, started by the family of Rachel Joy Scott (the first student killed at Columbine), helping schools focus on a process to build a much needed chain reaction of compassion in education. Fortunately, even the US Department of Education and Department of Justice recently have released grant monies to help schools focus on reducing violence and building healthier school climates. But how does $100 million in grants focused on building the social side of education even compare to or compete with the exponential billions of dollars more spent on testing? And how can educators put climate and safety first (actually be student directed) when they are told their job security rests upon annually increasing tests scores; and basically nothing else?

As a result, unfortunately, some educational administrators are forcing “bad testing” students to leave the school and do their coursework elsewhere online. Other educators, as my research has discovered are lining up kids before meals to get their “medicine.” For no good reasons they are serving breakfast to 4.5 million kids for ADHD and millions more for autism and depression that consists of dangerous, addictive Schedule II narcotics similar to Meth, Cocaine and Opium. Yummy! They are doing this just so the non-conformist kids, bored with the testing focus, won’t disrupt the all-so-critical instructional minutes. And unfortunately, if these approaches don’t work, some teachers are willing to erase the wrong answers given by kids on the achievement tests just to keep their jobs.

Many of the eggheads and bureaucrats, at the highest levels and darkest halls of our government, want to act like fixing this broken education system rests upon some Einstein-ian algorithm. But if they would just take a moment to listen to educators and parents, or here is an idea… the KIDS, they would learn the remedy is quite simple. All that most of these kids need is a dream and inspiration. Kids’ brains are like a sponge. If you pour to much liquid in the sponge nothing will be retained. They need to be able to exercise regularly and have more free time to unwind and use their creative minds. Kids don’t need more instruction; so leave art, music, physical education and vocational trades in the curriculum. They don’t need more drugs. They need to feel unthreatened by their peers and cared for by their educators. They need loving parents and caretakers that truly take an interest and active role in their education. They need love and for some they need tough love and more help from professionals not pushing pharmaceuticals.

When you set aside (or statistically control for variables such as) the socio-economic status of our children (i.e. the income and educational level of their parents) and the IQ they are born with (both are things we cannot fix at a macro level), what is most predictive of better academic grades is more parent involvement and more inspirational teachers. With positive more dedicated adult role models and mentors we can then increase student motivation to learn and increase the positive feelings kids have for schools. With all of these factors we can also increase their intrinsic motivation to want to succeed.

And when we realize this as a nation, our teachers will stay longer, work smarter, and enjoy their careers more intrinsically. Our kids will actually want to go to school, and smile more when they get off the bus.  Our test scores will increase by default, and you can spend all of those billions of dollars on so many other things actually meaningful to education.

What SHOULD be the #1 priority of our schools?

KIDS! Not test scores!

They deserve nothing less.


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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  1. As a former high school teacher I want to thank you for a piece of writing that hits everything wrong with American education smack dab on the head. Our priorities are all totally wrong when it comes to educating our kids here in America. I could see this “testing” attitude developing near the end of my teaching career and is one of the big reaons that I got out of teaching to begin with. Parents were more interested in grades and scores than they were in how their children were developing and it drove me crazy. Teachers were more intent on teaching the facts of their subjects than they were about sitting down with their classes and having an honest heart to heart discussion with their students about how life was treating them and about how they were adjusting and getting along. I’m not sure that the situation can be changed at this point in time. What I do know is that I will never, ever go back into teaching because it’s very apparent that the students are not the most important thing in American education today.

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    • First and foremost, tests teach kids not to think. In math it doesn’t matter how you got to the final number, if you did it right but made a small calculation mistake you’re just as dumb as someone who didn’t have a clue at all. In literature original thinking and imagination is punished since you don’t fit into the answer key. You don’t have to understand and think deeply about what you’re learning, you just have to memorize tons of meaningless facts and maybe you’ll get a high score. There is nothing more destructive to education that standarised testing.

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      • B, I agree with you 100%. I remember when I was preparing for the ACTs, I was scolded because my writing was “too creative” and I was told to “just follow the format.” I repeatedly stated that that is not my style of writing, and was told not to “make a political statement out of this” and “just do well on the test.” This is education? I feel that I didn’t get a real education in any subject until I reached college. My idea of education is the professor who didn’t scold me for correcting her in class, but approached me after class to thank me for my comment, tell me that she thought I was correct and that it had reminded her of a book on the discussion topic, and offered me a copy to read and discuss with her. My idea of education is the professor who, two years after I took his class, was still gladly answering my questions about one of the assigned books for that class, which I was just fascinated by. My idea of education is the professor who had no problem admitting that he didn’t know the answer to my question, but promised he would find it. My idea of education is the professors who became friends, who I approached with personal problems and responded with kindness and understanding. Test-based education, rather than open, person-based education is not conducive to learning- just short-term memorization.

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        • I was lucky because I grew up in a post-communist country and no matter what you think about the system overall there is one think that the so-called communist block did very well – educating people. Unfortunately, my younger brother wasn’t as lucky since of course the system got finally “reformed” by the neoliberal government. I remember when I was in secondary school there were already attempts on introducing standarised testing and they were fought hard and long by parents, teachers and students alike but with no avail.
          I don’t think that the state of modern education is a coincidence or result of stupidity. I think it’s designed to be just as bad as it is so people don’t know and think too much.

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  2. Things can definitely always change–unless the enterprise has to get abandoned in order to cause the needed improvement. But this problem with “needed” drugs and the diagnosable diversions that behavioral healthcare makes of growing pains, and that administrators make of test scores, kills hope fast.

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  3. I think hip hop culture has dumbed down the American student, sure in my day Ozzy was blamed for a few teen suicides but its better than today where kids music is about “pimping hoes”, selling crack and being a “gangsta”.

    Look at me with my pants falling off my rear and a flat tire cause I bumped a curb with my stupid oversize rim and tire with no sidewall . I am so “gangasta” bro !

    The dumbing down of America is working.

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  4. The NEA opposes school vouchers for their own self preservation, everyone knows know the private sector will do a better job educating kids than the mega bureaucracy public school system .

    Why your kid is drugged in school

    How it works:

    The State Department of Education gets monies from the Federal Government (Disability) under a program called “IDEA” for each child diagnosed with a disability. A disability could be ADD/ADHD, Bi-polar disorder, Depression or any of the other mental diagnoses.

    Who profits: The State Department of Education, the mental health and counseling Industry, the Pharmaceutical company and the money that is kicked back by lobbyists for politicians special interest and of course the legal profession.

    All this at the cost of your child’s Health and welfare.

    ———-IDEA” Final Regulation (part 1 of 2)

    300.7 Child with a disability. http://idea.ed.gov/


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    • It is shameful our government is paying schools to stigmatize (with “lacking in validity” disorders) and force children onto drugs similar to cocaine. Really, the people in charge have lost their minds (or absolutely do not have society’s best interest at heart).

      And the ADHD “symptoms” are very similar to the “symptoms” of a “gifted” person, so it’s children on both ends of the bell curve who are being targeted and force medicated. Not to mention, taking hope away from children with improperly and illogically run school systems, then forcing the children onto antidepressants, while blaming the CHILD’s brain? It’s sick.

      But it’s not just the school’s fault. Psychiatry has decided proper parenting is a “mental illness” and “unemployment,” too. But I disagree, I know the kids who did best in my children’s schools, were the ones who had moms who were active volunteers and stayed home to properly raise their children. And the research proves this is true also.

      I understand psychiatry’s goal is to keep power in the hands of those who currently have power. But those people are ruining this country. They don’t deserve the power. They’re just greedy, unethical, thieving thugs. We need a return to better days – oh, say like when our society as a whole believed appropriate behavior was treating others as you’d like to be treated. And when properly raising one’s children was considered an asset to society, rather than “unemployed.” What a sad joke our country’s become. Kudos, psychiatrists, you’ve destroyed another country. Stand tall….

      Psychiatrists know how to destroy countries, but even they admit they can’t “cure” or improve anything. I think, as a society, we should get rid of them.

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      • How much child bipolar and ADHD are biological disorders can be seen comparing the rates of diagnosis for foster kids or minorities to the overall population. But hey, we can drug their problems away, social factors be damned. If we didn’t do the labelling and drugging, we’d actually have to attempt to fix them.

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  5. Thank you for this thought-provoking piece. You make many valid points and sometimes I fear that our society has really lost its way. We have become so competitive and our children are growing up in a very scary world. The sad thing is that with all our material wealth it really doesn’t have to be this way. We could provide our children with a safe, secure environment to grow up in. But it just doesn’t seem to be a priority for most. Many people are willing to turn their children into drug addicts just so they can “succeed” in school. No one seems to be able to accept that perhaps their child is never going to be a great scholar. In years past this was more acceptable as society seemed to be more accepting of people who were not academic and made room for them. Now there seems to be such immense pressure on everyone to be “the best”, that it seems that there is no place in society for someone who is just average and certainly no one could accept being below average. Well, the reality is that 50 per cent of us and 50 per cent of our kids are in fact below average. Society needs to stop the competitions and the comparisons and accept people for their own unique selves and value everyone’s contribution. Our children deserve to be valued and loved no matter how ordinary they might be.

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    • That is true. It comes together with the idiotic idea that to have a decent live you need a college degree and a job which requires higher education. In fact, society does not need so many people with degrees, it needs highly skilled blue collar workers and low level workers to do the basic jobs and the manufacturing (which now is moved overseas where it’s being done by practical slave labour). This whole system is sick, it has its values upside down.
      Personally, I have a high degree but I don’t think that the work I do is somehow more important than the people who provide me with food I eat and clothes I wear. They can live without me, I could not survive without their work.

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  6. A 12-year-old Nevada boy who went on a deadly shooting rampage at his school nearly seven months ago had been teased by his classmates and was taking a prescription antidepressant, police said Tuesday.

    “Interviews with the boy’s parents, teachers and classmates and the boy’s own writings paint a portrait of a child troubled by depression and feelings of inadequacy at home and tormented by a school life in which he was mocked, teased and mistreated.

    A psychotherapist prescribed anti-depressants for Jose Reyes and a toxicology report following the shooting showed an amount of anti-depressants in his system consistent with the prescription.

    Sparks middleschool.


    This was less than a year ago.

    Why is this not on mainstream news ? Because after reporting the story, taking station breaks for advertisements for brain disabling “Abilify” and drugs like it, might give big media editors and producers anxiety, since their very existence depends on pharma sponsorship.

    Ask your doctor if drugging 12 year olds cause they get bullied in school is a really stupid irresponsible idea.

    All of the classes of psychiatric drugs can cause violent, irrational, and/or manic behavior. Among other effects, these drugs cause a neurological condition called “akathesia,” which means that persons who take them can’t sit still and feel like they are jumping out of their skin. They behave in an agitated manner which they cannot control and experience unbearable rage, delusions, and disassociation.

    Read more http://www.psychintegrity.org/isepp_statement_on_the_connection_between_psychotropic_drugs_and_mass_murder.php

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    • If anyone took the issue of mass shootings seriously they would have investigated the correlation between the drugs and these events a long time ago. It should not even be difficult to control for the underlying “mental illness”. However, now there is a trend to hide evidence about drug use by mass shooters.

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      • Michael Brandon Hill allegedly dressed in black and armed with an AK-47 assault rifle fired at least six shots at police from inside McNair Elementary School in suburban Atlanta on Tuesday. in August 2013

        Timothy Hill, brother of the alleged shooter, told WSB TV (view parts one and two of the interview) that Michael Hill had a long history of mental illness. According to his brother, Hill was placed on Adderall, a drug commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), at the age of six. He had a history of behavioral problems in school starting at age 13.

        Hill’s brother said that Michael Hill had a “long history of medical disorders including bipolar,” but that he was never given help. At one point, Michael Hill was on so many medications that it was “like a drugstore.”


        Hill’s brother said “Medical disorders ” While posing as “authorities” on the mind and mental health, psychiatry has no scientific basis to call anything “medical”.

        “In fourty years, “biological” psychiatry has yet to validate a single psychiatric condition/diagnosis as an abnormality/disease, or as anything neurological, biological, chemically-imbalanced or genetic.” —Dr. Fred Baughman Jr., child neurologist, Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology.

        Same story over and over, drugging for ADHD at an early age then symptoms of bipolar. Look up the ‘side’ effects of Adderall then the symptoms of bipolar and find the SAME SYMPTOMS.

        Amphetamines starting at age six. Michael Brandon Hill , another life destroyed and turned to hell by the child drugging industry.

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  7. there was a letter in my state newspaper that may was mental illness awareness month, and that so many of our children have mental illness, and they need treatment, blah, blah, blah. i sent a letter countering that one- that of course we must help our children but the labeling and overdiagnosing is not the way- and look at what drs and big pharma have done to adults already- my own blah blah blah. does anyone think the paper will print my letter??

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  8. There were no problems in the schools I went to for primary and secondary levels of education. Most of the students were healthy; and no one on drugs. Virtually no bullying or after school fighting of any severity. There were 60 students in my high school graduating class. I was a guy. None of the girls got pregnant. There may have been a few drinking problems among the older students–but not many. I found school fun and enjoyable. Also sports. University was not nearly so good a place to learn. I went to Stanford.

    Of course this was rural America between 1947 and 1960. Juvenile delinquents were a city problem. But what has changed in America since that time. Well, hundreds of military adventures. Almost all were done to serve the military industrial complex. None were perpetrated for national defense. A president was assassinated followed by a white wash investigation. Etc. Many men with severe consequences as a result came home and begot children. For a starter that seems pretty good. Harsh home environments especially in suburbs and cities. The rural areas depopulated. Consumerism took over.

    No school can compensate for all of this. As Dante mentions: No man can be a good citizen in a bad society. Probably no one can be mentally and physically healthy leading a conventional life in a bad society either!

    If teachers were well trained and armed that would be the end of school shootings. The same goes for many other areas. The wild west was less wild than Hollywood films would lead one to believe because carrying a gun had a very decided effect on one’s behavior. I think we know now that schools push psychiatric drugs. And who knows what the person on that drug will do. Again how trust worthy are the news stories about the mass shootings?

    A very straight forward and honest curriculum for schools determined locally would be best. The Federal Government rarely produces outstanding results. Children know when they are lied to but are usually disciplined out of saying so. If teachers lie as they do they lose the respect of the children. The same for all educators. But lying is the American Way.

    We have to rebuild the nations after it collapses. It will take several generations. But first the country must hit the bottom of the barrel. I do not know when that will occur.

    When truth once again is highly regarded we will have a new dawn. When kids are taught about freedom as opposed to various sexual positions in primary school that will be a good sign. Social engineering by idiots produces crazy societies. People though need to wake up to the world they find themselves in and do some reflecting. It is good for their health even.

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  9. In my opinion, the priority at school number one should be that teachers take care of the free time of their students. They thoughtlessly give a lot of homework, forgetting that the student should have enough free time various hobbies and to study interesting disciplines. When I was at school, I had to used cheap essay writers , because I wanted to learn programming, and because of the huge amount of homework, I had absolutely no time for it. I believe that homework kills desire to learning in students. Therefore, priority number one in our educational system should be a removal of homework assignments.

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    • I agree 100%! There is NO evidence that I’ve ever seen that assigning homework is correlated in any way to improved learning. My son had to do sometimes 3-4 hours of homework every night for days at a time. He was also on the wrestling team which had meet run until 9 PM a couple nights a week. It was ridiculous, and for what?

      I’m also a great believer that free time is at least as educational, probably moreso, than any work assignment kids ever receive. We learn best from things we’re interested in, not something we’re forced to do to make someone else happy.

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