Lifting the Curtain on Education Blog Tour and interview with D.A. Russell

Monday, March 23, 2015
& giveaway contest!

The 2nd edition of the acclaimed look at today's failed education system--with dozens of teacher submissions from across the USA and nine new chapters.

Both KIRKUS and CLARION praise this important book "...from the unique perspective of a classroom teacher" that shows the real problems that have destroyed the education of our children.

Few parents or legislators have any chance of seeing the real state of education in our urban schools. It is a shameful disaster--unlike anything that we, as parents, experienced just 15-20 years ago. The real problems stay largely unseen, because career DoE bureaucrats and school administration are extremely good at hiding their failed policies behind the curtain of the school entryway.

In Lifting the Curtain: The Disgrace We Call Urban High School Education, Russell provides a detailed look at urban high school education from inside the classroom, including three years of research, and the first ever major survey of what students and teachers think of the educational system. If we want a real solution for our children, then for once we must focus on the real problems, the ones carefully hidden behind the educational curtain.

Paperback: 276 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 2nd edition (January 5, 2015)
ISBN-10: 1506015980
ISBN-13: 978-1506015989

Lifting the Curtain is available in at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound.

Book Giveaway Contest:
To win a copy of Lifting the Curtain, please enter using the Rafflecopter form at the bottom of this post. The giveaway contest closes this Friday, March 27 at 12:00 AM EST. We will announce the winner the same day in the Rafflecopter widget. Good luck!

About the Author:
D. A. Russell has spent the last ten years as a math teacher in one of the urban high schools that is the subject of Lifting the Curtain. He is an honors graduate of Dartmouth College, and has his master's degree from Simon School, where he was valedictorian of his class. Russell is a decorated Vietnam veteran. He has two children that he treasures, and four grandchildren. His son is a police officer who served in the US Army in Afghanistan, earning a Bronze Star for valor. His daughter is a lawyer and his most passionate fan and honorary literary agent. Russell has a passion for children that dominates his life. He has taught and coached children for decades. Few things are more important in Russell's view than to cherish the children who are our real treasures in this world. He is a contributor for education matters to the Huffington Post, and runs a personal blog at: dedicated to letting teacher voices be heard in the real problems with education.

Visit Russell online at:




-----Interview by Renee Roberson

WOW: This tour is for the 2nd edition of Lifting the Curtain. Can you tell us a little about what all is included in the new edition and how you pulled it all together (and in a relatively short time period, too!)

Don: It’s funny when you write a 2nd edition of a non-fiction book, and then look back at the 1st. I don’t know if it is like this for all authors, but suddenly the original seems to be lacking so many things you wish you had said, or had said better! Within just a few months of publication, I started getting so much great feedback from teachers all over the country that I knew I had to start the eight-month process of writing the 2nd edition.

Most of all, I wanted the 2nd edition to include the passages from many more teachers. All the 1st edition content was still solid, but 60,000 blog visitors and followers, and thousands of posts on the LTC Facebook page, taught me two things that cried out for a new edition:

  • There were thousands of teacher voices that needed to be heard, and someone needed to provide a platform for them. So I sought out the best teacher passages from dozens of teachers, all across the country, to include in the new edition. These teacher voices added so much to the book!

  • There were several additional topics that deserved better coverage – loss of electives, rise in homeschooling, and the charter school fiasco are good examples. Nine new chapters and 100 added pages let me go into depth on these critical issues.

WOW: When did you first get the idea for this book?

Don: Four years ago I was listening to my favorite local talk radio show in Boston on my way to work. The host, someone I respected greatly even though I often differed with some of her views, cracked a joke during a discussion about yet another problem in the Boston schools. She said that to solve all the problems in education, “…just shoot all the teachers.”

A light bulb went off! I realized that if someone of her insights and caliber had a major blind spot about what actually was causing the education crisis, then there was no hope to fix the real problems. That very night I started to write a book I planned to call “Just Shoot all the Teachers.” The Sandy Hook tragedy occurred just a month before the 1st edition was to be released – so what had been a tongue-in-cheek title immediately became a terrible title for a book. Ironically, the replacement title: “Lifting the Curtain” turned out to be a much better one.

WOW: Can you give us an overview of the methodology behind this book, where you surveyed students and teachers? Were a lot of sources nervous about giving their opinions at first?

Don: There is nothing I more underestimated, as an author, than the effort and time needed to do a responsible job of research. And that admission is coming from an honors graduate of an Ivy League math program heavy in statistics and econometrics. It took more than three years, with my evenings and weekends spent in interviews at small restaurants and even park benches!

I knew I needed hard data from other teachers, and students, if I was to really capture what was happening in schools. We hear tons from people outside the classroom, but rarely hear anything from those inside. So I dusted off my old statistics and econometrics skills from back in the day, and designed a research project that ended up taking three years. A total of 760 students and teachers were the basis for the research chapter in the book. Almost all of the interviews were concentrated in 19 urban high schools in 15 Massachusetts cities.

The hardest part was getting the teacher input. Teachers are so often bullied by administrators if they speak out, that even anonymous participation is seen as a risk. For more than half of the teacher interviews, the teacher asked me to fill out the questionnaire based upon their answers, so that they could say “…I never filled out a questionnaire” if asked. Even for the dozens of passages by teachers added to the 2nd edition, most were either by “Anonymous” or just be “Claire L.” for the same reason. The teachers wanted to participate, knew their voices were critical to fixing things, but (rightfully) feared the retaliation of their principal if their participation was known.

WOW: I find this so sad!, but I can understand their fear, unfortunately. One of the sections in the book is called “Teachers – Today’s Vietnam Veterans.” Can you give us a little more insight into this observation?

Don: When 46% of all new teachers now quit the profession entirely in the first five years, and when the annual loss of teachers is 20% and rising due to early retirements and experienced teachers leaving, then it is pretty obvious that there is something far worse happening than just the usual excuses of “bad funding and bad teachers.” The real reason is burnout when the joy of trying to teach children is crushed by today’s educational system.

Sadly, few people would have any chance to realize this, but the parallels between today’s teachers and the Vietnam vets of a half century ago are astounding. The reason? The devastating impact on a person when blamed for things far out of your control about something central to your life.

The Vietnam vets back in the 1960s and 1970s were children, largely drafted without choice, called to fight a war by their government. When they returned, they were scorned and blamed for the conflict by people with no concept of what these vets had just lived through, and how little they could do about the war itself. Unlike today, when a vet returning from a war can still be honored even by those who abhor the war he/she was in, the Vietnam vet was reviled.

Today’s teacher has become the scapegoat for all the failures in education. We are charged with not teaching the full core curricula at the same time an average of 35 minutes is taken from every one of our classes for non-teaching duties. We are blamed for not motivating children at the same time inept mandates by career DoE bureaucrats directly undermine student motivation. We are blamed for children graduating without college-ready skills even though our failing grades for those same students were overridden by a school administrator more concerned about protecting his position than teaching children. And in all this, we work in an environment of bullying, cronyism and intimidation by unqualified school administrators that is a prime reason a staggering 46% of new teachers quit the profession in the first five years.

WOW: What were some of the main concerns about the students you surveyed (i.e. not being challenged enough, too much homework, etc.)?

Don: The student portion of the survey was both the most discouraging, and the most rewarding part of the whole process. The discouraging part was seeing how accurately they recognized many of the worst problems in education, and had been impacted by the inept mandates that have stolen a good education from a generation of children. The rewarding part was confirming something I saw every day in my own classrooms – these children wanted a challenge and to earn a good education.

  • The negative finding were sobering. Children average just 1.5 hours per week of homework. 51% of teachers allow do-overs or make-up tests if the child fails (a destructive impact on motivation forced on teachers by administrators who do not want their performance and graduation records to slip.) 20% of children copy homework. 29% of children do not care what grade they get as long as they pass.

  • But those negatives were countered by the majority of children who still want to learn and be challenged. One of my favorite student comments from the survey was: Worst thing about school: “The lack of work that is given. Personally I rather (sic) be challenged than given a free pass.”

WOW: Why did you choose to focus the book on challenges found in urban schools rather than rural or suburban? Is it because of your own teaching background?

Don: This was my biggest error in my thinking about education when I started the research leading up to writing the book. My thinking was colored by my own positive experiences in suburban and rural schools as a child, and as a parent. So I made what turned out to be a totally incorrect assumption that urban high schools were “different.”

Classroom teachers from around the country set me straight on that, starting within days of the first edition being published. In thousands of Facebook and blog posts, plus hundreds of emails, I would guesstimate that around a third of them said the exact same issue existed in both suburban and rural schools, and were down to the elementary school level as well. Several of the best teacher passages in the 2nd edition are from elementary and rural teachers. . .

WOW: You recently had a very exciting appearance on a nationwide call-in radio show in Boston. What was that experience like?

Don: That radio show was both exciting and very encouraging! The number of callers and passion in their voices was amazing! I was a fairly atypical guest – since a topic as “dry” as education would rarely be seen as a hot item. For that reason, I was initially scheduled to be on for just the first hour. However, when host Dan Rea saw every phone line lit up for the entire visit, and heard the passion in the voices of teachers, students and parents nationwide, he cancelled the follow-up show and kept me there an additional hour to handle all the calls. As well, host Rea so appreciated the views of all the callers that I’ve been invited back for a follow-up show to be scheduled.

The show (Dan Rea, WBZ Boston) is recognized as the 7th largest in the country, reaching millions of listeners in 30-plus states. But the word had clearly spread, and listeners outside the coverage area were also streaming the show live via the WBZ website.

The voices heard were powerful – and without exception all wanted to see better education for our children. I was not surprised to hear that from all the classroom teachers who called in, but was taken aback by the same passion and intensity in the students and parents who called in. It was the first time in this whole process – of trying to get parents and legislators to see the real problems that have destroyed the education of our children – that I started to believe we could begin to really fix things.

WOW: What has been the response from the book so far? Are you mostly hearing from educators who agree with all that you discuss in the book or do you find yourself responding to parents and administrators as well?

Don: This is the big disappointment so far. The support from classroom teachers, parents, and students has been amazing – but the administrators, legislators, state and national unions, and bureaucrats are content with the status quo and have largely ignored my efforts, and those of dozens of others like me.

These groups benefit from the inane mantra that the issues in education are only due to “bad funding, bad unions, bad children, and bad teachers.” This lets the state and national unions focus on PAC functions to get more funding, even though the local unions are crying out for real help for the real issues, and even though nine of the eleven fixes we need require less funding, not more. The legislators find it easy to trade funding for donations, and just kick the can down the road. Career DoE bureaucrats, with lifetime positions and no accountability for their actions, continue to put our mandates requiring skills and training they have never received. And administrators remain silent – content to force teachers to pass failing students, and to replace electives and music with test preparation classes, in order to protect their graduation rates.

The silence of the legislators is heartbreaking. I mailed out copies of the book to 50 Massachusetts legislators last fall and received zero replies to the initial mailing or follow-up efforts. This winter, three Massachusetts legislators at a local town meeting requested information about mandates that hurt education, and at the request of classroom teachers at the meeting received information and book copies – zero response after the initial request. Similar efforts with the state teacher’s union have been ignored, at the same time they forge forward on supporting candidates who will pledge to increase spending on education – despite the fact that education now averages 25% of state budgets, and all the trillions we have spent the past 15 years have led to a major decline in education.

But, I still have hope. Slowly, a handful of bloggers and “troublemakers” like me are dedicating everything we can do to getting the real story out so we can fix education. Progress to date is in baby steps. But even an Olympic champion sprinter once was a toddler!

----------Blog Tour Dates

Monday, March 23 (today!)@ The Muffin
Stop by for an interview with D.A. Russell and a book giveaway!

Tuesday, March 24 @ Beth's Bemusings
Hear D.A. Russell's thoughts on the standardized testing focus in public schools in this guest post.

Thursday, March 26 @ Sioux's Page
Sioux Roslawski interviews D.A. Russell in support of his book, Lifting the Curtain.

Tuesday, March 31 @ All Things Audry
D.A. Russell, author of Lifting the Curtain, discusses the duties of teachers not related to the curricula.

Wednesday, April 1 @ Successful Teaching
D.A. Russell discusses the value of PDPs for teachers at educator Pat Hensley's blog. 

Thursday, April 2 @ Renee's Pages
Renee discusses which issue in Lifting the Curtain resonated with her the most as a parent.

Thursday, April 9 @ My Final 40 Days
The author of Lifting the Curtain shares how children are losing precious time in schools that could be devoted to electives and arts.

Friday, April 10 @ Selling Books
D.A. Russell shares his publishing experience with Lifting the Curtain in this interview with Cathy Stucker.

Monday, April 13 @ Lisa Haselton's Reviews and Interviews
D.A. Russell discusses the methodology behind putting together the second edition of Lifting the Curtain in an interview with Lisa Haselton.

Wednesday, April 15 @ Atlas Educational
Self-proclaimed "Rogue Educator" Lisa Swaboda shares her experiences with one of the topics in Lifting the Curtain, bullying and intimidation by school administrators.

Friday, April 17 @ The New Book Review
Stop by for a review of the 2nd edition of Lifting the Curtain: The Disgrace We Call Urban High School Education.

We have a few more dates left in Don's tour, so if you'd like to join us contact Renee (renee[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com).


Enter to win a copy of Lifting the Curtain by D.A. Russell! Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below. We will announce the winner in the Rafflecopter widget THIS Friday, March 27th!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Carl Scott said...

I've been following Don's campaign for a while now. Certainly anything we can do to improve the quality of H.S. education would be beneficial. It's great to see so many people getting involved. Thanks for a chance to win the book.

Angela Mackintosh said...

School has definitely changed since I went there. It's crazy that kids are allowed do-overs. Thanks for the insightful interview, and congratulations Don on all the success you've had with the book! I'm bummed I missed the radio show. I'd love to hear it--if you have a link, please share. It seems that many people do want change, and it's great you're bringing all of these issues to light.

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