Producer of New FNC Series Speaks Out

Why can't Johnny (or Jane) read?  This Sunday at 9 pm ET FOX News Channel gets answers and finds out just who's to blame.  Senior producer of the new "Breaking Point" investigations, Nancy Duffy, sat down with us to discuss how schools are failing our kids, and what prompted FNC to launch its new series on critical issues facing America.

Being part of a fair and balanced news network, how is what you are doing different from what other networks are doing?

In the conversations that took place before we started production everyone said that FOX has changed the look of sports, they've changed the face of news by being fair and balanced, and the next obvious challenge was long-form investigations.  So we decided to undertake a series of specials that are fair and balanced covering subjects in a way no one else has. 

What did you find concerning our education system?

If you take a hard look at the public school system, and you take the politics out, you find that what really is being lost in all this is the children.  Even though we spend more money per child than almost any country in the world — over $8,000 per year — we are failing when we compete against industrialized nations.  And the problem is our teachers. We have a broken education system, and we took a hard look at the No Child Left Behind program to see if mandatory testing is really the answer.  We asked who's to blame for why our children are not able to compete in the world when they graduate from high school.

Did it shock you that the problem lies with teachers?

What shocked me is the teachers unions have become so political that their agenda is no longer education.  The experts that we spoke to said that [the unions] collect a half billion dollars tax free in teachers dues, and they are donating a lot of money to the Democratic party, and they are not declaring those contributions.  In fact, the IRS is looking into those teachers unions right now.  The NEA is being investigated by the IRS.  We actually interview the president of the NEA — he assured us that the IRS will come away seeing that they have done nothing wrong, but Landmark Legal has filed suit. There is paperwork that has been filed that establishes a relationship between the teachers union and the Democratic party, that they share an agenda.  The concern with the parents and experts that we spoke with is that teachers unions have lost their way in terms of their agenda; it's no longer children and their education, it's become politics.

Why is it that even well-funded  public schools are failing our kids?

We are not finding that the teachers union is solely to blame.  I think that there are not enough teachers who spend enough time, there are not enough parents who take an interest, and the children are not motivated.  The biggest criticism of mandatory testing is that rather than teach kids concepts, they promote a "drill and kill" philosophy where students just learn the standardized tests. They are drilled to pass standardized tests, and they don't understand the concepts behind the information.  The parents don't really get involved in that.

As someone who has studied this problem through the course of your investigation, what seems to be the solution?

We met a teacher who has the secret, possibly, to fixing the school system.  We found a teacher who's teaching in a little public school in one of the worst areas of Los Angeles, the Hobart Elementary School.  Most of the students speak English as a second language; it's a crime-ridden, drug-ridden neighborhood with bullets whizzing over [the student's] heads while they're studying, and yet these kids are performing way above average. They are a fifth grade class that are reading at an eighth grade level. They love to learn. They are motivated to learn.  They come to school before class starts; they stay after three o'clock; they go to school on Saturday.  They go school in the summer, on holidays.  This teacher has motivated this class to study Shakespeare.  These fifth graders are putting on "Hamlet" and "King Lear," and they love and understand it.  He is not getting merit pay, he is not getting any extra pay.  There is no extra facility or extra money being spent.  They don't have better computers.  They have nothing more than a teacher who really cares. He has motivated these kids and spends so much time with them that they are motivated by him...He's been so successful that the Fisher family, the founders of Gap clothing stores, have donated $25 million to fund a series of charter schools based on his model.  

It's basically just hard work.  It's amazing that with all the money we're spending that no one just said, "maybe we should just work harder at teaching students as opposed to spending more money."

Why the name "Breaking Point" for this new series?

The topics of our investigations are serious crises in our country that somebody needs to examine.  If somebody doesn't bring them to the forefront, there will be a real impact in this country.  Americans will feel it.  You may not want to think about it, but it is so important that we need to talk about it.  And we need to take the politics out of it, take a fair and balanced look at it. 

Education, hunger, the environment, these kind of topics — no networks are really doing them anymore.  I think these are important, and that people need to pay attention.   

Tune-in to watch Breaking Point: The Education Crisis in America this Sunday, November 23rd at 9 pm ET!