Are public schools in trouble?

Deborah Kenny, author of book "Born to Rise" explains problems with the public school system


This is a RUSH transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," June 13, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: "Personal Story" segment tonight, as we discussed at the top of the broadcast there's a major problem in many American public schools. Not only are some of the kids not being taught the basics, but there's this whole self-esteem craziness going on.

In California, a high school valedictorian, very smart kid, told the principal of the Orestimba High School that he wants to give his speech in Spanish. The principal said, "Sure, go right ahead."

With us now, Deborah Kenny, who founded a charter school network here in New York City called the Harlem Village Academies. Chairman of the News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch, is on the board, and Dr. Kenny is the author of a new book called "Born to Rise," which explains how to educate children so they will prosper.

First of all, do you... do you agree with me that many public schools are in chaos? I mean, or this political correctness...


O'REILLY: ... is crazy?

KENNY: Absolutely the schools are in chaos.

O'REILLY: And the reason is why?

KENNY: The reason is that we need a revolution. Nothing short of a revolution in how we teach our children and what we expect of our children. We expect way too little of them.

O'REILLY: All right, so you say that the public school system, almost like McCullough said at the top of the program, isn't -- is saying, "Oh, yes, everything is fine," isn't demanding that children perform?

KENNY: We don't need to tinker around with the edges. We need an absolute transformation. And the only way that's going to happen is if we elevate the teaching profession. So, we need to get rid of anything that would stand in that way, which includes all of the union work rules that get in the way of teachers being treated like professionals. Right now teachers in our country, in my view, are treated like Factory workers.

O'REILLY: Ok. I used to be a teacher. I don't know if you know that. I taught high school.

KENNY: I didn't know that.

O'REILLY: All right. And so I do know this. It's very subjective on who's a good teacher and who's a bad teacher. I mean, in me, they could have said he's bad because he's tough and he's this and he's that and he's . And I was. I mean, no-nonsense guy.

Now, you wrote this book for -- what is the one thing? You've got to narrow it down for me.


O'REILLY: The one thing that is necessary to educate American children? What do you have to have?

KENNY: You have to have an incredibly passionate dedicated smart teacher in front of every single kid. It sounds like a very simple and pat answer, but it's not because right now we have a system that allows for years and years to go on, where a kid can be five years old that isn't taught to read. Seven years old, isn't taught to read. Nine years old...

O'REILLY: So, these teachers have to be demonstrably passionate and confront the children if they're not doing the work they should do?

KENNY: And then we have to allow the principals to here and fire based on performance.

O'REILLY: Based on what they want to do.

KENNY: They talked about performance report.

O'REILLY: That's right.

KENNY: Well, performance in the case of the school means not only that the children are learning at grade level. For God's sake, in Harlem 75 percent of the kids in schools were illiterate. But also that the kids learn responsibility and hard work and other character.

O'REILLY: As a teacher, a former teacher, I know that the parents of the smart kids would encourage them. It was almost 100 percent. They were the ones to show up to the parent-teacher meetings and make sure their homework were done.

A lot of bad parents. A lot of parents were addicted, not there, screwed up, don't have a book and don't care what their kid is doing and don't even care if the kid is going.

KENNY: Yes, so...

O'REILLY: Can you overcome that? Can you and your school overcome bad parenting?

KENNY: Absolutely. And as far as I'm concerned, if you're an educator, you're there because you're there to help the kids regardless of what their lives are like.

O'REILLY: Isn't it much harder to get a kid who has no academic background, doesn't care, not encouraged, isn't it much harder to deal with that kid?

KENNY: So it's harder. So you have to step up to the challenge. If you're an educator you're there because you care about the kids.

O'REILLY: There are some kids you can't get through to.

KENNY: I disagree completely.

O'REILLY: There were some kids I couldn't, and they were so far gone emotionally when I got them.

KENNY: OK. You know what? Because you were an individual teacher, perhaps, in a whole school that wasn't working as a team.

So, what needs to happen is every single teacher in the school needs to be on the same page. Same values. We're all in this together; we all believe in these children.

Now, you can't have that when the principal has no authority to hire and fire. Imagine somebody who was running a football team, and they had three people who they wanted to let go, but they couldn't. The whole team would fall apart. Schools are like teams.

O'REILLY: You have to coordinate, I agree. But I do believe there are some kids who are so screwed up that it takes just years of therapy to get through before they'll pay attention.

But anyway, very provocative, Doctor. We appreciate you coming in. The book is "Born to Rise." And it's very interesting, thank you.

KENNY: Thank you.

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