The biggest surprise about the K-5 classrooms in New York City is how damn excellent they are. The general public has been sold the idea that the schools are a shambles, but I see a radically different evidence. For many years I've been illustrating books for Lucy Calkins from Columbia Teachers' College, so I've had the privilege of dipping into schools in all neighborhoods of the city as well as those in the wealthier suburbs. Even in so-called "failing" schools in The Bronx I find a beautiful rainbow of students fully engaged in ideas and discussions. By fifth grade the level of discussion is more sophisticated and animated than at most adult dinner parties!
This year Lucy reorganized her books about teaching the art of writing, so there's a series for each grade. I recommend them for curious people of all ages. Heinemann Publishing just launched 32 different books for which I did all the covers and interior images, they gave me title page credit and they are national best sellers in the school market.
Notice the titles of the books.
There's much debate about the competitiveness of American schools, but I can't imagine any system in any country hosting healthier classrooms than these. The kids know how to be observant, to THINK, and how to express what's in their heads. I'm proud of my association with this part of the American education system.