>>> just outside our manhattan studios where this week we at nbc news are focusing the spotlight on one of the country's most important conversations, our children's education. we call it education nation, a summit that is bringing together educators, experts and civic leaders in search of ways to improve our schools in the standing of american students. earlier today, inside this venue, we kicked things off with a spirited teacher's town hall meeting. they talked a lot about the struggles they face trying to raise the education bar. parents have had a lot to say too about the job our schools and teachers are doing. in a brand-new poll, when asked to give public schools a letter grade, 74% of parents offered a c or lower. a grade point average of 1.9. we want to begin tonight with nbc's rehema ellis with more on the state of our education nation. rehema, good evening.

>> good evening, lester. today we should talk about how teachers from around the country joined us here for two hours of passionate and revealing conversation about what it is like in the nation's classrooms. today's conversation is a vital importance because too many of our children are not making the grade. america's public school students are struggling. among 34 developed nations, our students rank 14th in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in math. and a quarter of america's eighth graders cannot read at grade level. the current crisis in education was the topic today at the teacher town hall moderated by nbc's brian williams. 350 people gathered with thousands more online to discuss the role of educators, the obstacles they face, and the heavy weight carried by many children in this country.

>> one thing that i try to remember is that it is not a level playing field. we, as teachers, don't know what these children are going home to.

>> reporter:  the town hall conversation covered everything from innovation in the classroom --

>> we know what to do, we can do the job, help us to do it.

>> reporter:  -- to tenure.

>> it does not mean you have a job for life.

>> reporter:  -- to teacher evaluations.

>> none of us wants to be teaching next to someone who is not effective.

>> reporter:  when teachers are coming under critical review, a reminder of what it costs to teach.

>> quick show of hands, how many of you, the teachers in the room, spent out of pocket money for -- this is for the benefit of folks watching at home and don't realize this, how many of you estimate you work probably a 60-hour week? okay. or more. how many of you have second jobs to make ends meet?

>> reporter:  another topic, are teachers preparing students for college. nationwide, 72% of our students graduate from high school. the highest in more than two decades. but those who go on to college are struggling more than in the past. the u.s. now ranks 16th in the percentage of young adults who graduate from college, down from 12th place the year before. but some say college shouldn't be the only outcome teachers focus on.

>> they may have other goals. i don't think it is our sole responsibility to say which school is this kid going to get into, we need to judge the performance of the teacher and the school based on where they go.

>> reporter:  today, teachers called on all of us to expand the conversation about who is responsible for educating america's children. they talked about the role of principal, superintendent and parent all share. and they asked for more support from everyone to help solve the very difficult and complex problems of failing schools. lester?