"How to fix America's schools," the Mar. 19 Cover Story, resulted in an unusual outpouring of mail. To our "7 ideas that work," readers provided a wealth of suggestions for idea No. 8. Parental involvement tops the list.
SOME PARENTAL GUIDANCE
We are a family of educators [with] 70 years of hands-on experience. You, like most others, treat education as if it existed in a vacuum. The best suggestion and the most money any school could request and be granted will not solve the problem of educating our children unless the families of these students are involved and take responsibility along with the schools.
It is quite clear that there is need for education reform in this country. However, it seems that parent reform has been left off the agenda! As an elementary teacher in a public school, I find that parent support is imperative for student success in school.
Molly W. Reed
Beverly Hills, Mich.
There needs to be a "social contract" between schools and parents. Parents should have high, measurable expectations of their schools. In return, parents have an obligation to the schools: Make sure homework gets done, that parent-teacher conferences get attended, that disciplinary problems identified by the schools get responded to (by the parents, not by their lawyers), and that kids get enough sleep.
John P. Eysenbach
More than half of all education takes place in the home. Successful students have parents who teach them reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, science, and other "school" subjects throughout their lives--as well as discipline, the work ethic, and the love of learning.
Joseph C. Huber, Jr.
Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
The attendance of parents at PTA meetings--if the school has a PTA--is pitiful. Contrast this sad fact with the number of parents at school sports events.
THE INCENTIVE TO TEACH
When the issue of money enters into the public education debate, the general response is "money doesn't solve problems." This response has generated a debate that circles the core issue with peripheral ideas. A person interested in education can earn four times a teacher's salary by joining the education/training disciplines at management consulting firms and train employees at Intel Corp. or Dupont Co.
Obviously, the big consulting firms and other successful companies understand the value of paying top dollar for good educators.
You seem to equate students with manufactured products. But what happens if your workers do not have the right resources (funds, textbooks, or computers) at their disposal to make these products the best they can be? What happens if the products that you are to manufacture are particularly difficult to put together--since your job is dependent upon how someone else did their job before you (parents, previous teachers)? Or what happens when you are required to fix the products that come in defective and when your best hope is to change a nut or a bolt (students that are classified in some way)? You have to treat kids and education as a resource, not as some type of product to be cranked out.
Elwood High School
East Northport, N.Y.
I am a classroom teacher with 18 years of experience. Beyond earning a Master's degree, there is no incentive left other than becoming an administrator, and then that teacher is lost to the classroom. I've been telling people for years, what kind of NFL would we have if every player were paid the same?
Let's develop, promote, and reward principals like Lucy McVey who will get results by paying attention to the concerns of the people closest to the action--the classroom teachers--and not "blame the victim" with more "accountability," which is just a code word for more paperwork, negative feedback, and time away from the students.
Alan J. Wentz
Take the teachers from the best high school in any district, switch them with the teachers at the lowest-performing school--and see what the result is. Teachers will tell you that little will change. Teachers do matter tremendously, but trying to overcome poverty and other social ills in the classroom is a daunting task, not easily achieved through any seven-step plan.
Most parents today are happy with their local school, and we are working to close the gap between minority and majority students. Nowadays, more parents can choose schools within their district, and charter schools are flourishing in many areas. Choice is the word of the day in education.
Editor's note: The writer is 1996 San Diego County Teacher of the Year and a local 1997 Wal-Mart Teacher of the Year.
Teachers are nowhere near as poorly paid as you let on. The National Education Assn. and the American Federation of Teachers don't like to advertise that teachers work only part-time and have benefits that are vastly superior to those of their counterparts in private industry.
Oro Valley, Ariz.
WHO HOLDS THE PURSE STRINGS
Boards of education have probably the worst governance record possible. Many such boards are dominated by superintendents who stack the board with employees and "school groupies" and who make sure no one gets on the board who would ask the tough questions. Sorry--but until we fix that, I'm hanging on to my money. Giving public schools more money is like putting out a fire with more gas.
Rochester Hills, Mich.
I've followed the school debates for many years and have been dismayed by the failure of all parties to identify the real culprit: local control. If the federal government had been running the schools for the past 200 years, everybody would be screaming for a transfer of power. It is absurd to condemn part of the population to educational failure just because they live in the wrong place.
KNOWING WHAT YOU TEACH
Departments of education at our universities and colleges should be abolished and replaced by a curriculum based upon courses that teach the subjects prospective teachers will eventually teach.
John A. Parmentola
Great Falls, Va.
THE POINT OF TECHNOLOGY
You may be overemphasizing expensive elements such as computers and networks. Some countries may introduce ruler-and-compass constructions in fourth grade. The equipment isn't as expensive as computers, but the compasses may be considered dangerous in some places in the U.S. That's fine--projective geometry just uses rulers.
Las Cruces, N.M.
LOST IN THE SHUFFLE
Although a test may be reliable and valid when used to measure the educational progress of a large group of children, such tests are hardly ever sufficiently reliable or valid for determining the progress of an individual child. Yet too often these scores are used to make important educational decisions for individual children.
Certified School Psychologist
Forest Hills, N.Y.
As soon as a child begins school, an individualized education plan should be formulated by the school after consultation with the child's parents. The plan should be updated each year and follow the student throughout his/her K-12 schooling. Goals specified in the plan must meet minimal standards which can be measured. With plans in place for each student, resources (specially trained teachers, counselors, computers, funding) can be more efficiently allocated.
Rancho Bernardo, Calif.
I have been teaching in the New York City public school system for 11 years. I teach fourth grade and average between 33 and 36 students. The curriculum is now geared toward the ELA (English Language Assessment).
The skills that a student needs to pass this exam are extremely sophisticated, but still the class registers remain about the same. If the politicians want to see an improvement in the inner-city schools, they have to lower class size.
COPING WITH CHANGE
Most schools were built with the 19th century mandate to train a class of workers to power the Industrial Revolution. Oddly enough, as we strive toward smaller "neighborhood" school communities, classrooms may need to become larger to support a number of peer-to-peer learning areas, preparing students for the team rooms and nonhierarchical environments of the 21st century workplace.
Stephen P. Aluotto
Nadasky Kopelson Architects
A situation that drives teachers to distraction is the fact that most school districts do not enforce, or even have, a compulsory attendance policy--perhaps for fear of violating religious freedoms. Various court decisions have invalidated mandatory attendance policies.
East Meadow, N.Y.
TUTORING AND TAXATION
Perhaps one of the most effective ways to improve educational results in the U.S. would be to implement governmental policies that would be more supportive of people who wish to home-school their children. This would seem to tie in with a number of the reforms that you recommend, such as making schools smaller, holding educators accountable, offering more variety, and increasing time in school.
Errol C. Isenberg
Atlantic Highlands, N.J.
As a retired English teacher, I think your "7 ideas that work" sound rather lame--when predicated on tax proposals which threaten to become confiscatory.
William C. Clayton
Garden City, N.Y.
Your good article failed to mention one important resource for troubled schools: volunteers. I am retired and one of about 20 literacy tutors in an elementary school. In the first year of the [volunteer] program, 80% of the children moved up at least one grade level. Most of the tutors returned the next year, demonstrating that volunteering is truly win-win.
A SCHOOL LIKE NO OTHER
The statement that Manhattan's Hunter College High School is "too competitive and impersonal" is the personal opinion of just one former student. I feel that another viewpoint needs to be represented.
Among my fellow seniors in the Class of 2001 are approximately 150 students, most of whom passed an exam to enter the seventh grade. No students enter the school in later grades. Few classes exceed 30 students; teachers are for the most part experienced and well compensated; and Hunter students have many opportunities to engage in extracurricular activities.
Hunter is the epitome of the small public school [except for] its selectivity. I have talked with some Hunter students who transferred out, and they all miss Hunter.
Forest Hills, N.Y. Organizations whose managers bully, intimidate, or harass employees create an environment where a psychologically fragile employee will either burn out or become violent ("After the shooting stops," The Workplace, Mar. 12).
Edward C. Runte
Child psychologists finally recognize the role bullying plays in school violence. These mini-tyrants don't just disappear or experience a miraculous conversion upon getting older and entering the workplace. Bullying is the working world's dirty little secret. In the world of work, as in school, everyone who is not a target is almost without exception either a bully or a silent witness, an "enabler," including employee assistance programs and personnel staff.
Brooklyn, N.Y. "Revenge of the `managers"' (Legal Affairs, Mar. 12) fails to show that most U-Haul International Inc. store managers opted out of this suit [for overtime pay]. A human view of the enterprise recognizes that managers by experience, not education, should have the opportunity to break out of the blue-collar caste system.
Joe Shoen, CEO
U-Haul International Inc.