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Where Do Good Schools Begin? (5 Letters)

Published: March 21, 2005

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To the Editor:

"Failing the Wrong Grades," by Diana Ravitch (Op-Ed, March 15):

Let's remember that parents exert an overwhelming influence on a child's education.

When a child comes home from school with a question, how many parents say, "Oh, I was never any good at math"? Or grammar. Or history. This gives the child not just permission, but also encouragement to remain ignorant. Only rarely can a school counteract this.

When I was in first grade, I asked my mother about multiplication tables. She put aside her sewing and picked up a pad of paper and a pencil. We sat down, and she began to explain multiplication to me.

Even if parents don't know the answers, they can say: "I've always wanted to know about that. Let's learn together."

Thomas Devlin
Philadelphia, March 15, 2005
The writer is a professor of physics and astronomy at Rutgers University and a visiting professor at the University of Pennsylvania.


To the Editor:

Why ignore the obvious? If we are to offer quality education to all of our children, we will have to spend more money to reduce class sizes in the lower grades and offer higher salaries to attract better teachers.

Schools that spend that money - in wealthy communities like Chappaqua and Scarsdale, N.Y. - know this.

Why must our schools continue to be inadequately and inequitably financed?

Perdita Finn
Woodstock, N.Y., March 15, 2005
The writer is a former public school teacher.


To the Editor:

It is true that middle schools are failing to prepare children for high school, but a bifurcated system of vocational or academic high schools is not the answer.

This system would consign less mature children to a vocational education and lifestyle. It would ignore the needs of students whose primary language is not English and who fail because they lack literacy skills.

The biggest problem is the antique belief that the humanities should be reserved for an academic elite and that technology should be foisted upon others, when the truth is that every child urgently needs both.

Instead, let's try a longer school day and year, smaller classes with teachers skilled in both content and pedagogy, and replication of successful university-secondary partnerships.

Jerrold Ross
Dean, School of Education
St. John's University
New York, March 15, 2005


To the Editor:

I agree that the governors have made a less than encouraging response to Bill Gates's assertion that high schools are obsolete.

Mr. Gates has said that students need "a challenging curriculum that prepares them for college or work; that their courses clearly relate to their lives and goals; and that they are surrounded by adults who push them to achieve."

The governors promise higher standards, more rigorous courses, tougher exams. In other words, they pledge to do what we now do, but do it better. Missing is any serious thought about what curriculum would prepare students for the futures Mr. Gates talks about.

It is interesting to recall that Mr. Gates's own success came from creating something new and ushering in a revolution that has changed lives around the world.

Deanna Kuhn
Bronxville, N.Y., March 15, 2005
The writer is a professor of psychology and education at Teachers College, Columbia University.


To the Editor:

Small schools are not an unproven strategy. There is substantial evidence to confirm their effectiveness over the long run.

More important, though, is the information gained from actual observation. During 30 years as a high school teacher and school leader, I was astounded by the individual and familial hardship that many urban children had to overcome just to reach scholastic competency.

Small schools create the supportive community such children need to master a rigorous academic curriculum and gain the maturity necessary to thrive in college and in the workplace.

Perry Weiner
Brooklyn, March 16, 2005
The writer was a co-director of the Humanities Preparatory Academy, a small public high school.


To the Editor:

It is true that we cannot blame high schools for the poor showing of students who enter without basic skills. But this is true, too, of elementary schools.

I volunteer at an elementary school where a significant number of students come from poor homes. Many struggle academically. The school is not the problem.

Many of these children have overworked mothers, absent fathers and a home life in which a constantly running TV set is their primary window to the outside world. They were already "behind" when they started kindergarten.

Head Start-type programs can make a difference. They are costly, but not nearly as costly for society as the long-term effects of poverty.

Vicky Schippers
Brooklyn, March 15, 2005

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