How to Improve Failing Schools
Re “Democrats and Schools,” by Nicholas D. Kristof (column, Oct. 15):
Once again when the topic of education reform is discussed, teachers and unions are the scapegoats when, in fact, everyone can share blame.
Yes, there are incompetent teachers, and they have no business being in a classroom. But in my 10 years of teaching, most of the people I’ve worked with are dedicated professionals who truly want their students to succeed.
As a high school teacher, I believe that the best way to improve failing schools would be smaller classes. Also, more parents need to make their child’s education a priority. We need a “zero tolerance” policy for disruptive students. Finally, there must be a realistic way to measure improvement, which has not happened under No Child Left Behind. Andrew Davidson
Pomona, Calif., Oct. 15, 2009
To the Editor:
Too much blame for the problems with our education system is placed on teachers’ unions. If the point is to attract the most talented and motivated teachers, there is a simple solution: Pay them!
If teaching were seen as a road to financial security, competition for positions would intensify, and schools would have greater choice and bargaining power over applicants.
Further reducing the job security of teachers — many of whom have graduate degrees and are already shamefully underpaid — will do nothing but make teaching seem even less appealing.
Law firms, hedge funds, hospitals and every other institution that hires professionals understand that compensation affects the caliber of their employees. Why should education be any different?
West Orange, N.J., Oct. 15, 2009
To the Editor:
Among the 80,000 teachers in the New York City school system to whom Nicholas D. Kristof refers, what percentage is incompetent? Is it a percentage much higher than that of any other employment? And if these incompetents were rooted out quickly and replaced by eminently qualified people, would the quality of our school system increase dramatically?
At the heart of a quality public education system is a partnership among all the elements of its functioning — the home environment, in which children enter the school system with a positive predisposition toward learning; the classroom, equipped with forward-looking learning tools; teachers who have been certified to teach in the fields of their expertise; and a school system that is designed to foster education.
East Meadow, N.Y., Oct. 15, 2009
The writer taught high school in New York City for 31 years.
To the Editor:
Nicholas D. Kristof seems adamant about removing inept and abusive teachers, so why does he also favor reducing certification requirements? If our goal is to provide all students access to high-quality education, we should not be making it easier for underprepared, uncertified teachers to enter the profession, only to see them leave after a few years.
We should instead invest resources in strengthening teacher preparation programs, staff professional development and teacher retention.
In fact, the National Education Association report that Mr. Kristof cites makes just this point: that the key to improving schools is not increased recruitment, but stronger teacher leadership, opportunities to collaborate and better working conditions.
If we really were committed to our schools, we would be less interested in purging ineffective teachers and more concerned with improving the teachers we already have. Daniel Dawer
Brighton, Mass., Oct. 15, 2009
The writer is a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
To the Editor:
Nicholas D. Kristof reads America’s problems backward in declaring, “We can’t fight poverty without reforming education.” The fact is, we can’t reform education without fighting poverty. Disabled schools are just one product of governments at all levels that fail to provide impoverished families and communities with the resources to raise and educate children successfully.
How about turning schools in poor neighborhoods into year-round community centers, with health and dental services, nutritious meals, up-to-date libraries and computer labs, after-hours tutoring and recreation for children, and job training, counseling, recreation and educational classes for adults?
Remaking schools into community centers would be far less difficult than fighting the unions and firing incompetent teachers, as Mr. Kristof suggests, and far more effective than allowing more charter schools and establishing a system of teacher merit pay, as Education Secretary Arne Duncan intends to do. Joanne Yatvin
Portland, Ore., Oct. 15, 2009
The writer, a public school teacher and administrator for more than 40 years, is the author of three books about education.
To the Editor:
It has always been easy and fashionable to blame the teachers for most of our schools’ problems, but too often the blaming is done to hide the real problem. Our schools lack money: classes are too large, facilities are out of date, and teachers and classrooms lack the latest resources.
Elites in New York and in most other major cities do not send their children to the public schools. They send them to private schools where classes are smaller, facilities modern and resources available and up to date.
At the city’s private schools, tuition is often over $30,000, while per-pupil expenditure in the public schools is about half that amount. If we are willing to spend only half as much to educate the poor as we are to educate the rich, we should hardly be shocked if the result is half as good. The old adage “you get what you pay for” could not be more to the point. Tom Rounds
San Mateo, Calif., Oct. 15, 2009