How to Solve School Reform

The most important factor in academic success for the majority of students is having support and encouragement outside of the classroom [Editor's Note: "The Challenge of School Reform," January 2010].

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The most important factor in academic success for the majority of students is having support and encouragement outside of the classroom [Editor's Note: "The Challenge of School Reform," January 2010] . At the high school level, each teacher only has contact with individual students for a few hours per week. The influences from outside the classroom will easily counteract the efforts of the most dynamic and effective teachers. One size fits all was fine as the classroom model 100 years ago, but no longer with the potential and actualization of computer-based education in many subjects. There is still a need and a purpose for the standard classroom model of discussions and differing points of view. Students learn and internalize information at different rates. We must become more efficient in using the limited resources we have, particularly time, and take advantage of accommodating students with the technology. Education has been persuaded to adopt the business model of measuring efficiencies and effectiveness in terms of return on investment. We go to extreme efforts to measure and quantify students' progress and set benchmarks. However, ae have failed to change the model that could lead to overall improvement. The NCLB Act was based on good intentions. In reality, the expectation that every student will succeed at the highest level is ridiculous. There will always be a range of achievements, but that is not to say we are not offering the best service to each of our students.

Dave Hinz

Former High School Math Teacher
Clearwater, Fla. Thanks again for an excellent in-depth look into schools, schooling, what we have done, and what we should be doing. Having worked in schools now for approximately 20 years, one word would make a positive, consistent shift in our vast educational system: data. If there is good evidence in literature (education, psychology, sociology, etc) that a particular approach/intervention/style works for the particular population for whom one is working, then use it. There are sound, well-researched ways to train educators; use them. The back and forth is a colossal waste of timeā€”as are school boards, businesses, and "do gooders" who purport that they are "helping" students, when actually, they are hurting them because their decisions are not based on data! No Child Left Behind does not work because it was based not on data but instead on ideas. It also attempted to apply rules across our highly diverse nation. Also, get businesses out of public schools. They do not belong; they are not there to educate children, they are there to make money and develop young consumers and brand loyalty. Unfortunately, small, usually rural schools have had to partner with businesses so that they can generate income to provide basic services and supplies to students.

Abi Ordway

Scarborough, Maine  We cannot solve problems until they are properly understood. Educational achievement is a function of the ability, motivation and effort provided by students and the opportunity provided by schools. Much can and should be done to improve opportunities provided by schools. However, school reform, defined as producing significant improvement in student achievement, will always fail until we deal with the roles that must be played by students themselves. That will require fundamental societal change not simply reform of schools.

Tom Morris

Orlando  Your recent issue asking the question: "Will School Reform Fail?" was comprehensive in scope regarding high schools, but did not address the main problem in my opinion. You asked the question, "What is it going to take to raise the level of America's schools?" My response is that the major effort to assure future improvement should be devoted to early childhood and elementary education (grades K-3). This is not to say that the current generation of higher elementary school and high school students performing poorly should be abandoned. No, we need to help them as best as possible. However, the future lies in the youngest of students yet to be exposed to the life-long benefits of learning. It is in this age group that the best individual learning approaches (reading, oral, etc) can be determined, with both emphasis and remedial teaching experiences applied by qualified teachers. Clearly, the potential gains made for this age group, particularly in inner city environments, will need to be supported and boosted by parents and community organizations so that future deleterious effects of peer pressure, gangs, crime, and early sexual activity are neutralized to maximum extent.

Alan Friedlander

Northbrook, Ill.  I get so tired of people constantly bashing public education. Why don't you do survey of all national leaders in various fields? I bet you would find the vast majority went to public schools. If public schools are so bad, how come they have produced so many leaders? I am very pleased Obama is president, but his education policies stink. Secretary Arne Duncan has never taught in a classroom, yet acts as if he all the answers to all the problems. There are many wonderful examples of great things going on in the classroom.

Gary Miller

Roseville, Calif.

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