What's the Best Way to Improve our Schools?

The article, "School Vouchers and the Church-State Wall" (Nov. 9) was of particular interest because I taught in the Milwaukee public schools under discussion. The US Supreme Court is being asked to decide whether taxpayer-funded education vouchers to low-income parents are constitutional.

As a test case, Milwaukee is perfect. When I taught there in the 1970s, I felt it was the most segregated school system I had ever seen. Facts later stated exactly that. The schools I taught in were predominately low-income, and the private religious schools were strapped for cash. The voucher system would seem to benefit both.

But how can you make public education better by taking tax money away from it? It is like cleaning a room by shutting the door on it and walking away. The deceptive thing here is that people feel sorry for low-income kids and are trying to fix a problem, but public schools will go into more decline. The religious schools will grow fat on tax money. And it will maintain segregated schools and neighborhoods because it will give the appearance of equality.

It will look like success at first. Why not deal with the real problem? Principals cannot fire bad teachers. School hours are too short. President Reagan had some wonderful incentive ideas like merit pay for excellent teachers. Also, there are so many ideas that could help public schools. I have since heard that Milwaukee has introduced a magnet system - to attract pupils to specific schools - as a means of creating choice and solving racial problems.

I agree something needs to be done to help public education and when I was there the one most important immediate thing I could see to improve education would be a reduction in the pupil-to-teacher ratio. The other thing that seemed fair to me would be to have the dollar amount per pupil of tax money for eduction be equal whether a child lived in the suburbs or the city. That might mean equalizing the monies received from property taxes and the Federal funding for schools.

Breaking down the First Amendment because we cannot provide equal educational opportunities is like robbing Peter to pay Paul. It makes no sense. I hope the Supreme Court protects the rights of all citizens by keeping the First Amendment strong. .

Barbara Dean

Cornwall-on-Hudson, N.Y.

In response to the opinion piece "Flawed Concept: Forcing Public Schools to 'Compete'" (Nov. 12), let me suggest an alternative title: "Flawed Concept: Forcing Children to Attend Failed Public Schools." Kids are not cannon fodder for the teachers unions' struggle to save their members jobs: Children are individuals who need their educations now. They cannot wait for those failing public schools to get their acts together. Education should serve the kids, not the teachers, and if an education system is failing, it should be dumped - fast. In no time at all, they will become poorly educated adults whose only job opportunities will be flipping burgers, or teaching in one of those failing public schools.

David Hess

Taipei, Taiwan

Move on

Those who would revive our Puritan past gave it their all in this month's elections, and they lost. This represents much more than even the desire to "move on" that Godfrey Sperling finds so hard to accept in "Election '98: How Did We Get It Wrong" (Nov. 10). It represents a maturing of American society. The public was saying that we elected Clinton to be our political leader, not a moral paragon according to past Puritan standards.

President Clinton's private life is none of our business. We should take a lesson from the French, who have the wisdom to stay out of people's private lives. Let's grow up.

Dick Burkhart


The Monitor welcomes your letters and opinion articles. Because of the volume of mail, only a selection can be published, and we can neither acknowledge nor return unpublished submissions. Mail letters to 'Readers Write,' and opinion articles to Opinion Page, One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, or fax to 617-450-2317, or e-mail to oped@csps.com

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