Better Schools: How to Get There

The editorial "For Better Schools," July 23, provides many ideas on how we can develop a better education system. Unfortunately, they are inadequate.

Eliminating tenure may sound good, but teachers need this protection against the whims of school boards and administrators. An administrator concerned only with the bottom line might cut costs by firing higher-paid older teachers and replacing them with younger, lower-paid teachers. The idea is that only incompetent teachers will be replaced if tenure is eliminated, but ending tenure will put all teachers, good and bad, on shaky ground.

Merit pay is another idea that sounds great to anyone who has never worked in a public school. Those of us who have know that merit pay would be nothing more than a political payoff. How do you judge a public school teacher's merit? By student recommendations? Letters from parents? The superintendent's discretion?

Changes in our schools are necessary. But until I see the details, this teacher will be skeptical of "reform."

Jeffrey W. Birdsong

Miami, Okla.

The editorial is on target in calling for education to be a major issue in the presidential campaign. But I must take issue with the claim that student performance has "sunk to unacceptable levels."

The most commonly cited evidence is the fall in the average SAT score. The decline, however, results from the fact that the "population" of SAT takers has changed over time. In 1950, when relatively few students went to college, the SAT was taken almost exclusively by students at or near the top of their high school class. Since then, as college attendance has exploded, more students are taking the test, including many from the bottom halves of their classes.

Other evidence on student performance comes from the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a set of exams in reading and mathematics given periodically to students aged nine, 13, and 17. Over the past 20 years, NAEP scores have either remained stable or risen somewhat.

Mark Wylie

Los Angeles, Calif.

As a teacher, parent, and grandparent who has supported the public school system for many years, I resent using my tax dollars for tuition to private schools. The idea that competition from private schools would somehow behoove public schools to do a better job is wrong.

I know that there are inequities, poor teaching, red tape, and administrative snafus. However, I also know that there are dedicated administrators, teachers, and parents who are working together to bring excellent educational practices and opportunities to our students.

Surely, the desire to produce the best educational system possible should be intrinsic and not the result of fear.

Miriam Mades

Coral Gables, Fla.

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