Rethinking what it takes to help children succeed in school

Regarding the Jan. 8 article, "Next round begins for No Child Left Behind": I moved into teaching several years ago so I could spend more time with my children. I ended up with less time for my children.

I am making about what I made as a social worker 15 years ago, but in that job, I actually got paid overtime for those 60-hour weeks.

In spite of our low pay, I've had the pleasure of observing and working with talented, creative, inspiring teachers who go ahead and live for their students. Unfortunately, under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), many of the measures filter down as punitive to teachers.

I teach now in a school that is being observed because of underperformance. These are some of the significant flaws I've seen in NCLB:

Emphasis on standardized tests reduces time spent in discussion and debate. Test scores may rise while the ability to think logically and critically declines. Democracy is dependent on informed, thoughtful voters.

The test scores of one class are compared with those of the next year's class. There are often vast differences from one class to the next – even when they've been in the same schools with the same teachers. There are too many variables to judge a school or teacher on this kind of change.

Most of the pressure to perform falls on teachers. But interest in learning and caring about test grades comes from home and/or within the student. Teachers encourage learners, but seldom create them.

Instead of tracking down truants, schools often drop them to protect statistics. These students never develop habits necessary for achievement and learning, so they are often disruptive when they do attend.

Reform is needed, but more input should come from the teachers.
Sheri McGuinn
Lakeside, Ariz.

Regarding the Jan. 8 article about the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB): To advance students' capability in language arts and math, the nation must focus on two areas vital to effective teaching. Television viewing needs to be drastically and strictly curtailed. Parents need continuously to be directly involved in students' learning life.

Children who watch too much TV become conditioned not to use the cognitive skills, mental effort, and imagination that are developed in reading and writing. For these children, the effort it takes to comprehend concepts in school can seem too great, and the students may give up. Get TVs out of kids' rooms. Keep them turned off in the home except for specially scheduled viewing.

Academic progress needs to come before a student's free time. Parents should instill academic vision and values in their kids. They should establish a time and place for their children to study, and they should verify daily that their kids have completed their homework. (Parents don't need to fully understand the subject matter to reasonably verify that work is being performed.) Communication with children's teachers is also key.

Many students simply don't have a learning ethic. These students seem to expect education to somehow be handed to them or be performed for them. And how are they to know better? Because a teacher tells them? Most kids do what their friends do, so it's up to the community to establish a collective ethic for them.

There should be incentives (and perhaps sanctions) for parents to participate in this community effort and in their children's education.

Parents can help change the quality of education. The schools are ready.
Michael Wulfman
Stockton, Calif.

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