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July 1, 2005
Vol. 62
No. 9

Letters to the Editor

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Ask the Teachers for a Change!

The National Governors Association report An Action Agenda for Improving America's High Schools summarized in “Special Report: Fixing High Schools,” (Educational Leadership, April 2005) raises the question, Why is it that everybody believes he or she is qualified to “fix” our high schools?
A bunch of governors, none of whom has actually taught a high school class as far as we know, get together and decide the problem is a lack of rigor in coursework. A president who, by his own admission, was a bit of a slacker through all of his school years and half of his adult life, declares himself the “education president” and concludes that endless testing and blaming teachers are what the system needs.
Business groups tell us that our high schools are not preparing workers with the necessary skills, and everyone accepts such statements without argument. But if you look at what businesses have valued in employees, you will find that their priorities have completely flip-flopped in just 10 or 15 years. Maybe they don't know what they want, or maybe they just don't want to blame their failings on their own poor business sense.
  • “Thirty-nine percent of recent high school graduates lacked the skills and abilities they needed for entry-level jobs.” Is that any more or any less than in previous years?
  • “Only about 60 percent of 2002, 2003, and 2004 graduates believed that high school had adequately prepared them for college or the workforce." Is that a historically high number? The report doesn't say.
It's time for outsiders to stop attempting to micro-manage the education system. I have only been teaching for three years. Before that, I was an engineer and manager. Problem-solving is in my blood. I don't need more tests to know which students need help. The students don't need them either. Instead, they need face time with teachers and tutors. They also need some signs from the community (especially the business community) that an educated citizenry means more than just a supply of highly skilled, cheap labor.
Unfortunately, all of the latest accountability demands have only had one obvious result: Teachers spend more and more time filling out forms relating to “standards” and less and less time with the students or developing classroom material that might motivate those students. I teach three different science classes, six classes total per day, and an additional study period. In the seven hours that students are in the school, I have 42 minutes of free time, and regularly work about 30 additional hours each week. I need more time with my students, not more paperwork.
Yet, in spite of how “hot” the issue of education has become, I never hear businesspeople or politicians ask actual teachers what they need to do a better job. Instead, everyone is telling us what we need to do, and threatening us if improvement doesn't occur.
The teachers with whom I work are an extremely dedicated lot who really want to do a good job educating their students. We have a lot of good ideas and a strong desire to improve education. Sadly, no one is asking us.
Corey Kyle
Physics teacher
Milton High School
Milton, Pennsylvania

High Schools Need to Focus on Student Attitude

Although I agree with the problems identified in “Special Report: Fixing High Schools” (April 2005), I disagree with the solutions that were offered. Rigor alone will not solve the problems in high schools. The current education system does not promote high performance, and the current culture actually sets up our students, our teachers, our administrators, and our communities for ongoing failure.
Unfortunately, education “experts” continue to ignore the one element that is necessary for sustainable achievement: attitude. The question is not whether students can learn, but whether they want to learn. Until our schools build in attitude redevelopment through the affective learning domain, we will not tap into the wasted potential among our young people.
I have surveyed more than 1,000 students, with a clear majority from at-risk urban environments, and no one wants to be a failure. These young people believe that they lack the tools necessary for success and are “activity-starved.” Until we create relevant curriculums that give students the responsibility for performance and also give them the necessary tools to manage that responsibility, we will continue to practice Einstein's definition of insanity—doing the same thing again and again, but expecting different results.
Leanne Hoagland-Smith
Performance and Process Consultant
Valparaiso, Indiana

This article was published anonymously, or the author name was removed in the process of digital storage.

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