Opinion
Education Letter to the Editor

Reform and ’Rithmetic

August 12, 2006 4 min read
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I agree with Ronald Wolk [“Flawed Fixes,” May/June] that standards and accountability—as well as the rhetoric surrounding these proposed “reforms”—will not do much to help our students. However, improving instruction and assessment are an integral part of strengthening student learning, and research backs this up. (Harvard’s Richard Elmore writes often about this topic.) Additionally, Mr. Wolk stops short of describing how we get to these “settings of human scale.” As long as we who see the holes in politicians’ rhetoric about school reform fail to propose solid alternatives, rhetoric will continue to dominate school reform.

Kathleen T. Hayes

New York City

At some point in time along this educational continuum, everyone is accountable and has to uphold their part: students, teachers, administrators, parents, and the associated communities.

Education that is fair, equitable, thorough, and efficient for all students at any cost should be our mantra. We as a people can do anything we so choose to do. Why do we always get so sidetracked and confused that we lose our educational way?

Let’s not kid ourselves: Education for all, by all, is an expensive proposition and also basic and critical to our country’s survival as well as our way of life. Our current morass in Iraq and a few other places is a testament to the fact that we cannot just muscle our way to achieve our objectives. Countries like China, India, Japan, and others are heavily investing in their most precious resources—their children, mainly through education. Our mind-set and intention should be to do the same.

We have to take our collective heads out of the sand and seriously look at the landscape around us. The world is indeed becoming flatter. We will have to be able to compete or the obvious consequences will become our new way of life.

True, there is no “one size fits all,” and every educational situation is somewhat different than the next, but we have to stop being so narrow-minded and shortsighted in our thinking. If you seriously think about it, we have no choice but to educate all of our children—no matter what it takes.

Carey L. Savage

Vineland, New Jersey

Ronald Wolk’s recent essays [including “It Doesn’t Add Up,” March/April] questioning new graduation requirements for advanced mathematics courses for all high school students have been very worthwhile. I hope he will continue to speak out against this insanity.

One might think that a person with my career record—20 years as a secondary mathematics teacher, department chair, K-12 mathematics curriculum coordinator for a middle-sized school district—might hold another opinion. Further, I want to make it clear that we can do a better job of teaching mathematics to a much wider spectrum of students. Mathematics is a wonderful subject, poorly taught in most cases, in spite of all the NCTM and NSF reform efforts. To make matters worse, those of us lucky enough to have been successful in it often give others the false idea that there must be something wrong with them if they don’t “get it.”

Politicians mistakenly think that research (showing that the proportion of college graduates in a state’s population directly correlates with the strength of a state’s economy) must mean there’s a cause-and-effect relationship there. So they decide to require college readiness preparation from public schools, but oddly have no expectations that colleges themselves should do a better job. Requiring more of students, they say, will encourage more kids to “just buckle down” and become college-ready—high expectations gone completely awry.

Then there’s the K-12 education establishment, which loves to hear of its importance to the state’s economy and welfare. More requirements? No problem. Just be sure to send us the money we need (to further our careers and extend our influence). Math and science leaders, even though they should know better, are happy to hear the governor exclaim how important their areas are to future economic health amid a failing industrial economy. Also, let’s not forget the vast army of experts in universities and professional organizations that stand ready to march into school districts and sell their magic solutions to benighted teachers and hapless administrators.

And where is parents’ thinking? Probably here: “Boy, I’m sure glad the schools are going to get tough on my kid and make him do the studying I couldn’t make him do. Or do myself when I was a student, especially in math. The ones who can’t hack it shouldn’t be taking up space in my kid’s college any way, or wasting my tax money.”

It’s a sad thing to attribute such self-serving motivations to so many people—probably fine folks in many ways—but no other explanation seems to make much sense.

I’m just mad as hell that such monumental collective idiocy will be responsible for dragging so many innocent students and teachers into the deep end of the pool without much of a fair chance to save themselves.

Barry McGhan

Mathematics Coordinator (retired)

Flint Community Schools

Fenton, Michigan

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