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The School Test Scores--Who Is Responsible?

July 10, 1988

In response to Tom Steele's letter regarding California Assessment Program test scores ("Responsibility for School Test Scores," June 26), I have mixed feelings.

I have taught for 20 years at the high school in Steele's community of Fountain Valley. He criticizes the Huntington Beach Union High School District, of which my school is a part, and suggests that students would be better products if schools were part of the "free enterprise system."

As in any work environment, schools have their share of people who do not carry their load and management decisions that have negative effects. But I can assure Steele that an excellent education is available for the serious student. We have graduated students who enter UC Irvine as juniors. Collectively, we have students who receive millions of dollars of scholarships annually.

My job could be helped immensely if people like Steele would tell their teen-age children that their studies are more important than working a part-time, minimum-wage job, owning an automobile and running around with their friends on a school night. A simple no (and enforcing it) would do wonders to improve American education.

Teaching children about the poor ethics of forging their parents' signatures and intercepting official mail from the school would also be helpful, as would teaching them the virtues of diligence and good attendance at school. My senior students averaged 10 days (two weeks) of absenteeism for an 18-week period this past semester.

I would love to have "free enterprise" authority to dismiss students who were not taking their work seriously and who have this absence rate.

Given Steele's disdain for public education, he is undoubtedly unaware of the following facts concerning the local public schools and their teachers:

* California has the largest class sizes in the country, despite its affluence and that of Orange County.

* A fully licensed teacher has five years of college before getting his first teaching position at $23,094 a year in my district. And a teacher in my district, after 31 years' experience, is paid $46,191. That's $31.21 an hour. Could Steele hire an attorney or business consultant for that? Why should teachers be asked to grin and bear substandard salaries?

* Based on my income, I could not qualify today to buy the house that I live in, even after working for 22 years.

* Teachers are unemployed for 2 1/2 months each year without the possibility of unemployment benefits. Would Steele be willing to live off his savings or take a low-paying job during those periods, as we must?

I agree with Mr. Steele that the responsibility for educational performance rests with students, parents, as well as the schools. Seeing it from the inside, my school is doing a fine job, given the financial and morale constraints upon it.

I know, too, that many students are doing their part, and many are not. Some parents are very supportive, while others use the schools as scapegoats for the general disintegration of the American social fabric, which they can't understand.



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