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Letters to the Valley Edition : Some Hard Truths About L.A. Schools

September 30, 1993

* We read your special report "Hard Lessons" (Sept. 19) with more than a little interest because our 12-year-old son has just entered a private middle school in the Northridge area.

As our economy worsens, it has become difficult to make the financial sacrifices in order to fund our child's education. After reading about Northridge Middle School and the "smile gauge," we realize it's not a sacrifice at all--it's a necessity, like food and shelter.

Anybody planning to vote down the proposed voucher system either works for the Los Angeles schools or hasn't visited a public school in years.

JEFF and NANCY MUST

Northridge

* Many years ago, in the late 1930s, I started attending school in a small town in Ohio. From second grade on, everyone in the class read from the same reader. There were a few students who were unable to keep up with the rest of the class in reading, and by junior high these children had dropped out of school.

During the war years, 1941-1945, war industries grew in nearby Cleveland. The population of our school doubled. Most of the children coming from a wide area, including other states, were able to read adequately for their grade level. However, the school music room was transformed into a classroom where a significant number of children were taught at their different reading levels .

In 1957, when I began teaching for the Los Angeles school district, I was delighted to find that we were trying to teach children at their various reading levels by using three reading groups in a heterogeneous classroom. Slow-reading children could understand what they were reading and could write answers at that level. A teacher could smile and praise these readers for whatever progress they made. Good job! That's great!

Some people insisted that being in a "lower" group embarrassed these children, but there is nothing like the embarrassment of being unable to read from a book in your hands or of being unable to answer a teacher's questions because you could not read that book.

Unfortunately, when the slow readers went to junior high, they went into grade-level classes where they were unable to read the textbooks. Many dropped out there and in high school. In addition to continuing reading instruction where they were in the sixth grade, they needed reading material for other classes written at an easier level than the grade-level textbook.

Adequate, easy books and even easier rewrites (written papers using the basic facts from the textbook) were needed from the district. I did this for my fifth-graders and was able to give many a slow reader an honest A or B in social studies.

The only way to develop self-esteem is for a child to be able to do well at a job at his or her level. This is what we do as adults for satisfaction. We find a job we can do and do it well. My self-esteem would plummet if I sat in a room of advanced mathematicians and "worked" on a committee where one or two others did the work and I was paid with an A. If the reward was money, as in real life, I would not be paid.

Now to the present, and guess what! Teachers in the elementary schools are being required to teach the whole class from the same books. My heart cries out for those unable to keep up. I'm lucky that I am retired, I guess.

GAIL HUBER COYLE

North Hollywood

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