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Politicians Ignoring the Real Problems With Our Schools

February 04, 2001

As a college professor who has worked with high school teachers (most of whom have left the profession) for 30 years, I can say unequivocally that "A Witness to the Decline in Teaching" by Mary McNamara (Jan. 29) and Robert Knox's letter (Metro Letters, "Bush School Proposal: Teach Basics and Text," Jan. 29) demonstrate more insight into what needs to be done in our nation's schools than anything that has ever come out of the mouths of politicians, including President Bush.

Knox's point that parents need to reevaluate their own responsibilities to their children's education is one the politicians have largely ignored. Why? The answer is simple: Parents are also voters. It's much easier to demagogue against the public schools to gain votes than to address the real educational problems, which are largely centered in attitudes developed in the home. Holding teachers accountable for what happens in students' homes is analogous to holding physicians accountable for their patients who eat excessively, refuse to exercise and ruin their health in various other ways. If physicians' salaries were based on how healthy or unhealthy our entire population is, we would soon see a widespread exodus from the medical profession.

Something very similar to this is happening in our schools. Midwestern rural communities already cannot staff their classrooms with qualified teachers, and other parts of the country are facing similar shortages. (Nationwide, we will soon need close to 3 million new teachers.) If McNamara and Knox were in charge of educational reform, we would see real progress because their proposals would immediately address the most serious problem in K-12 education: the exodus of qualified teachers from our nation's classrooms.

Bush's program, which myopically limits accountability to teacher-school accountability, will only drive more teachers out of the profession, make it impossible to recruit new teachers, and eventually close our public schools because there will be no one willing to work in them.

DENNIS M. CLAUSEN

Escondido

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Yes! Yes! Yes! Shout it from the rooftops; e-mail it to President Bush and all the other politicians. Testing is not teaching. I venture to say that national standardized testing is neither teaching nor a true assessment of what students have learned. The result of all this testing has been not improvement in education, but pressure on teachers to "teach toward the test, and . . . the existing pressures and scams to do well on tests . . . ." as McNamara so trenchantly writes.

OLIVE DePONTE

La Jolla

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My wife and I collectively have 73 years of teaching completed. We are now both retired.

I retired at the point at which I felt we were only training our pupils for the game of Trivial Pursuit by drilling for the Stanford 9 tests..

BEN and MARGE BOELMAN

Placentia

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All the politicians talking about the president being interested in education should consider this article and put the needed money into the solution expounded by Ms. McNamara.

DR. RENE CAILLIET

Pacific Palisades

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What a great column; I only hope a copy of it reaches President Bush, Gov. Gray Davis and the members of the California Legislature.

I am a retired teacher. I was a classroom teacher in junior and senior high schools for 32 years. I took an early retirement at age 55 for exactly the reasons listed in your column. My wife is taking an early retirement after 30-plus years in the classroom.

JIM HARAN

Huntington Beach

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Thank you for putting in words what teachers feel. You hit the points right on: more respect needed, more pay, stop blaming teachers for societal ills. I am an eighth-grade environmental science teacher. I'm no slouch as a teacher nor are any of my colleagues. I am so discouraged by the new president's first week in office and his touting of the voucher system and emphasis on more testing but am encouraged by what you wrote.

MIRIAM JOHNSON

Tustin

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McNamara brings a terrific insight to this very important subject of education.

Teachers need to be rewarded monetarily and with a support system of better schools, facilities, books, etc. Remember, they have our children most of the daylight hours for 13 years of their young lives. The testing will come later.

SALVATORE CAMERA

Yorba Linda

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