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Magic bullets and American schools; unvaccinated children; criminal justice system reform

June 06, 2010

'One size fits all' just won't work

Re "No magic bullet," Editorial, May 30

I commend The Times for its intelligent and thoughtful editorial on education reform.

As a teacher, I am disheartened by the continuing swings from one "one size fits all" approach to another. These programs — like No Child Left Behind, designed for political expediency and sound bites — never wholly work because all students learn differently.

It's like asking your average construction worker to excavate an archaeological site; they'll get to the ruins, but at what damage to the buried treasures?

Your editorial should be a required read for every educational policymaker in the country. Perhaps then future reforms will be dictated by common sense instead of political gain.

Troy Garrett

Long Beach

As a public elementary school teacher since 1974, I want to lead the parade of praise for your outstanding editorial assessment.

In my years of teaching, I have rarely read such a keen discernment of the capricious reforms that have pedagogically whiplashed my profession.

Time has dramatically changed the students I teach and the society from which they come. Our students need intense remedial and emotional help. With a startling dearth of skills, the shrapnel from bad parenting and broken families, prurient media, drugs and violence is robbing children of their whimsy. Teaching is inevitably morphing into social work, parenting, psychology and family counseling.

With testing, I accept accountability for what I can realistically achieve, but not for hindering our ideal social vision. While reforms continue the quest for the elusive magic bullet, I know that teachers will keep on trying. We don't have time to stop for the next happenstance to dictate our course.

Thank you for recognizing that the search for nirvana is ongoing.

Terri Hamlin

San Diego

The United States has tried for decades to fix its public schools while largely ignoring the one factor proven to have the greatest impact on student success: teachers. We assumed all teachers were basically the same, and we made the mistake of treating them like interchangeable parts.

This fallacy is evident today in meaningless evaluation systems that rate all teachers good or great, regardless of how much they help students learn.

In Los Angeles, a sadly typical example, more than 99% of teachers earn top marks on their evaluations — even in schools that have been failing students for years.

Better evaluations will help reverse this "widget effect," which demeans the teaching profession. It has started a conversation about how we can help teachers do their best work.

It's not a magic bullet, but it's long overdue.

Timothy Daly

Brooklyn, N.Y.

The writer is president, the New Teacher Project.

Vaccination and our children

Re "Just get your s-h-o-t-s," Opinion, June 1

There should be better regulations regarding vaccination requirements for entry into any American public school. In addition, parents of unvaccinated children who are sickened and/or die from these diseases should be prosecuted for child endangerment — not only for endangering their own children but every other child needlessly infected by their children.

Good parents want what's best for their children and avoid allowing their children to be put into harm's way. The thought of personally causing autism in your own child is a nightmare. But relying on rumors, urban legends, old wives tales or just plain incorrect information is no defense for exposing any child to the unneeded dangers of easily preventable life-threatening diseases.

Sometimes it seems as though the more educated we get, the less we allow ourselves to know.

Larry Wade III

North Hollywood

I often hear anti-vaccination parents weigh the risk to their own children. However, I never hear them openly recognize that their decision comes at a cost to other babies.

As the parent of a newborn infant, I recognize the right of these parents to choose, but I insist that when these parents do not vaccinate, they recognize that other children suffer the consequences.

Have these parents ever seen a newborn with whooping cough or measles? These are pernicious, terrible diseases in the body of an infant, and the thought of them afflicting my little angel is frightening.

Other parents can decide against immunization — that is their right — but they need to have the integrity to explicitly factor in the cost to my child, still too young to be protected.

Jeff Pospisil

Playa del Rey

Pamela Nguyen adds nothing new to the already contentious vaccine/autism debate.

As she points out, preventable diseases such as measles and mumps have been making a comeback as the rates of unvaccinated children have been rising.

Her solution is to penalize the "irresponsible parents" who choose not to vaccinate by tightening the personal exemption guidelines made available by public schools and requiring private and charter schools to implement vaccination standards.

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