Letters to the Editor

Essential skills

December 15, 2011


To the editor:

I loved the article “Writing more important than ever” by Gene A. Budig and Alan Heaps. They are right on in discussing the power of the written word. Wars are caused by it, treaties are signed with it, and libraries fill the bookshelves with it. Yet it irritates me when I see ads that abuse grammar.

I once attended a book fair where there were misspellings in a handout I saw. I’ve read articles saying things like “there are less people shopping this year than in the past.” Some blogs kill the English language, and I have to wonder if those bloggers proofread their messages.

According to Budig and Heaps the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) says only 24 percent of 12th-graders were graded as either advanced or proficient. This is a bleak statistic, and the challenge for us will be to encourage children to read at an early age and put their thoughts down on paper.

If you’re seeking volunteer work, you might consider helping children learn to read or write better. The Breakfast Optimist Club, for instance, helps children read at New York School and gives away free dictionaries to every fourth-grader in every school in Lawrence. You can also volunteer to assist teachers who would appreciate helping children develop their writing skills. I personally get a lot of pleasure in watching children’s eyes light up when I inform them they spelled a big word correctly or that they’ve written an interesting story.


cato_the_elder 6 years, 6 months ago

One hundred years ago, substantially fewer people in America could claim to have been educated as the result of having obtained at least a high school diploma. However, those who received that diploma really knew how to read and write correctly, add, subtract, multiply, divide and derive square roots, among many other skills such as knowing the history of our Country. In our effort to provide high school diplomas to everyone, a phenomenon that has now begun to apply to college degrees too, we have grossly watered down the rigorous standards that we used to have in public education.

The dumbing down began in earnest in the early '50s with the "Dick and Jane" books, and continues unabated to this day. For example, a few years ago the Lawrence School Board voted to remove elementary Biology as a requirement for high school graduation, simply because it had become apparent that not every student was able to pass the course. Instead of redoubling their efforts to make students learn Biology, they simply punted.

I strongly support the concept of public education, but over the years it has appeared to me more and more likely that as long as public education theorists remain committed to watering down public education so that "everyone is an A student," private schools are going to be thriving in increased numbers.

P Allen Macfarlane 6 years, 6 months ago

"...private schools are going to be thriving in increased numbers".

Don't bet on that, if for no other reason than cost.

cato_the_elder 6 years, 6 months ago

You might want to check out how private and parochial schools are doing in Kansas City.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 6 months ago

" I’ve read articles saying things like “there are less people shopping this year than in the past.”"

Using "such as" rather than "like" would be more grammatically acceptable.

Just sayin'.

rtwngr 6 years, 6 months ago

So let's defund the Department of Education and send the money back to the states for use in their schools.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 6 months ago

Doesn't most of the money at the Dept of Ed. already get sent back to the states in one form or another?

jhawkinsf 6 years, 6 months ago

I'm certain most of the money does indeed get sent back to the states. Ninety percent might be a good guess. But what could the states do with an extra 10% of billions of dollars? Do we really need a federal dept. of educations as well as 50 state depts. of education?
Perhaps we should re-name the federal Department of Education: "The Department of Redundancy Department".

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 6 months ago

Specifically, which programs that the Dept of Ed funds would you like to see eliminated? Are there any that you see as having any value?

jhawkinsf 6 years, 6 months ago

I didn't say nor am I suggesting that specific programs need cutting. My concern, once again, is that the system be efficient. Do we need a top administrator at the federal level as well at 50 state levels. I'll bet that top administrator has a deputy as do all of the 50 state top administrators. They all have staffs, secretaries, computers, desks, office space and on and on. Then there is the reason behind the department of education existing in the first place at the federal level. (Or at least one of the primary reasons). There was concern many decades ago that Massachusetts (with it's largely white population) was spending much more than say Mississippi (with it's much larger percentage of minority students). It sounds like a very good goal, one that I might agree with. However, it's been a complete failure for decades now. At some point, you admit defeat and move on. The same could and should be said for Bush's No Child Left Behind. If one looked at it's goals, they too sounded good. But it failed. Move on.
BTW - Bozo, I'm not the type of person that memorizes what each poster writes nor do I look back at threads of more than a couple of days. But I'm pretty sure you've said in the past something to the effect that administration is paid disproportionately high compared to teachers. It's specifically at that level where my concern lies. I'm not at all in favor of lowering spending on public education. just the opposite. I've said several times that while I'm opposed to throwing money at a problem, hoping some of it will stick, public education is my exception. I would like to see the top become more efficient with all that money and more sent down the 'pike to the states or even better, to the local level. To pick a city off the top of my head, I think the people of Eudora know better what the children of Eudora need more than the people in Washington D.C.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 6 months ago

And let me add one more thought. And that is my belief that if the money did go to the local level, there would be greater incentive for parents to become involved locally. Right now, with decisions being made in Washington, parents might feel as if their voice isn't being heard. If the decisions were being made in Eudora (again, just picking a name off the top of my head), the parents there would be more likely to go to meetings. And I firmly believe that children and schools do better with greater parental involvement.

jafs 6 years, 6 months ago

Standards need to be consistent nationwide, if we want to ensure all children have access to at least a certain minimum level of education.

To that end, I like national standards and testing.

I also think that funding should be consistent as well, so I don't favor simply letting states determine funding levels - I'd prefer for the federal government to set those as well as standards, and then provide it to each state.

So, I'd have the feds collect taxes and distribute them according to the formula that is decided to the states, and set the standards - how each state meets those - what methods it uses, etc. I'd leave to the states.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 6 months ago

Sounds great. We've been trying to do much of what you say for decades now. And we've failed miserably. Of course, we can continue to try. But if as I suggested above that one of the side effects of those attempts is that parents become disillusioned and become spectators, then we lose an important component. We might be taking one step forward and one step back. Or more correctly, in my opinion, we take one step back while we hope we can take a step forward.

jafs 6 years, 6 months ago

Actually, we haven't been doing what I suggested.

We've left funding up to the states to determine, and haven't set many, if any national standards.

NCLB was an attempt to nationalize standards, but it was done badly, and without providing funding.

But, thanks for the compliment.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 6 months ago

Are you saying that if we just threw a bunch of money into NCLB that it would become successful? That would be an extremely unpopular position to take in this forum, as many would criticize Bush if he said the sun rises in the East. Another way to look at your position, and please do clarify it for me, would be that you might be in favor of an expanded role for a federal dept. of education with a concurrent diminishing role of state depts. of education, at least in so far as policy decisions go. The states would exist just to implement what the feds have decided. Would that be an accurate assessment of your position? (and I'll take the answer later, as I have things to do for a few hours) :-)

jafs 6 years, 6 months ago

No - I said it wasn't done very well, and also without funding.

It would need to be done better, as far as standards, differing populations, and outcomes, as well as being funded.

Yes - the feds (representing the nation's voters) would decide what level of education we want to provide to all children, and how much money it takes to do that. The states would then educate children to those standards using that funding.

Their methods can vary, as long as the standards are met.

It seems to me this is the only way to ensure that all children in the US get at least a certain minimum level of education, regardless of geography/socioeconomic status.

jafs 6 years, 6 months ago

I will respond once, against my better judgement.

If you continue to call me names, I will not engage any longer with you, either directly or indirectly.

My comment about outcomes had to do with the consequences if schools fail to live up to the standards, not differing educational standards.

And, your summation is incorrect - if the feds collect tax revenue and distribute it evenly to the states, in accordance with a national standard for each student, the states don't have less money or less power.

In fact, if local areas, in addition to the federal funding, wish to raise even more money and put it into their schools, that's fine with me.

jafs 6 years, 6 months ago

From my first post:

"NCLB was done badly,...and without providing funding".

jafs 6 years, 6 months ago

One more clarification:

It is true, of course, that some populations, like the developmentally disabled, aren't capable of the same educational performance as "normal" kids.

So there would have to be a different set of standards for them - however, I would think that those should be consistent from state to state as well.

jayhawkinsf 6 years, 6 months ago

What makes you think that standardized tests and equal money will produce equal results. There are still so many variables. Parental involvement, how people value education, socioeconomic factors, ability to speak English, levels of violence in the area, gang activity, drugs, alcohol, all these and more will guarantee that no matter the standard and no matter the equality of money provided, results will not be equal. And another guarantee, with different results will come accusations of racism, discrimination, cultural insensitivity, etc. Unless those that don't pass are given a pass. It's better to let those in the home community decide. That also will guarantee differing results, but at least those who know the needs in any particular community will be involved in the decision making process.

jafs 6 years, 6 months ago

What we need to do is provide a certain minimum level of standards, if we want to fulfill the promise of public education.

I didn't say that everybody would perform equally - the goal is for each student to be able to demonstrate a certain level of proficiency in an established curriculum.

That means that some students will do better than others, but that all can demonstrate proficiency, at the very least.

I understand it's complicated, and that there are a variety of factors, like the ones you mentioned, in play as well. That's why liberals generally tend to favor a variety of social programs to help mitigate those factors.

Generally, I don't see how letting each state decide their own standards and funding really benefits children, or lives up to the promise of public education.

Just look at the nonsense in KS.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 6 months ago

"Just look at the nonsense in Ks." An interesting comment because it's probably being said in L.A. and Idaho and Texas and everywhere. And it's probably different nonsense, but nonsense nonetheless.
"That's why liberals generally tend to favor a variety of social programs to help mitigate those factors". When I spoke of all those variables that will produce different results in the schools, extend that to all areas of life, which is what we're talking about with social programs and the numbers and complexities of those variables will be increased by factors of thousands. If your desired goal is uniform standards, now you're moving further away from that goal. I can't imagine any standard that will be achieved in a rural Kansas school and in Los Angeles. I can't imagine anything that would work in Detroit also working in Pocatello, Idaho.
Add into this my thoughts that as long as decisions are made in Washington, far removed from the daily lives of those affected, with the concern I have that the alienation will cause those people to remain uninvolved, balanced with a desire for standards that probably won't be achieved even if that is a laudable goal and we're left with making a decision that might be more practical in the real world.

jafs 6 years, 6 months ago

You're mixing apples and oranges there.

Social programs are designed to help mitigate the factors you mentioned, and give people a chance (it's not the kids' fault, is it?)

Standards are standards - I see no reason that our children can't be educated to a basically decent level by any public school system, if we do it right.

My idea allows states and local areas a lot of freedom and power in how they structure their schools and teach their children, as long as the basic standards are being met.

Why do you think we can't educate children in rural KS and children in urban LA to a consistent basic standard?

jhawkinsf 6 years, 6 months ago

Again, standards are great. A country where everyone is above average. Lake Wobegon. It's a great little fantasy. Just don't spend too much time on it and don't spend too much money on it. It will turn out to be time wasted and money lost.

jafs 6 years, 6 months ago

Not really an answer to the question I asked.

jayhawkinsf 6 years, 6 months ago

The kids in L.A. and Kansas and Idaho are likely to be different in many ways, all those ways I mentioned above. All those variables. But my basic point is that these national standards are much like our war on poverty. We can set a basic standard of living, a poverty level. We can set a minimum wage. We can do a million things to try to end poverty. We have done a million things at a cost of trillions. It's had some benefits, but has caused some negative unintended consequences. That's the type of thing I'm talking about. We didn't end poverty and we won't achieve what we all want, all students achieving a basic standard of education.
There is a certain level of failure that will be built into any equation we can come up with. There is no getting around that. And if the unintended consequence of a federal program is a disinterested group of parents, it might not be worth the cost as opposed to local programs that will also have certain levels of failure but will include parents.

jafs 6 years, 6 months ago

That's why I would allow states and local schools to structure their programs as they wish, in order to accommodate those differences.

I don't see why that means they can't all be educated to a consistent standard.

We certainly won't achieve it, in fact, can't do so, if we don't try.

What in my idea would produce a "disinterested" group of parents? If I were a parent with a child in public school, this idea wouldn't make me less interested, in fact, it might make me more interested in public schools.

Getaroom 6 years, 6 months ago

No, the money goes to Brownbackward, who in turn, offers it to his friends and none of whom (notice correct use of "whom") include anyone in Lawrence. Nothing new there. Business as usual. Don't make no diferns anyho. Cud u unersand me?

friendlyjhawk 6 years, 6 months ago

The dumbing down of the American public school system has been brought about by parents who didn't want to hear the truth that their darlings weren't the best and brightest, politicians who controlled funds and wanted to tell schools what to teach and who are making sure salaries for teaching professionals kept teachers in their place since they are "only doing it for the 3 months off in the summer", school boards who didn't work for the benefit of the schools. The list is long. Athletic teams have to win, mini classes must be offered, standards must be achieved so money will go to the schools. Now the teaching is narrowed to that goal, kids have to have fun(?), schools are babysitters, parents are lax and not responsible for controlling their kids. I can't wait for my 3 months off.

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