Mr. Gillespie's "No time" letter (Sept. 20, 2019) merits corrections and extensions.
Yes, education is a major base of any society. So are other institutions.
And, yes, schools are put upon to teach about substance abuse dangers and many other things that legislators require because of current events. This will not go away.
The three Rs were never the sole emphasis of elementary education. John Dewey did not lay claim to progressive education. Progressives were looking for a champion and made the mistake of adopting what he advocated for elementary schooling for secondary education (See "Democracy in Education").
Achievement test scores are one-time measures. Yet, administered to many thousands of children, they are extremely valid and reliable. However, we must remember Garrison Keillor's tease "where all the children are above average." Half of test takers will always be below average, and over decades, averages will not vary much. There will always be some high and some low scores, while most scores are near the middle.
In addition to higher education admission decisions, some people compare scores across ethnic, geographic or socioeconomic spectra. Taken carefully, such data can be useful to policymakers at legislative and administrative levels. Decisions about content and methods in public education should be made with judicious considerations. This is difficult because the function of education in America has not been clearly defined. Two matter-of-fact considerations follow. There are many others.
What can be done to reduce interruptions in calendars and periods of the school day? National and state holidays, weather, local observances, pep rallies, and many other events take away time from the major work of schooling.
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Can more be done to offset interruptions with technology? What can be done to assure that parents meet obvious, but often neglected responsibilities? All along the education ladder and before, what should parents be expected and instructed to do?
In my view, especially regarding preschool and kindergarten, schools should recommend specific activities by age level. Regularly reading to children; visiting book stores and libraries; identifying colors, animals, various objects, etc.; and other things which specialists in elementary education can readily prescribe are my meaning here. During subsequent years, recommended activities for vacation periods should be prescribed. Much of this is done for students and is evaluated.
Parents or guardians should be involved — as many are — in this. Engaging more parents in this could do much to alleviate achievement differences by spectra mentioned above. Though tough, this matter is worth major effort at little expense.
Mr. Gillespie seems to challenge the importance of remediation, counseling, and the like. Please be assured that the best of teachers in one room and other schools many decades ago did their best to provide these and other services. Helping various aspects of the nurturing and growth of youngsters beyond pouring content into their brains has always been of concern to high quality school personnel.
It is natural for large attendance centers to have reading, speech, counseling, and other specialists attending to student needs which must be addressed to maximize content acquisition, socialization, and other benefits of attendance. Prenatal substance abuse alone assures the need for special education for the many children with resulting disabilities. Schools cannot do the magic that many parents who shirk their responsibilities expect without these and other resources.
Speaking of resources, I must state that the most important resource, high quality teachers, is in short supply. Long ago, speaking to a large audience in SIU Arena, Walter Cronkite emphasized that teachers should be paid better. The present shortage will only get worse if legislatures and local officials do not up the ante. To become fully qualified, Illinois teachers must pass as many rigorous hurdles as other professionals. Yet, their pay and benefits are not commensurate with many with lesser requirements.
Furthermore, teacher education is not as enticing as other university majors. One way to make it more attractive is to reinstate a program which my wife and I enjoyed. We promised to teach two years in Illinois schools and received tuition scholarships. We paid only a $5 student union fee per semester. The many current fees might best be reduced for people who promise to teach.