The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

My Suggestions for a Happier School Year

To be absolutely honest I must tell you that the piece below is a replicate of one I posted long ago. Why? Because the folks in charge of education didn’t listen to me the first time, and now they need even more to do so. Be advised that my proposals are not only significant but also cheaper than the test-drenched activities now in place.!

Move Our Best Principals and Teachers Into Our Struggling Schools 

We need to lure the best principals and teachers into struggling schoolsby offering them incentives of autonomy, professional advancement, and higher salaries. Under the leadership of a dynamic principal, chosen by the school staff and students’ parents, schools would be empowered to create their own structures, including a principal’s cabinet and grade level instructional teams. Within each team, roles would be differentiated according to teachers’ expertise, experience, and willingness to take on additional responsibilities. Those who take them on should be given additional planning time during the school day, and their accomplishments should count toward future salary increases

Cut Back on Standardized Testing

Not only is standardized testing extremely expensive, it also allows tested subjects to crowd out other subjects, and test preparation to become almost a subject in itself. Moreover, tests influence teaching style, making it shallow and formulaic to fit the limitations of a multiple choice format. Both students and schools would be better served if such tests were given only at a few grade levels  and classroom teachers wrote their own tests based on the school curriculum.

Evaluate Teachers on Their Performances, Not Those of Students

Because too many factors beyond a teacher’s control affect students’ test scores, a teacher’s performance should not be judged on those scores.  What students learn comes as much from home and neighborhood, the state of their health, and personal interactions as from classroom instruction.  Moreover, each student makes daily choices about what to work hard at, what to give lip service to, and what to ignore completely.

Convert Schools in High Poverty Areas into Full-Time Community Centers.

By moving as many community services as possible into a school building and making them available in the evenings and on weekends year round, schools could provide necessary social supports to poor families more efficiently and economically and alsoinclude recreational and self-improvement activities which are now in short supply.

Provide High-Poverty Children With The Background Knowledge They May Have Missed

What makes a school difficult for most poor children is not their lack of ability but the meagerness of social, cultural and literary experience. What many of them have missed out on is being read to, having substantive conversations with adults, visiting museums, parks, forests, and beaches, and being members of an educated community. To learn academic content and skills successfully, poor children need a school environment that is not only welcoming and supportive, but also rich in books, hands-on activities

Provide Social Support For Poor Families

By moving as many community services as possible into a school building and making them available in the evenings and on weekends year round, schools could provide necessary social supports to poor families more efficiently and economically and also include recreational and self-improvement activities which are now in short supply.

Offer Early Retirement to Burned-Out Teachers and Incentives for Ineffective Teachers to Resign or Transfer To Non-teaching Positions.

At present, removing an unsuccessful teacher is a long and expensive process. But the problem is not teacher tenure. It is the lack of evidence of failure that makes attempting to remove a teacher look arbitrary or vengeful. The first step in any school district is to insure systematic evaluations of all teachers with prompt feedback and plans of assistance. Ultimately, any teacher marked for dismissal should be provided with counseling, suggestions of alternative careers, and a dignified resignation process. Older teachers who have become worn out should be offered monetary incentives to retire early.  The school district would benefit by having the opportunity to hire new teachers at much lower salaries.

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Phooey on Phonics!

I am sorry to have to say it, but Michael Petrilli is not the expert we can trust when it comes to determining the best way to teach reading. Continually, he denies the reality of readers’ instant word recognition, and maintains his belief in the necessity to blend letter sounds together until they become a word. Then, he suggests repeating the process until all the words grouped together become a sentence, and all sentences become a message. As a successful teacher of reading in four elementary schools, and later, a school principal in two states, I am disturbed by Petrilli’s descriptions of the reading process, and his frequent claims of successful instruction using phonics. Even though teaching phonics has never been prominent in our public schools, its supporters have consistently claimed that it is the right way to teach reading there. 

What is expected of students who are being taught phonics is the ability to sound out letters grouped together and to translate them into a single word. In contrast, students in public schools are taught the pronunciation of a word, not it’s spelling. Thus they become able to make sense of many written words quickly, and to remember them without sounding out their letters. That system turns out to be much easier for teachers to use, and far more successful for students to learn than phonics. 

What teachers in regular classrooms do is to take students through the process of recognizing and remembering new words.  Steady and pleasurable practice with poems, songs, and games will provide them with the ease and satisfaction of recognizing and remembering words when they see them again. 

Today most respected reading specialists believe that children with difficulty learning to read will not do any better by undergoing phonics instruction. They are more likely to become more confused and dismayed than they were before.

Finally, I don’t know of any university professor who claims that phonics will work when the ordinary teaching of reading has not yet succeeded. Only phonics teachers and their supporters have maintained that belief.  Moreover, all the law suitthat have attempted to push phonics into public schools have been unsuccessful thus far.

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