Wednesday, October 13, 2010;
In their Oct. 10 Outlook piece, "A manifesto: How to fix our schools," Joel Klein, Michelle A. Rhee and other education leaders wrote, "It's time for all of the adults -- superintendents, educators, elected officials, labor unions and parents alike -- to start acting like we are responsible for the future of our children. . . . We need the best teacher for every child, and the best principal for every school."
We will have the best teachers and the best principals we can reasonably expect when school leaders realize that naturally talented individuals are rare.
Great classrooms and great schools, like any great enterprise, are the product of great leadership.
"There isn't a business in America," they wrote, "that would survive if it couldn't make personnel decisions based on performance." More to the point, there isn't a business in America that would blame its failures on the quality of its employees.
Our education system will only become better when the leaders of the nation's school systems include themselves among the adults who need to act "like we are responsible for the future of our children."
David Crane, Boston
Among all the platitudes these education leaders offered, there was one glimmer of the real solution: equipping teachers with technology. In the 21st century, it should be technology we rely on to impart knowledge and mastery to our children, and it should be teachers who facilitate that process. That is how we can solve the challenge of classrooms of children with wildly divergent needs and abilities. Digital learning is the only way we can fix our schools.
Gisele Huff, San Francisco
The writer is executive director of the Jaquelin Hume Foundation, a philanthropic organization that supports solutions to the transformation of learning.
The manifesto "How to fix our schools" was fundamentally flawed in its attempt to simplify a complex, historically and culturally rooted problem.
Learning is not something that can be measured by one test. It is a lifelong process. Moreover, success in academics does not correlate to success in the broader society. A majority of teachers are performing a service that few in our culture value or understand, yet no teacher signed this manifesto. Was any teacher was consulted during its creation?
This document fed the sad misconceptions of a nation truly at risk, not because of its struggling educational institutions but because of a systematic failure of vision and courage evidenced by the crafting and dissemination of such "manifestos."
Tom Reinhardt, Olney
In light of the fashionable attacks on teachers' rights after the release of the documentary "Waiting for Superman," I'd like to respond to the "manifesto" from a teacher's perspective.
In general, the teachers in our schools are not the ancient, uncaring dinosaurs that the authors like to portray in their push to expand administrators' powers. Four years ago, as a young, new teacher, I had energy and enthusiasm to spare -- but skill comes from practice.
We can't forget, also, that teachers are not necessarily motivated by profit. In my experience, it is good working conditions that retain quality teachers. When administrators make work environments inhospitable or fail to support teachers' discipline decisions, we lose some high-quality teachers and other high-quality teachers put in less than their best efforts.
Laura Callis, Malden, Mass.
I found one section of the manifesto confusing. The writers acknowledged that it is difficult to teach a class where the students have widely divergent intellectual skills, and they asked whether it was reasonable to expect a teacher to adequately address the needs of students who read at very different levels.
Their answer? Use technology better and gather data. What does this mean? Maybe it means put more kids on computers. But to do what? To work on individualized lessons?
Maybe it means teachers should collect data about student performance. But to what end? With what free time?
Rather than suggesting concrete solutions to the problem of teaching children with different needs -- which may or may not involve technology -- the manifesto suggested we should figure the problem out someday soon. It seemed a very pat and shallow non-answer to a genuine problem.
Amy Hubbard, Washington