Hasidic students are being shortchanged

For far too long, officials in New York State have turned a blind eye to the failure of most yeshivas to provide their students with an adequate education (“It Is Long Past Time to Help New York’s Hasidic Children,” The New York Times, Sept. 18). So many graduates cannot speak English, and yet the schools continue to operate in defiance of state law.

Worse yet, few in high office in the state are willing to monitor and investigate yeshivas out of fear that they will lose the support of parents who vote as a bloc.  It’s a scandal, with far-reaching implications for the nation.

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Beware of U.S. News college rankings

Americans are obsessed with rankings, with colleges being no exception (“Are the U.S. News college rankings a joke?” Los Angeles Times, Sept. 16). The trouble is that applicants seek different outcomes.  If pecuniary factors are the sole concern, then it’s easier to determine which are best by simply measuring income earned after graduation compared to the costs incurred in earning a degree.

But not everyone seeks the same thing.  A college that is a good fit for one person can be a disaster for another.  That’s why the U.S. News rankings issue is a poor choice.  Better to look beyond sheer rankings.

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Is grade retention justifiable?

Education experts once believed that holding back children would hurt their academic future (“More kids are repeating a grade. Is it good for them?” apnews.com, Sept. 9).  But not all parents believed that was the case.  As a result, some are now even requesting that their children be retained. As with almost all controversial issues, the answer lies with parents.  Their wishes need to be respected because they know what is best for their own children.

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Ranking states on educational return on investment

With math and reading scores in decline despite record investment in overall education, the Heritage Foundation has issued a report showing that Florida, Arizona, Idaho and Indiana are the best choices (“A New Ranking for Education Freedom,” The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 8). It does so after factoring in cost-of-living per-pupil spending, National Assessment of Educational Progress results, and unfunded teacher pension liabilities as a proportion of state gross domestic product.

Although I support parental choice, I hasten to point out once again that parents seek different things in their schools. Test scores and per-pupil spending are certainly important considerations, but they do not constitute the sole factors that parents consider in evaluating the education their children receive. There are a host of other things that they take into account.

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The power of arts and music education

When budgets are tight, arts and music education are the first to be cut because they are not seen as essential (“Yes on Prop. 28: Kids deserve quality art, music education,” Los Angeles Times, Sept. 8).  That’s a big mistake because such courses in many cases are the only ones that keep students from dropping out.

I saw that firsthand during the 28 years I taught English in the Los Angeles Unified School District.  Students who otherwise were detached from their other classes – including mine – were engaged in art and music classes.

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Parental rights about the curriculum

Although public schools are supported by taxes, parents who try to find out what their children are learning wind up frustrated (“Why schools won’t tell parents what their kids are being taught,” The New York Post, Sept. 6). Therein lies a paradox because educators know that parental involvement is vital to learning.

Some districts argue that a particular curriculum is copyrighted as a pretext to discourage inquiring parents and others.  But the truth is that almost all books that students read are copyrighted. It’s little wonder that parental choice is going to grow.

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Meritocracy is not just for academics

Meritocracy is attacked for being elitist and racist (“School Is For Merit,” The New York Times, Sept. 1).  That’s because the U.S. finds differentiation in education anathema. 

But the reality is that not everyone is college material.  Our competitors abroad have long accepted that fact.  As a result, they grant vocational education the same respect accorded strictly academic curriculums.

I believe that everyone is good at something.  The job is to identify what that is and then nurture it.  Rigor, sacrifice and vigilance apply to vocational subjects as much as they do to others.

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How to get better teachers

In an attempt to get the best and the brightest to make teaching a career, it’s been suggested that preparation be transferred from education schools to the academic departments that teach the subject (“America Needs Better Teachers,” The James G. Martin Center For Academic Renewal,” Aug. 31). At first glance such a recommendation makes sense.  After all, aren’t teachers paid to teach their subject matter?

The trouble is that academic departments know little about pedagogy.  The fact is that professors in those departments rely on lecturing almost exclusively. So what can they do to prepare teachers for K-12, where lecturing would be ineffective?  The answer is to focus on departments of education to eliminate useless courses for licensing and provide better hands-on practice.

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Gifted education is not elitist

Gifted education starting in elementary school is accused of being elitist and racist (“Who Is Gifted?” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 11). That’s because it does not treat all students as equal.  But fairness means individualizing education to meet their unique needs. Only the U.S. thinks that differentiation is anathema. Today’s gifted children are tomorrow’s leaders.

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Disruptive students

Public schools in this country must enroll all students who show up at their doors regardless of their interest in learning. What happens if some of these students begin to disrupt the classroom?  The Cassville School District in Missouri decided to use corporal punishment (“Missouri School District Brings Back Paddling to Discipline Its Students,” huffpost.com, Aug 25).

Parents in the district support this approach because they don’t want their children suspended.  I assume that these miscreants have already been counseled and that counseling has not worked.  Yet studies have shown that corporal punishment rarely works and that it can exacerbate matters.

I understand the anger and frustration that school officials feel.  They don’t want their schools to become blackboard jungles like some public schools in other parts of the country. But I advise them to try other means.

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