News Real, May 18, 2006
It's not just Vashon: Vashon is not the only high school to have the problem Kristen Hinman reports on in "An Incomplete Education." The problem with low-performing school districts is that schools want that state funding. So if you are flunking several students because they are not performing, then you have fewer who persist to graduation or who are not counted on attendance, eventually. This is a short-term strategy to maintain funding without looking at the long-term problems.
Teachers who flunk students are not revered for their high standards. They are vilified as "hard" or "bad" teachers. The pressure from administrators and counselors to pass students is very high, especially in an urban school district. Teachers have to hear the grocery list of problems that prevent students from achieving, and we are often pushed to make accommodations and modifications that fall short of holding anyone accountable.
About two years ago I flunked a student who was a senior. He had very poor attendance, but I was told by a counselor in front of the student that "he doesn't need your class." Then pressure was put on the other teacher whose class he did need until she gave him a passing grade. He did not complete all the work that was required of him and he was excessively absent, yet he was passed. Why? Counselor playing hero or because the school needed the warm body for state evaluations and funding?
On the other side of the equation, though, many students who perform poorly may have IEPs (individual education plans). Institutions often pass students with IEPs as opposed to meeting the goals set forth by the IEP committee (assuming a general education teacher and/or parent will show up for the meeting). If IEP goals and IEPs were adhered to, more students would graduate being able to read, write and have the daily living skills required for a productive life. At present in one local school district, students are graduating who can't read, write or solve math problems with minimal assistance. Most of these students are not diagnosed as "mentally retarded," either.
So until the state changes how schools are funded and institutions focus on mastery as opposed to grade levels, you will not see change in St. Louis or in the country.
Rodney Cook, St. Louis
Ask a Negro Leaguer, May 11, 2006
More than just a drive-by: I was touched by Joe Henry's reply to the question of how Brooklyn, Illinois, can recapture its heritage and head forward.
I am an employee of the Corps of Engineers and drive up Highway 3 quite often. Even though I have passed that way frequently, I'm ashamed to say that I have no real definition in my mind of the various municipal entities there. It is too easy to simply see burned-out porn palaces, the tumbling-down train trestle (mercifully down now) and the other evidence of a loss of pride. Prince Joe has reminded me that these visible manifestations do not accurately reflect either the history or the potential of the region. That is embodied in the hearts and souls of the good people who made history and those today who would like to get it back on track to a proud future. Great suggestions! Alan Dooley, Waterloo, Illinois
Last week's feature story, "Brave New Town," contained a quote that incorrectly implied that New Town is without a recycling program. Additionally, an online forum for New Town residents has a new Web address: www.newurbanliving.net.