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[Susan notes: The letters make good corrections on what the Times people thought was the moral of the story.]

Published in New York Times

To the editor

Re “4,100 Massachusetts Students Prove Small Isn’t Always Better” (front page, Sept. 28):

There are so many great lessons in the story of Brockton High School’s remarkable turnaround that it seems wrong to highlight just the one about a large school succeeding for once. For me the lesson that resonates most is about teachers taking the lead in reform and voluntarily giving up their Saturdays to plan it.

But I also applaud the schoolwide emphasis on reading and writing, the positive approach to getting reluctant teachers involved, the cooperation between the school and the local teachers union, and all the changes that encourage students to be proud of their school and themselves.

Education leaders and critics nationwide should take note that large-scale teacher firings, narrowing of the school curriculum, harsh demands on students and merit pay were not a part of the Brockton plan.

Perhaps even President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan can learn from Brockton teachers what it takes to get real school reform.

Joanne Yatvin

Portland, Ore., Sept. 28, 2010

The writer is a former teacher, principal and district superintendent who now teaches part time at Portland State University.


To the Editor:

The story of how teachers turned around the failing Brockton High School in Massachusetts is inspiring and of considerable value for those looking for ways to improve struggling schools.

It is misguided, however, for this story to be construed as being about “smaller isn’t better.” No controlled experiment was conducted comparing small and large schools.

Rather, this is a single case of a school where the staff took remarkable initiative and improved student performance by dint of sheer will, creativity and commitment.

If a short person worked extra hard and became a successful high jumper, we could conclude that short people can succeed, but not that “taller isn’t better.”

Jack Glaser

Berkeley, Calif., Sept. 28, 2010

The writer is an associate professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.


To the Editor:

At last, an article about a large urban public school with a predominantly minority population that achieves success. As a retired New York City school administrator, I am tired of the constant spate of stories focusing on small charter schools with limited impact on the overall student population.

And Brockton High School’s success was achieved not by discarding struggling teachers but instead by providing them with the instructional leadership and support they need and want.

Kudos to the principal and staff of Brockton for understanding that good teachers are made, not born.

Carol Roche

Spring Lake, N.J., Sept. 28, 2010


To the Editor:

What makes for a successful urban secondary school? In a recent study I co-wrote, conducted by Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth, we found that size or type of urban secondary school organization — public, charter, privately run — didn’t really matter for success.

What mattered was whether four factors that support student learning, professional growth and high expectations were in place in a school: a positive school culture; motivational, academic and emotional support systems; efficient use of (or increased amounts of) time; and focused, rigorous, relevant, authentic and flexible instructional programs.

We believe that the key to successful urban secondary schools is to strengthen these four factors and to provide a problem-solving culture, adequate financial resources, leadership and district support.

Elliott Seif

Philadelphia, Sept. 28, 2010

The writer is an educational consultant and former professor of education at Temple University.


To the Editor:

I graduated from Brockton High School 30 years ago. It didn’t surprise me one bit to read how Susan Szachowicz led the charge to turn the school around. Her enthusiasm for students and learning has never faltered. She inspired me to believe in myself and have confidence in what I could achieve both in the classroom and beyond.

She and the other teachers in the school should be commended for caring and making a difference in so many lives, including mine.

Susan Reiche

Mendham, N.J., Sept. 28, 2010

multiple authors

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