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[Susan notes: Annette Marcus' letter has a great line: We know what works from our own educational histories, from research and from common sense. All the rest is political commentary. Go forth and use it in your own letters.]

Published in New York times

To the editor

In his April 26 column, The Limits of School Reform, Joe Nocera uses the case of one 13-year-old to illustrate how the education system fails one child, and not because he did not have a caring, skilled teacher or supportive school, but rather because socioeconomic background and personal issues "vastly outweigh what goes on in school" in determining students̢۪ success or failure.

It is not only poor or disadvantaged children whom the current educational system fails. Children have a variety of issues that interfere with learning, including psychological conflicts (often stemming from broken or dysfunctional families), decoding problems, interpersonal issues (the social outcast, the bully, the scapegoat), attention issues and issues of physical well-being.

Imaginative teaching provided by a caring, skilled adult can provide a variety of children with a fertile environment for learning.

The good teacher-bad teacher argument is bogus. Every profession or trade -- law, medicine, plumbing, housekeeping -- has a range of practitioners, some good and some not so good, but most somewhere in between. An educational system that supports teachers will improve the performance of all of them.

That support means smaller class sizes; reduced or eliminated standardized testing so that teachers can use their own creativity to engage and inspire students instead of spending time and energy on repetitive test drill; collaboration among teachers rather than competition for so-called merit pay based on test performance; a healthy and varied school day that includes physical exercise, hands-on science, art and music; and, of course, nutritious food.

Reform? Not really. We know what works from our own educational histories, from research and from common sense. All the rest is political commentary.


New York, April 27, 2011

The writer is a former science teacher at the Brearley School who is now a consultant to charter schools.

To the Editor:

I agree with Joe Nocera that it takes more than good teaching to overcome the many obstacles faced by today̢۪s students.

Students who are sick, hungry, injured, scared or depressed can̢۪t focus on their schoolwork or succeed on tests -- if they even make it to school in the first place. They need systems of support that help to address the realities faced by young people, both in and out of the classroom.

One solution is school-based health centers. More than 1,900 such centers across the country provide primary health, mental health, family outreach and chronic illness management to children and adolescents, regardless of their ability to pay. Research shows that these centers lead to improved health, increased attendance, improvements in grades and a decrease in dropout rates.

School-based health centers should be considered a valuable resource when it comes to reforming our educational system. 


Executive Director, National Assembly on School-Based Health Care

multiple authors

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