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WHY AREN'T SCHOOLS GETTING BETTER?

To the editor:

For 30 years now, the newspapers have reported falling test scores, and they're still falling. Our scientists have achieved miracles since then in computers, space travel, etc. But what of education? Any improvement?Academically and almost every other way, schools seem to be on a skid (with a few praiseworthy exceptions such as Timpview High School). With all the money spent, why haven't they improved?

I'm sure I don't have all the answers, but obviously educators do not either - so let me venture a few guesses along with theirs:

1. More of the same. Educators agree that tests have declined, but they generally try to solve the problem with more of the same mistakes. In my opinion, test scores began slipping because of progressive educational ideas, and most of the solutions have included more of the same.

2. Academic rigor. It has been replaced by lax standards so every child can have a feeling of achievement with little effort. In order to protect self-esteem of young children, the curriculum moves very slowly, word difficulty is carefully controlled, poor grades and failure does not exist but nearly everyone gets a happy face, etc.

3. Teaching facts. Educators decry the teaching of facts as a waste of time but instead emphasize concepts. Sure enough, children do not learn facts - geographical, historical or scientific facts. What is the value of discussion of concepts without facts? Teaching concepts without facts can be a very clever way to brainwash.

4. Grammar and composition. Students cannot write well because they are simply taught to express themselves but not taught how. There are rules for proper sentence construction, paragraphs, essays, poems and novels. But generally, children are left to express uninhibited ideas, and the products of the youngest to the oldest show evidence of a lack of instruction and a lack of attention to the simplest rules of spelling, grammar, sentence and paragraph construction. They are still very uninhibited, but they still can't write.

5. Phonics. This is a time-tested way to teach reading that works. The basic problems with most supposedly modern phonetic reading programs include the following: They still teach children to memorize whole words by introducing the Dolch sight word list first, thus showing how phonics doesn't always work before they teach how it does; They teach only beginning phonics and never get to the more advanced rules, which can help with later spelling and reading of advanced vocabulary; They teach phonics too little and too late - kindergarten and first-grade children love phonics; third- and fourth-grade children do not and should be studying advanced literature.

6. Whole-child approach. Schools have tried to take over the education of the whole child, and thus they are failing at their real responsibility - the academic instruction of children.

7. Cooperative learning. This is one of the biggest ideas in education today. Basically, it is that children work and learn together in groups. Faster children fill the role of assistant teachers and spend their time instructing slower children. Group projects such as history reports are done together. In reality, however, my own children tell me that the slower kids learn nothing because they just let the better students do it all and get credit for it anyway.

Personally, I feel sorry for teachers and administrators of today. The job is much harder than it once was - and often less satisfying. Why must we expect them to do everything and send them children that have not been properly trained to be obedient by the parents? Why do we expect them to solve social and emotional problems and cope with disrespect, dishonesty, laziness, filthy language, etc., and when something is wrong, blame the teacher rather than the child?

Jacqueline F. de Gaston

Provo