• Are We Passing the Test?

    Thank you for your cover story on the state of our schools [Sept. 20]. Yet you failed to fully address the importance of leadership. As a high school teacher for 26 years, I've worked for a wide variety of principals and superintendents. Under leaders who had a clear vision, a willingness to empower teachers and the courage to remove ineffective ones, we enjoyed success and camaraderie, even as we served children from dreadful economic and social situations. Of course, good teachers are important. But they also need leaders who recognize their accomplishments, confront their weaknesses and empower rather than attempt to overpower them.

    Carey W. Wooten, ELLAVILLE, GA.

    Davis Guggenheim's Waiting for "Superman" appears to repeat well-worn generalizations about indolent teachers and their dysfunctional unions. For his next documentary, Guggenheim should try his hand as a substitute teacher at an inner-city school. That might teach him something about the impact of poverty on our education system, which will continue to underperform as long as well-heeled parents segregate their children by placing them in private schools.

    Diana T. Piep, CINCINNATI

    Schools could learn a lesson from the business world: make everyone accountable. The superintendent needs to be in the schools weekly, making sure administrators are doing all they can. Administrators need to be in the halls and classrooms constantly--an observation once or twice a year doesn't cut it. And teachers need to be in constant contact with parents and be willing to fail kids who don't perform. These measures alone will improve teacher and student performance.

    Jim Startzell, YARDLEY, PA.

    As a new teacher, I always take interest in TIME's many articles addressing public education in the U.S. Of course, most of the articles emphasize the woes and shortcomings of public education. Most would agree that the U.S. has an education problem, but really, the country has a much, much larger parenting problem.

    Matthew Keller, TAMPA, FLA.

    You are right on almost all counts. It's what you (and a lot of other voices in this discussion) leave out that makes me angry. Having a highly qualified, caring administrator is as important as having a highly qualified, caring teacher. Without that, low-performing schools will continue to lose good teachers to better school districts, where they are respected and given a voice. I know this from experience.

    Peggy Grow, ROUND ROCK, TEXAS

    I know one thing that made my daughters' high school great: staff attitude. When I drove them to their public high school on the first day one year, the principal and one of the assistant principals stood on the sidewalk warmly smiling and waving at the many parents and students arriving. I thought to myself, How lucky my daughters are to be among such enthusiastic educators. I will never forget that sight.


    We no longer teach students how to think or learn; we teach students to take tests.

    Jessica Hendricks, LABELLE, FLA.

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