Learning Should Follow Teaching

Published April 23, 2008

The letters from the two public school educators (Sara Stevenson, April 101, and Molly Wuller, April 162) regarding school choice are rather condescending about the “poorly prepared . . . low-income students” and “inferior raw materials” that public schools have to deal with. School choice would help parents find teachers with higher expectations for their children.

Ms. Stevenson refers to sixth-graders who do not know the year in which they were born. Certainly, these students must have had severe background-knowledge deficits when they enrolled in kindergarten six full years ago, but they apparently haven’t learned much since then, despite “the dedication and talents” of the teachers at Stevenson’s school. When students begin their schooling, their knowledge and skills must be brought to the level required for learning in higher grades, regardless of their starting position. Instead, what we see is that social promotion starts in kindergarten.

Still, Ms. Wuller is on to something with her suggestion about returning “inferior raw materials to their place of origin.” If sixth-grade teachers find their students aren’t adequately prepared for sixth-grade work, they should return them to their place of origin — the fifth-grade or earlier classroom they came from. Instead of blaming social conditions for student failure, let’s just ask teachers to do their job: Educate students.

George A. Clowes
Senior Fellow for Education Policy
The Heartland Institute