Thursday, April 25, 2013

Open Letter to Carl Paladino Re His School Board Bid

Dear Carl:

One issue you might consider is assurance of learning.   The median writing ability in American schools has deteriorated to the point where the median entering college student is functionally illiterate; college does not teach them basic skills, and they graduate illiterate. There are simple writing measurements that can be done to determine the quality of writing education at the school level, but these need to be graded by an objective, outside source such as ETS, not by the school system itself.  Cheating on objective tests is endemic in school systems across the country. The tests cannot be available to the schools.   

My mother was a New York City school teacher, and she described this to me in the 1970s in her school district in Spanish Harlem (District Four),  which was overseen by Anthony Alvarado, who was later made chancellor of New York City’s schools because of his supposed improvement in test scores. I vividly recall my mom describing the cheating in his administration in the 1970s.   The scoring of the tests must be done by outside agencies, and the tests cannot be administered by the school system, especially by the teachers or principals of the local schools.

 The conceptual issue in teaching writing is simple. It is like teaching a kid to ride a bicycle.  You teach them the rules, then they write, then you improve what they wrote, then they rewrite the same essay.  You teach them again, they try it again, you correct it again, and you have them rewrite it again.  The process is time consuming, so teachers avoid it.  They need to be forced or encouraged to spend the time on it.  The same is with basic math. The students must be given problems; they must be forced to redo problem they don’t get.  The teachers don’t like doing the grading, which is grueling.  They need incentives, and they need to be taught the importance of teaching basic writing and math.  One alternative way to teach writing might be programmed instruction.  

Diane Ravitch wrote Left Back: A Century of Battles over School Reform, which I recommend. In most schools progressive education is malarkey.  The students need to be taught the multiplication tables, multiplying fractions and the like by rote, not by the new math.  As well, they need to be taught writing by practice, like learning to ride a bicycle, not by “creativity.”   Other issues may be important too, but unless the students are taught the basics they will continue to graduate as illiterates.  I have 100 college students 80 or 90 of whom will graduate unable to write clearly. One student was promoted to district manager of a fast food chain, and she told me that she goes to the  College Learning Center to have them write memos she needs to write for her job.

I have spent 40 hours per week working on this for the past three years. I get results, but one class and one professor can’t undo 16 years of neglect of basic skills.  I stopped having them write term papers because they are unable to write English.  I have them write one-page papers that I grade and have them rewrite.  Then I grade them again.  This is time consuming, and most college professors do not have the grammar training or the willingness to do this.  It should be done at the elementary school level.  Currently, resources are massively squandered.  America graduates college seniors who cannot write at the level of third graders.  It is a scandal.

Mitchell Langbert, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Brooklyn College

From: Carl Paladino []
Sent: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 6:33 PM
Subject: Open Memo to the People of the City of Buffalo from Carl Paladino

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