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Helping Kids Thrive at School and at Home


To the Editor:

Re “In Gaps at School, Weighing Family Life,” by Michael Winerip (Parenting column, Dec. 9):

As a teacher, I am tired of hearing about failing schools and the petty disagreements about whether we are or are not closing the achievement gap. I know we are not, because we’re going at it all the wrong way. We’re chasing test scores and school accountability, without taking into account the fact that most children spend much more time outside of school than in.

I have met the parents of most of my students, and they are kind, caring and wonderful people who are doing the best they can. But Mr. Winerip points out some realities. Parents cannot manufacture time — time to help all their children with homework, read to everyone before bedtime, be home from 3 p.m. until a reasonable bedtime — when they have to work two jobs or the night shift just to pay for rent, food and other necessities.

Many of my students are extremely successful. They may qualify for the free lunch program, but they get high scores on their state exams, turn in impressive homework assignments, think learning advanced math is exciting and correct each other’s grammar.

My friends think I must be an amazing teacher to have such high-achieving students. I know better. I had nothing to do with it.

It’s their parents, who sign their homework assignments every day and come to conferences. It’s their parents, who take them on the train to see sights around the city. It’s their parents, who have instilled in them respect for all adults.

It’s my students’ parents — who send them to school feeling loved and successful.

Leila Chakravarty
Brooklyn

To the Editor:

Michael Winerip seems to be saying that parents are to blame for the poor performance of the schools. Phooey!

The public schools are failing because they use ineffective programs (fuzzy math instead of arithmetic, whole language instead of phonics, invented spelling, no science to speak of, nonsense history).

They also employ teachers who are “certified” but not well educated, even in the subjects they teach. They use textbooks that are poorly conceived and written, and tests whose results cannot be trusted.

Schools that are dedicated to teaching basic skills and knowledge (private and charter schools) do far better and use no such excuses as poverty, social ills and demographics.

Kids are smart. It’s the public schools that are failing.

Ned Vare
Guilford, Conn.

The writer is a former teacher.

To the Editor:

Michael Winerip points out that school failure can often be attributed to “what takes place in the home” and “the level of poverty.” While reducing poverty is a complex, long-term challenge, there are low-cost programs available now that can have a significant impact on what takes place in the home.

The Parent-Child Home Program works with parents and their 2- and 3-year-olds to build language-rich home environments and help parents prepare their children to enter school ready to be successful students.

By helping parents build language and early literacy skills in the home, through reading, conversation and play activities in twice-weekly home visits, the program has been successful in ensuring that its graduates enter school with cognitive, social and language skills equivalent to those of their more advantaged peers.

Sarah Walzer
Executive Director, The Parent-Child Home Program
Garden City

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