'We Must Show Every Child the Light'

THE VANISHING CLASS: The Times' recent series about high school dropouts generated at strong response from readers, more than 200 of whom posted their thoughts on an online message board that accompanied the series. Suggestions ranged from the general (more parental involvement) to the specific (throw out the calculators!), from the left (spend more) to the right (issue private school vouchers). Here are some of their ideas, reprinted with editing.

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'In Another World'My son is one of the three kids sitting there [in the photograph of the algebra class], and I have kids just like everyone else and I think the teachers need to start looking to see where the problem is. Why is there a child sleeping? Why? There should not be a reason unless the class is overcrowded and the teacher cannot meet their needs. I am planning to go to the school. This is the last couple of years of high school [for my son]. Now I can see why my son has headaches. I would too. Everyone seems like they're in another world or just don't care. I know what it is to be a dropout and how life has treated me. I don't know where to start, but I'll be damned if that will happen to my son. Thank you. Sometimes we need media to see what is happening to our youth.

— JOANIE

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'Other Competencies'Why don't we stop pretending that every student is the same? Some students may not be able (or willing) to handle courses that focus primarily on abstract and linguistic skills. Many may not be able to finish a program in four years. Why can't we have a variety of baccalaureate exams based on clearly articulated world standards? Why can't we offer college-bound diplomas as well as diplomas that celebrate other competencies? I understand that if we really began to deal with this kind of diversity, it would be expensive, but don't tell me we can't afford it. Haven't we spent nearly $300 billion on that illegal and unnecessary war in Iraq? Don't we spend, more or less, $30,000 a year on high-security inmates, many of whom read at a fifth-grade level?

— JIM MAMER

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'At Their Own Speed'Sympathizing with the many students who find math difficult in high school, I can't help but wonder why more math teachers haven't adapted the approach my high school math teacher utilized 30 years ago. Students were allowed to progress at their own speed by turning in the assigned homework/classwork at their own speed and then, when they felt ready, taking the chapter test and retaking it until they passed at a highly proficient level before progressing to the next chapter. The student's grade in the class was based on how far along the student progressed, and students were informed at the beginning of the semester what chapter they would need to reach in order to obtain a C, B or A in the class. The vast majority of us passed with a B or better, and certainly none of us had the problem of progressing to a point where we were hopelessly lost!

— CHARLOTTE

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'Identifying Aptitudes'The dropout problem is a difficult and complex problem. One thing that would undoubtedly help is identifying aptitudes and interests of students in the middle-school years and counseling students into experiences and programs which meet and strengthen those abilities at the high school level. Vocational programs should include pre-apprenticeship, job shadowing and on-the-work experience programs. There are many kinds of intelligence. Academics taps only a few of our abilities. We must offer an education program for all students, not just the academically talented.

— LOUIS ROSEN

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'Give a Voucher'What the school system needs is competition. Give a voucher to every legal student in the LAUSD system and let him or her apply to any public not private school he or she wants to attend. In other words, a student from Crenshaw can apply to Beverly Hills High School and can attend it if he or she wants to.

LEO CRUZ

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'Participation And Practice'Learning math requires participation and practice, neither of which is possible if a student is missing or unengaged. I would venture to say that, if statistics were presented for students who (a) attend class, (b) participate actively, (c) do and correct their homework and (d) follow up with every problem missed on homework, quizzes and tests until there is understanding, the failure rate would be next to zero. Is this too much to ask? I don't think so.

— K. LAUBACH

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'Individual Attention'As a member of a school board in Ventura County (not the rich part), I can say that I think there are two reasons that LAUSD is failing its students. First, the system is simply too large. How can a school of 4,000 do everything well? Our kids need individual attention, and I just don't see how any massive organization like LAUSD can succeed. Second, I believe that because politics are involved in such an intimate way in these large districts, the kids get left in the dust. The unions are fighting for ever more of the financial pie (most districts spend 85% to 90% of their total [budget] on personnel and benefits); the administration is beholden to the myriad rules and regulations coming at them from both the state and federal level; and less and less control is at the local level. The politicians don't want to pay for raises for employees or lower student-staff ratios, so the existing dollars must be stretched. That means more students per class, more students per counselor, more students per custodian, maintenance person, etc. And we wonder why the kids feel like no one cares about them?

— JOHN G.

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'Learning … Is Work'Get rid of calculators … [and get rid of the] false belief that learning should be fun! Learning, the repeated cycles of drill and mastery, is WORK!

— KATHRYN

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'Squeaky Wheel'Parents need to be more involved, and this involvement has to originate from the schools. With the large numbers of students whose parents do not speak English, the schools must do a better job of bringing these parents into the school community and getting them involved in their child's education. Many a night I sat frustrated and nearly on the verge of tears because I couldn't help my son. My son was lucky, though, I was the proverbial squeaky wheel that ensured he was not passed over, but most students aren't that lucky.

— PAUL ROBINSON

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'So Much Damage'Perhaps these fiascos could be avoided if public officials first tested proposed policy changes on a small scale (instead of blindly applying them to tens of millions of students with no insight on the potential impact). At this point, so much damage has been done to so many people, I'm uncertain how the situation can be rectified (except perhaps to save future generations of students).

— MARC

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'More Sensitive'What I'd like to contribute to this discussion are my observations of where math instructors went wrong along my way. When I didn't understand something in math class, and I assumed others did understand it, I wouldn't speak out. I thought I was the only one and didn't want to draw attention to myself since I already felt stupid and vulnerable. Math instructors should have been more sensitive to the various student personalities in the classroom. If my weakness and confusion had been caught from the beginning, I might not have had to take the classes three times over.

— HSW

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'Vocational Schools'We are kidding ourselves to think that all students should be on a college track. Instead we dump them if they can't get college-bound grades. The argument that we have "vocational schools" in California is a joke. These kids need high school vocational programs in order to see if they have an interest or aptitude for one of the many high-paying trade jobs. With programs such as these, students want to stay in school because it's interesting and hands-on.

— GARY WOROBEC

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'If We Could Get More Help'Well, I have an F in my class. It's my first semester and my dad is really disappointed, but I don't understand it and I stay after school for tutoring and I do everything to do well but I don't think it is fair because we don't get our diplomas unless we pass algebra. If we could get more help, I think we could do better.

— PATRICIA

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'I … Get No Answer'As I sat in my easy chair yesterday reading the L.A. Times Sunday paper's article on high school dropouts, I was dolefully aware of a stack of essays written by my ninth-graders that I had yet to read and evaluate. The essay is a big chunk of my students' final grade for the fall semester. I received about one-half to two-thirds of the essays. The rest simply blew off the assignment. I call parents and get no answer or a disconnected phone. I require after-school tutoring when kids get behind, and they don't show up. Until kids and parents are made accountable, we'll continue to have failing kids and dropouts.

— ANDREA HOOVER

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'The Only Solution'Unlike many of the parents involved in the article, I have called, pushed, pulled, had meetings with assistant principals, counselors, psychologists — anything or anyone I could think of — to ensure that my daughter stayed in school and stopped long periods of simply not showing up. My daughter was variously ignored by school administration or scheduled in classes she had already passed in freshman and sophomore years — causing her to fall farther behind. I changed high schools, and this was the only solution — along with persistent and direct contact with the school board. Teachers appear to blame the students. There is, however, little help from them for the student and parent who do wish to succeed and overcome problems. If the student exhibits any tendency to be difficult, in my experience, the teacher immediately stops doing anything whatsoever to be of help.

— CAROLE

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'Higher Pay Scales'When we start respecting the profession of teaching (with higher pay scales), then we will draw in more qualified and dedicated professionals.

— BOBBI B

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'Superb Explainers'I teach algebra 1 and algebra 2 at San Fernando High School, which seems comparable to Birmingham (where I went as a student). Besides the problem of apathy and large class sizes and under-preparation in prerequisites such as arithmetic, the other obstacle is the district's "reforms," which make things worse, not better. Periodically they will pull us out of class for training on a "concept lesson," which ends up being taught to students in groups and [is] quite confusing and distracting. Basic algebra is best learned by drill and practice. The district should concentrate on making sure that teachers are superb explainers, not setting up bizarre, group-based lessons that confuse and frustrate students already working at frustration level.

— HERBERT ROSENBLOOM

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'Crazy Decisions'High school should be a time for exploring options and interests so individuals can decide their future direction. What we seem to have is a very narrow tube that everyone is funneled through; few fit, and the rest have to fend for themselves. Unfortunately, well-meaning teachers can also lose enthusiasm. They too have little choice in what they teach and how to teach it. A friend of mine who teaches at L.A. Unified told me that he basically gets a script from which he has to teach reading, so that every teacher is teaching the same material every day almost word for word. Where are we going? Who makes these seemingly crazy decisions?

— LINDA ENGLAND

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'Kids Want to Learn'There is too much emphasis on going to college and not enough thought given to all who want an education and [to] be productive. Let's get rid of this notion that trade schools [and] business-oriented programs in high school are race-based. It simply isn't true, but we are filled with this myth. Give teachers a real opportunity to teach. Really meet students' needs. Kids want to learn. They want to succeed. It's almost that schools prevent them, from junior high school on, to do this. I know this will never happen, but get rid of those mandated tests, which are meaningless to students. The only test that has meaning for them is the high school exit exam. Pass or don't graduate.

— RICHARD DIAMOND

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'True Culprit: the Student'At what point in this debate do we put the emphasis on individual responsibility? Why can't anyone bring themselves to put the blame on the true culprit: the student? My students seem more interested in iPods, cellphones and tennis shoes than history, science and algebra. And these are not little children that you can trick or bully into compliance; these are young men and women who will get in your face and tell you they won't do their work. How frustrating it is to hear all the criticism of what I as a teacher do day in and day out, and no one wants to blame these students or their parents who have raised them.

— TROY

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'A Second Language' Perhaps mathematics as a second language can be offered in schools.

— PHIL GONZALES

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'Engage All Students'How about using the funds currently slotted for romancing legislators and the media and use it to start evaluating and counseling students. While we are at it, let's move the money spent on the school boards and their staffs to the classroom; really reward the good teachers. The best secondary-level teachers ought to make at least as much as mid-level managers in successful businesses. The worst ones ought to find something else to do. Most important, we need to make an effort to engage all students in the educational process. As much as we would like to view every student with the potential to study at Caltech, life ain't like that. We must show every child the light at the end of the tunnel, whether it is college, a trade or technology. .

— DON HIGHLEY

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'Ever-Expanding Fiefdoms'Why not find the best teachers, produce DVDs of their lessons and focus on mentoring students individually through this curriculum? Why? Because schools are not about educating kids, they are about permanent jobs and ever-expanding fiefdoms for unaccountable bureaucrats. And in that, they are succeeding.

— MAT GLEASON

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'Many More Alternatives'I am the principal of a series of small charter schools within L.A.'s core, and we focus on trying to recapture the dropouts you described in your article. I think one solution is to have many more alternatives, such as charter schools, for students. You can see that most of the inner-city high schools are bursting at the seams with close to 5,000 students per campus. I think LAUSD's recent push to build more schools is a step in the right direction. I wish we could also implement a voucher system, because this would allow the hundreds of youth-based and church-based organizations that are already plugging the holes for thousands of kids across the city to be able to take their services one step further.

— NOEL TROUT

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'Tracking Students'Perhaps, if tracking were reintroduced in the high schools, students would have an incentive to stay in school since education would offer a realistic outcome instead of a bourgeois vision of higher education. If done in cooperation with business and industry, tracking students into vocational programs could lead to satisfying and well-paying careers. Then, those who did attend college might be the smaller number of skilled students who were willing to be more than bodies occupying seats. Of course, my colleagues at the colleges and universities would disagree, since lower college enrollments would threaten budgets and salaries.

— JOHN J. CROCITTI

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'More Resources'Class sizes must be reduced, support personnel must be increased, alternative education and special education must become more productive. Teachers must have more resources.

— JIM SOUTER

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'Great Variations'One size will never fit all. Flexibility and democracy must be added to the system and, guess what, that requires money. The greatest causal factor in the dropout rate is that we impose a curriculum and a pace of learning which do not realistically match a large part of the population. The current evaluation system assumes that a child must be competent in all areas and makes no allowance for great variations in skills and interest. If Picasso were in a public school, he could easily have been seen as a failure if his math and writing skills were weak.

— JOE KONN

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'Counselors' Ratios'As an alternative education teacher, I teach the students who are behind in credits and on the verge of dropping out. I hear the same story over and over from students: that counselors were not very involved when students didn't show up to school or when they were failing more than 50% of their classes. Yes, algebra is a problem for many; however, school districts need to have counselors "be counselors." With most districts averaging a 500-to-1 student-to-counselor ratio, how are counselors going to even meet with each individual student? If counselors' ratios were reduced to at least 200 to 1, counselors could be more proactive versus reactive to students' academic problems. In addition, I agree that math as well as English are the two most important core subjects, and teachers who teach these subjects should get additional pay.

— RUTH

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'I'll Walk to the Moon'The hardest days I have are when I come home and feel like all the work I did and effort I put into my instruction wasn't absorbed. I'll walk to the moon and back for any student that honestly tries. But I have little patience for those that don't. Good luck.

— JASON M.

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'Severe Consequences'Social promotion needs to end! The curriculum needs to include remedial classes for kids without the skills to tackle algebra. Kids that ditch classes must face severe consequences, failure. Discipline problems must be addressed. I also noticed many of the teachers writing comments made spelling and syntax errors. This brings to mind another point. The poor pay, working conditions and stress of teaching in today's schools are not attracting the best candidates!

— STEVE WIMER

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'Criminal Investigation'If a pediatrician had 50% of their otherwise healthy patients die, there would be a criminal investigation. Allowing 50% of our students to drop out or fail should also warrant a criminal investigation.

PAUL ROBINSON

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On the Web The full texts of these and other comments, along with articles in this series, a photo gallery and multimedia features, are available at latimes.com/dropouts. Use the Graduation Tracker to explore graduation rates for Los Angeles public high schools.

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