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Bright ideas: Our readers sound off on school improvements

GreatSchools readers share what they'd like to see improved at their schools.

By GreatSchools Staff

We asked our readers what needs improving at their children's schools, and they had plenty to say. Readers wrote in to vent about school problems from teaching quality to discipline to communication with parents and more. Here's what they had to say:

Teaching

Spelling, handwriting suffering:

"I am very upset to find out that our schools do not enforce spelling or handwriting," writes a Florida parent. "An administrator told me it is because the kids now have computers so they don't have to write [by hand], and the computers have spell check so they don't have to know how to spell properly."

Kids grading kids:

The Iowa parent of two middle school boys writes, "It seems as though children correcting other children's papers has become an epidemic in our school system. Not only does it take away from teacher lecture time, but what about the issue of privacy?!! Correcting papers is not what my children are going to school to learn. If I am not mistaken, that is what teachers are supposed to be doing!"

Social studies squeezed out:

Another parent notes, "Teachers of fourth- and fifth-graders at [our school] were told not to teach social studies because the subject is not tested. Teachers demanded at least one day per week. This means that fifth-grade students are learning American history only one day per week. This is a disgrace!"

Calculators as a crutch:

"Get calculators out of the school system. Teach the students how to do arithmetic rather than how to punch keys on a calculator," suggests another parent.

Communication

Parent conferences aren't enough:

The mom of a first-grader in Arizona writes, "My child's school could be better by having more parent-teacher interaction. It could be via e-mail, fliers home or invitations to visit the classroom. I don't like only having parent-teacher conferences twice a year to hear about my child's school experience."

Teachers, principal won't answer emails, calls:

An urban high school parent in Ohio says, "One greatly needed improvement is to stop driving parents away. This year my son's school is infected with a horrible morale problem deriving from school closures and teacher layoffs as students leave the district for charters, the suburbs or a new voucher program. Despite this, the school continues to treat parents like idiots … or dangerous criminals. Teachers refuse to use email to communicate with parents, and telephones are not answered one minute past the last bell (even when there are student activities in the building). The district has hired 'parent liaisons,' who are parents selected by school principals, allegedly to carry some kind of message to the rest of us. I don't even know if my son's school has one. I called the woman who was in that position last year, and it turned out she had been fired. I did email the principal about whether there still was one for our building — no reply."

Homework

Not enough:

One kindergarten parent thinks homework provides a good opportunity to work with her child: "I am a firm believer that education starts at home and that we as parents can't fault the school system when our children are not successful. When I see that my daughter has homework, it is my first priority to work with her and assist her in making sure that it is complete. But I will be the first one to admit that when there is no homework, I'm not certain of what to work on besides the basics (name, letters, shapes, colors). When there is homework I enjoy working with her and watching her learn. Homework every night would be a great benefit...after all, it is school regardless of the age of the child. If they have homework every day, they will expect that this is what will be expected of them all the way through high school."

Too much:

The mom of a kindergartner and a fourth-grader in California believes there is too much homework: "I am appalled at how much needless repetition there is in the masses of homework that is sent home for both of my children every day. When the kids see the quantity of work that is ahead of them, it seems to overwhelm them before they even get started, which only creates unnecessary stress. The kids should be asked to 'master' 5 or 10 math problems, or spelling words rather than doing 25 or more. [Doing so many problems is] very redundant and takes away from their very important creative free time. I don't understand why the schools need more time from our kids when they have them most of the day already. Thirty hours a week at school plus homework can reach 40 hours easily! The idea of my babies working a 'full time job' is not right!"

Discipline

Teachers can't control classes:

The grandparent of a fourth-grader writes, "I would like to express my concern over the apparent lack of teacher control in the schools. I was at my granddaughter's school to pick her up, and I waited outside her classroom for at least twenty minutes before the class was to be dismissed. I was rather shocked by all the noise and commotion going on in the room. Then I heard the teacher yelling at the kids to be quiet. …I looked through the window in the door and was amazed to see the kids still being loud and uncontrolled. What happened to the teachers taking control of the classroom? I don't believe kids are being taught that they need to have respect for their teachers and for authority in general."

School's not safe:

"My son has experienced multiple violent behavior attacks which include being strangled on the playground, mostly by other second-graders but an attack by one older kid too," writes the Missouri mom of two children. "When this happens his grades drop immediately, he is scared, sad, does not want to be at this school, cannot pay attention and stay focused on what his teacher is saying, etc. The state of Missouri does not require bullying plans and this is a very sad situation for the kids because it affects all of the students. Our school district has a "don't tell" policy and it discourages tattling. We have had a Columbine-type threat at the high school, and we have had two students involved in an attack using a pocketknife which sent them both to the hospital. Something needs to be done."

Uniforms

Uniforms keep kids focused on studies:

A father of five children writes, "I strongly recommend school uniforms for all kids. It would eliminate a lot of problems, and kids would concentrate more on studying than how they look. Most schools that I've heard of that have the uniform policy don't have many gang or hate problems."

Uniforms don't solve problems:

A mom from New Jersey argues against uniforms: "So what's so bad about [uniforms]? One, uniforms can be purchased by anyone and many adults are wearing them. There are serious safety concerns about the possibility of potential predators being able to more easily lure children. Two, uniforms make it more difficult to identify a child that has been abducted or in the event of a disaster with casualties. Three, uniforms aren't cost-effective because a second set of street or play clothing is required. Four, uniforms do make all kids alike despite social status. Is this really good? Shouldn't more affluent children be taught kindness and charity. Is it bad for a less fortunate person to see what they can achieve with hard work? How can we teach kindness, charity, and aspiration if these things aren't seen or felt? Five, parents try to teach children to be strong in their individuality to combat negative peer pressure and gangs. Does the mandated uniform conformity of children support this?"

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

06/7/2012:
"Our middle school is located in one of the most affluent areas of the. country: Westchester, NY. Our household alone pays $30,000 per year in school taxes. And yet my children are not permitted to write in the $10 dollar "workbooks" they (absurdly) issued each year. Instead, the district chooses to consume employee time making sloppy, illegible copies of papers and handing them out to the kids. This in a district In which the typical teacher is earning a over $100 thousand dollars a year and where the latest electronics -- laptops,iPads, whiteboards, Wii games - are ubiquitous. They talk a good game, but this one detail shows that - where the children's education rubber meets the school funding road, there is little effort. Better to placate real estate investors with the flash and trash of technology while protecting their job entitlement bureaucracy . "
08/1/2011:
"I live in the Bronx,New York and I want to know how many parents have their children bused to other schools instead of their "zoned" school due to overcrowding? What are you experiences. Thank you for your feedback "
11/17/2009:
"It would very iformative if parents had a site online (ex.progress report)were we can log on and retreive grades,project reports, homework assignments in and out as well as test scores."
10/2/2007:
"uniforms a terrible. kids should have a choice on weather they want to wear those uncomfortable things or not. uniforms are REALLY UNCOMFORTABLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! kids should express themselves by wearing what the want. "
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