MAKING THE GRADE: All children can learn

By Daily News • Last Updated 11:26 am on Thursday, May 01, 2014

Making the Grade | Janet Ralph

This column was inspired by a well written letter to The Daily News Public Forum last week.

The author, Kylie Wells, was encouraging readers to contact their legislators regarding issues that are important to them. The specific topic of the letter was the importance of preschool.

I wholeheartedly support the author of the letter. I would like to add a few thoughts to the concerns that were expressed.

I want to begin with a statement I heard at least 25 years ago. The speaker, whose name I don’t recall, said, “All children can learn, but not on the same day or in the same way.”

I am afraid that message has been lost in the current efforts to standardize education. Children are not all alike. They are not raw material that educators can manipulate. Nor should they be. Our society needs many different talents and skill sets to thrive. Schools cannot expect all students to be on the same page on the same day. Perhaps more importantly, we cannot discard those who achieve at a different pace than others.

One place to start with this thinking is at the beginning with our youngest children. All children are not the same nor are all parents. I am not here to judge either parents or children. I do agree with Diane Ravich who writes, “Not every parent knows how to help a child grow. Not every parent has had a good example to follow. Not every parent has the background to help a child succeed in school.”

While many children are ready at 5 years of age, there are others who, through no fault of their own, are not ready to be successful in school. If we are serious about the notion that all students can be successful, we need to provide appropriate opportunities to those who need extra help.

One way to do this is through preschool. The legislature needs to assure that there is funding and support for these programs. We also need to have tools to assure that children who need this help are identified and directed to an appropriate program. When we invest in children at this level, we invest in the future.

But we cannot stop there. Getting all children ready to learn would be a huge step forward. The next step is to support a system of public schools to meet the varied needs of students. This, of course, is about finances. But it is also about much more than that.

For too many years we have relied on solutions that are based on the belief that education is about threats and rewards. We are depending too much on standardized tests. We are more concerned about rewards and punishments than equipping a well-rounded student. We are not paying sufficient attention to the breadth of education. To be successful, students need more than a handful of facts. They need to learn the qualities that employers are looking for like being responsible, being creative, being able to work with others and being lifelong learners. They need to learn that there may be more than one right answer to a question. The goal of education should be continuous improvement for all, not just picking winners and losers.

We need to insist that our policy makers understand the complexity of education and that they do not rely on simplistic solutions. We expect much of our educators, as we should, but this truly is a task for all of us. The future of a democratic society depends on us getting it right.

Janet Ralph is president of the Greenville Public Schools Board of Education.

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