Letter: For True School Choice, Change the Rules

True Choice Demands Fair Rules

To the Editor:

Recently, there have been several letters to the editor supporting Vermont school choice and competition among schools, both private and public. I support choice and competition as well. But, in this case, the rules of fair play are being broken because Vermont state law currently allows for an unequal playing field in education. The most glaring equity issue is between publicly funded private schools and public schools. Both types of schools depend on public tuition money. But private schools do not have to offer special education or free lunch. They do not have to administer standardized tests, and they are allowed to pick and choose which students they want.

Public schools, on the other hand, have to offer everything and accept every student. This is not an environment that fosters fair and productive competition. We can create a truly equitable and competitive system by requiring private schools that take public tuition money to accept all students, regardless of their disability, behavior or attitude. Vermont Senate Bill S.91, making its way through the system now, would do just that. Only when the rules are fair and balanced can we have the conversation about true school choice.

Sharon O’Connor

South Royalton

‘Mean’ Teachers

To the Editor:

Articles and letters about our schools confuse me. To mention a few, in the Sunday Valley News Jan. 5, Tris Wykes wrote of a young woman working 12-hour days running a Lebanon charter school, helping to rebuild the lives of “troubled” teens. In the same issue, local columnist Steve Nelson described charter schools as a cruel hoax. In an article Dec. 31, a Lebanon High School English teacher says her students can read, but don’t like to because they lack prior knowledge of the material, which can be gained only by reading. In a letter Dec. 28, a perceptive reader wonders how Claremont schools were able to function before recently filling three staff positions described in the Valley News as “critical to student needs.”

I found a clue to these puzzles in a recent Prairie Home Companion radio show. There, Garrison Keillor, who is passionate about “mean teachers,” tells of a boy who flees his school and the teachers who terrorize any child with spirit and imagination. Keillor’s feelings resonate well in the Upper Valley. Because “mean teachers” need a formal, structured classroom for their dirty work, we’ve eliminated formal, structured classrooms, especially in elementary schools. But without structure, you can’t have intellectual rigor, purposeful goals and self-discipline. Why do we think these things require “meanness”? They function very well in an atmosphere of loving kindness. But they’re gone — and learning suffers. That’s one reason parents end up teaching their children, and others turn in desperation to charter schools. But the special ed industry and publishers of busy-work workbooks are thriving, and pharmaceutical companies want a piece of the action. The Lebanon High School teacher says her students can read. However, some read by memorizing words and guessing at meaning the way they learned in a casual elementary school setting. You can’t read high school material that way. You have to know the English language, and without a structured classroom and rigorous teaching, kids can’t learn it. How did people who believe rigorous teaching is truly mean gain control of our schools?

Thomas W. Graves

Grantham

Help With Tax Preparation

To the Editor:

Tax season will soon be here. Starting Tuesday, Feb. 4, AARP Foundation tax-aide counselors will be at the Upper Valley Senior Center in Lebanon to help taxpayers with their 2013 tax returns. The last day of the tax season is Tuesday, April 15, and all returns prepared that day will be filed by mail rather than electronically. Please call 603-448-4213 for an appointment. Bring proper identification and your Social Security card along with last year’s return and 2013 tax information. The Senior Center in Lebanon welcomes taxpayers from the Mascoma district, as tax preparation is unavailable in Canaan this season.

Peggy Mitchell

Canaan

The Funnies Keep Me Laughing

To the Editor:

I agree with Jeanne Ward’s “Read the Funnies, People” (Forum, Jan. 18). I am an addict of the most beautiful and beneficial therapy that God ever granted humanity: laughter! Your funnies keep infecting me with the “cheer germs,” and I gladly pass them on to my family and friends! Thank you, Valley News.

Jeanette Ogomo

West Lebanon