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Best reforms come from within schools _ from teachers

In education, the plans with the best chance for success are those that start with the teachers and work their way up, rather than those that come from legislators and filter downward. Notice that the people doing the most talking about "choice" are the politicians, not the teachers. If we had choice in Pinellas County, a throng of students would be at St. Petersburg High School, and a few other schools might be rather empty. Then, administrators would have to devise a method like drawing straws to place students at a school not of their choice, and we would be right back where we started.

Politicians want an easy answer to a complex problem. Our society has changed, placing more emphasis on the ability to earn money than to achieve a good education. Schools reflect this trend in our culture.

When I began teaching in the '50s, another teacher gave me all of her geography books and said, "Here, you can have these, my third graders cannot read them. Next year they will drop this book." And they did. The texts were watered down through the years rather than bring students up to the former standards. If parents want to return to higher standards, they must inform school boards, and gradually, that improvement will take place.

But, the best reform comes from within the system. Teachers, along with enlightened administrators, can bring about changes that will last. We already have national norms; therefore, new testing is not going to make any appreciable difference.

The plan for giving a bonus to exceptional teachers is like the merit pay plan and often rewards the second-best teacher _ the very best is too busy working with our children to fill out forms for any contest! We should use our money to give raises to all and help to every school instead of pampering demonstration schools.

The newest part of President Bush's plan for improving schools is the attempt to draw businesses into a partnership. That idea originated in Pinellas County with our own Dan McAuliffe (former information chief). It has worked well for us, giving many schools more tutors, free items, also a break on such things as landscaping. But, expanding this to national scope could give large businesses the unfair advantage of free advertising. Wouldn't it be better to hear that McDonald's refused to let any student work past 8 p.m. on school nights than to hear that they donated free T-shirts to all fifth-graders?

The best help that business can offer is more opportunity in on-the-job training for academic credit. It takes a great deal of supervision, but the training is far better than we can give in a vocational laboratory.

"Choice" is merely a set of fads that will seem to work for a while, and if it works, the reason will be that the classroom teacher made it work. Instead of "choice," give teachers more VOICE.

Grace Druyor is a free-lance writer and lives in St. Petersburg.