George Lucas Educational Foundation

Feedback: Big Schools, Big Cities

An invitation to explore the impact of smaller teachers' colleges on less-populated regions.
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Credit: Edutopia

Big Schools, Big Cities

I enjoyed your article about ten of the nation's leading teacher-preparation programs ("10 Leading Schools Silence the Critics: Innovative Teacher Prep," November/December 2007). I am familiar with a few of them already and agree with your assessments. They all, however, share something in common: They are connected either to large universities or to established schools in larger metropolitan areas. Either way, all are large and tend to send teachers out into well-populated areas.

I would like to call attention to the role smaller institutions play in training teachers in hard-to-place communities, urban or rural. Small colleges all over the country meet the needs of more remote places the big universities won't or can't touch. The University of Virginia is excellent, but those graduates are few and far between here on the border with North Carolina.

I invite you to explore how small colleges are having an impact on the face of education in our country's smaller niches. Thanks for your review and for the Foundation's excellent work.

Mark Crummey

Drop in on Dropouts

I just finished reading a very grim report, the most depressing I have ever read, on the Dallas Independent School District, pulled from research conducted by Johns Hopkins University. Then I read Edutopia ("By the Numbers: Dropout Data," November/December 2007) and found only a brief mention of that report. That was the only article on the dropout issue I could quickly locate in your magazine. Why don't you address dropout issues more frequently? It is the central issue in education in the United States.

Bill Betzen

Teacher Tally

In your Editor's Note (November/December 2007), you mention that only one teacher out of every four you had were excellent, or at least memorable. Let me do the math: For teachers, I had one each in grades 1-6 and six per grade in secondary school, for a total of forty-two.

Like you, I had three or four "worth remembering" teachers, but four out of forty-two is hardly one in four -- closer to one in ten. Given that our kids now have six teachers in elementary school, and seven teachers per year during grades 6-12, that adds up to fifty-four teachers. Assuming they have only four memorable teachers, the ratio drops like a rock to one in thirteen or so. I assume you could still call that sad, but I suspect pathetic is more like it.

Randy Gaylor

Go Home, Teachers

I'd like to express my appreciation for the excellent Editor's Note in the November/December 2007 issue. Having taught for decades in private, public, parochial, same-gender, and company schools, and now in one of the largest school districts in the United States, I totally concur that the home visit is so vital. Without the contact with the home, we are seeing only part of the child. Though some people do not understand the words "home visit," the fact is they are a very important tool for education.

Vera Bunting

A Question of Style

As parents, we often forget what it was like to not know or not be interested in a subject because it was hard for us then or because we didn't like the teacher ("Mr. Martin's Oopses: The Best Educators Have Struggled to Learn, Then Succeeded," November/December 2007). I have four kids (one each in college, high school, junior high school, and elementary school), and I've come to understand that often when a child "doesn't like" a certain teacher, it is actually an incompatibility of learning and teaching styles. Children want to succeed and enjoy but can be easily deterred by seemingly small obstacles. This article is great inspiration for the lessons of working hard and trying hard.

Michelle Hoffman

Carton Conundrum

"How To: Reduce Your School's Eco-Footprint" (October 2007) was a great article, but I'm looking for a solution for recycling milk cartons. My school uses about 300 4-ounce cartons a day. Even my local municipal-utilities authority couldn't recommend a place that would take them. They are wax coated and burn nicely. I can't believe no one wants them. Any advice from your readers?

S. Rivlin

Life Prep

In the September 2007 Dispatches essay, "Unacceptable: Many Teens Aren't Emotionally Ready for College,'" author Jill Flury discussed the need for high school students to learn skills to handle living independently for the first time. She included the need for personal wellness, stress management, financial health, time management, and social skills. I agree wholeheartedly with Flury about the need for teaching these vital life skills to all students, regardless of their plans.

Many such classes already exist in the high school curriculum; they are generally part of the family and consumer sciences department. I teach a class for juniors and seniors called Independent Living that addresses all the issues Flury noted. When students ask what it's about, I tell them, "It is everything I can cram into one semester to help you survive living on your own."

A semester-long simulation project is part of the class, in which students have jobs, checking accounts, bills, roommates, and the related squabbles. They must be able to reconcile their checkbook to pass the class. When students come back to visit, they usually ask me if we still do "that checkbook thing" and then tell me, "I use stuff I learned in that class every single day."

Deborah Nelson

Feedback is a vital part of the conversation. Write to or Edutopia, PO Box 3494, San Rafael, CA 94912. Please include your name, affiliation, and contact information.

Comments (2) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Joel Key's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Deborah Nelson's semester-long project sounds like a great way to engage seniors. I am teaching a new senior "Leadership" course for the first time. A Life Prep simulations seems like a great way to go. Any suggestions on curriculum or resources? Did Deborah develop her own curriculum or use a scripted one?

Deborah J. Nelson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

For the Independent Living class, I use a variety of resources that I've pulled together over many years. The actual simulation started as a paper and pencil activity developed by another Family & Consumer Sciences teacher. It evolved, with many of us using and improving it. The latest computerized version was written by a FACS teacher and her computer software engineer husband. The simulation can be obtained by emailing Chris Havelick at I also use the National Endowment for Financial Education's High School Financial Planning Program, available free from

Good luck!

Debbie Nelson
Lakewood, CO

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