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20 Questions


Like most of you, I found the school year simply too short to allow me to accomplish everything I wanted to accomplish. Consequently, I end the year with a huge pile of news clippings, reports, and surveys that I didn't have time to pursue -- and with a long list of unanswered questions about many issues addressed in that soon-to-be-recycled pile of papers. I've winnowed the list down to 20. How many can you answer?

As anyone who knows me can tell you, the reason I was asked to write this column is because -- right or wrong -- I have an opinion about almost everything. Education is my special field of expertise, however. I've been a student, an education major, a teacher, a parent, an instructional designer, and an education writer and editor. I've looked at education from all those angles and, at some point or another, I've considered almost every ongoing education issue. Consequently, there are few education-related problems that I don't think I can solve. (Why Bush chose Paige as secretary of education when I was available will forever remain a mystery to me!)

Like most of you, however, I've found that the school year is simply too short to allow me to address all the problems or answer all the questions that present themselves. Consequently, I end the school year with a huge pile of news clippings, reports, and surveys that I didn't have time to pursue -- and with a long list of unanswered questions about the issues addressed in that soon-to-be-recycled pile of papers.

Look What She Starr-ted!

Linda Starr, a former teacher and the mother of four children, has been an education writer for more than a decade. Starr is the curriculum and technology editor for Education World.

Previous StarrPoints

Out of time and short of intellectual energy, I've winnowed the list down to the 20 questions I find most perplexing -- in the hope that you can answer them for me!

In no particular order, these are my top 20 unanswered questions of the school year.


  1. Why is the federal government offering tax credits to compensate teachers for the money they personally spend on classroom supplies instead of providing more money for classroom supplies -- or higher teacher salaries?

  2. When did classmates become "cohorts?" (Doesn't a cohort sound like the type of kid your mother told you not to hang out with?) Speaking of education euphemisms, when did we start debating the existence of "peer effects" -- the idea that kids' "cohorts" influence their attitudes and behavior?

  3. Why are school districts cutting back on recess and physical education, then sending home letters warning that kids are too fat? And why do so many schools think it's OK to "feed" the growing obesity problem by selling junk food in school cafeterias and for school fund-raisers?

  4. When did we stop recognizing that kids are kids and start expecting them to demonstrate adult judgment and mature behavior?

  5. Why do some people seem more concerned about which books kids read in school than about whether kids can read at all?

  6. In a survey, 59 percent of Ohio residents favored teaching the theory of intelligent design in public schools. Sixty-six percent of those surveyed said they believe that the "intelligent designer" is divine. Who do the other 34 percent think it is?

  7. Why do we think that just because teachers have a strong sense of social responsibility and a deep desire to teach that we can pay them less than they earn?

  8. Where will the kids who opt to transfer out of the estimated 7,200 failing schools in this country go -- and how will they get there? On a related note, if kids in failing urban schools can transfer only to private schools or to other (most likely failing) schools within the same city limits -- but not to public schools in nearby suburbs -- what real options do urban parents have? Realistically, how many poor families can make up the monetary difference between vouchers and private-school tuition?

  9. Would taxpayers be more willing to pay teachers higher salaries if schools were open year-round?

  10. Why is it easier in many states for individuals who enter education as a second career to become fully certified than it is for fully certified teachers to switch to a different grade level or teach in a related subject area?

  11. Why doesn't every school -- and every classroom -- have a Web site?

  12. When are we going to admit that when it comes to schools and classrooms, size does matter?

  13. How come -- when the No Child Left Behind Act is having such an impact on education -- so few educators actually know what it says?

  14. Why isn't there more interaction and cooperation between our K-12 public schools and our colleges and universities -- and between our K-12 public schools and the business community?

  15. When are we going to get over the idea that the use of computer resources in the classroom is superfluous and recognize that technology is a legitimate timesaving educational tool? (Remember when the use of calculators was considered "cheating"?)

  16. Why are most in-service professional development programs so useless -- and so boring?

  17. How many kids have been physically or psychologically maimed playing tag or dodge ball?

  18. What distinguishes an F school from a D school?

  19. If, as polls indicate, education is the top priority among the American people, why are so many schools struggling with inadequate funds and resources? Shouldn't taxpayers put their money where their mouths are?

  20. Why is it that the education issues most talked about in the press are the issues least talked about in the schools?