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The 'Messy' Business of Teaching

The articles "Makeover in Mississippi" and "Distance Learning? Video Classes? No Thanks" (Learning, April 7) are a clear demonstration of the thesis of a well-known business management book I just read, "In Search of Excellence."

ISE postulates that organizations are a combination of administration (structure, system and procedures, strategy) and people (staffing, skills, management style, culture, and values.) Adminstration is usually where the emphasis is placed because it is much easier to control. One never has to leave the office to accomplish it.

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People, on the other hand, can be 'messy.' They need a clear set of expectations and values, coaching, and positive reinforcement. To be effective, leaders have to be in the field most of the time. Yet people are the only avenue for real productivity [improvement] and excellence.

In Tunica, Miss., despite all the money, academic improvement isn't following. State officials are "starting with the basics: Is instructional space adequate? Is the money being spent rightly? Are there rules and policies that function consistently? Do kids abide by them?" All quantifiable and controllable.

On the other hand there is teacher Jennifer Averill, who succeeds with "writing classes [that] are tightly focused. Students read their work "loud and proud," clap for each other, and offer constructive comments." Ms. Averill goes on to set expectations of college, while the deputy superintendent says the problem is that "Mediocrity is the standard here, and there is no expectation that these kids will do anything."

The failure of education today is not about the failure of teachers, it is about the failure of the teaching adminstration to set an expectation for excellence, and then get out into the schools and get their hands messy in the business of teaching.

Louisville, Colo.

Tradeoffs between big and small

I read with interest "As Banks Get Bigger, Fees Rise" (April 15). It mentioned the cost of doing business with a specific bank for which I would like to offer my own recent experience.

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A bank that has been part of recent mergers ran an ad offering returns on an investment product that made my pokey little bank look bad. I made a careful investigation of the offer and decided to switch.

When I sat down with a representative to write a check to transfer funds, I was advised that there was a wait of 11 business days before my check, from a bank two blocks away, would clear. I asked what I would do for a checking account in the meantime and the rep replied: "Well, you could take your funds out in cash and bring them here. You could start an account with just a few hundred dollars."

I suggested that walking around with cash on New York streets wasn't an appealing idea. He shrugged. I left.

An 11-day float is about 10 days too much. But maybe that's how the bigger bank could take in money to make the offer I had read.

Then - surprise - I got "my" new ATM/debit card in the mail. (Mind you, I have no account with them.) There was no return address on the envelope, and none on the accompanying letter, and I can't get through their voicemail menu because I have no account number. I have been trying to get through to a customer representative for two days so I can make sure the information I gave at the bank isn't used for other purposes.

I am staying with my pokey little neighborhood bank.

New York

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