"Don't lower the standards; raise the kids. Let's give them something to shoot for - not at!" Signed: A frustrated teacher in Connecticut.

An awful lot of my mail is from teachers. Either they have read something I've written about my own classroom experiences or they've picked up on the tag line at the end of a column: Elizabeth Schuett, a writer and teacher in Gibsonburg, Ohio, can be reached. . . . So they write. And whether it's Iowa or Florida, New Mexico, or North Carolina, the concerns are the same - student behavior, a watered-down curriculum and proficiency (competency) testing."A couple of years ago, I know the state messed up big time. One of our students who was exempt from taking the competency tests because of low cognitive ability, took them anyway. When her scores came back, the state showed her passing all four areas. That was impossible. Now I know that somewhere in Kentucky there is a pretty sharp kid saddled with our kid's failing scores. Please don't use my name." Concerned in Kentucky.

A 28-year classroom veteran in Arizona says the feel-good stuff that administrators and school shrinks like to boast about has turned teaching into a farce. "We're called on the carpet when parents complain that homework is interfering with their quality family time."

A few weeks ago, an Ohio teacher stated his complaint and offered a suggestion:

"Until high schools cease to trot out the number of proficiency tests passed by seniors as a be-all, end-all gauge of academic achievement or as a justification for existence of the high school, and instead begin to follow up their graduates' short- and long-term performance in college and in the private sector, we educators will continue to exercise the folly of keeping our heads safely buried, ostrichlike, in the sand.

"It doesn't matter how many proficiency tests are passed if our graduates can't pass universities' basic skills tests and are slapped into remedial math and English (and other) classes.

"A sad but simple truth that must be faced, sooner or later.

"The continued refusal by some high schools to follow up their graduates' progress in college or in the private sector (the only true gauge of high school educational efficacy) is a travesty of the public trust. To claim excellence because numerous proficiency tests are passed only to have students being forced to take remedial work in college is to mislead the public . . . and ourselves.

The letter was signed: Burned up and burning out in Ohio.

In all of the mail I've received in the past almost six years, not a single teacher has asked for a lighter load (other than relief from cafeteria and playground duty) or complained of expectations being too high.

Many have suggested strict dress codes that will eliminate a kid's option to leave home wearing a T-shirt praising the effects of illegal substances.

And the biggest question of all: "Why doesn't somebody ask us (the teachers) what will work?" and "Why don't the universities talk to us and, instead of wasting time and money on the pedantics, give an education major four full years in his field (math, English, science, etc.), a quick two weeks of school law, and a full year in a master teacher's classroom? No one needs a semester of chalking and projectors."

Education's ills are real and they're urgent. Just ask a teacher.

Elizabeth Scheutt is a frequent contributor to Cox News Service. 980521 21SCHU JIM ;05/21,15:31 thursdayopedno3headline byline2

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