An Interview with Peg Tyre

The Good School, by award-winning education journalist, Peg Tyre, is a guidebook for parents looking to get the best education possible for their kids.  Susan Frasca recently reviewed The Good School and then had the chance to ask the author some questions by email.

 

Susan Frasca: What are the top 3 things parents should look at in a preschool? 

Peg Tyre: 1) Smiling engaging teachers who seems to know their students– and are actively working to remediate their weaknesses and take pride in their strengths. Crabby preschool teachers? Look elsewhere.

2) Preschool teachers should know what the building blocks of reading look like — there are many, but the biggies are letter sound correspondence and the ability to hear syllables– and give kids the opportunity to practice them often.

3) Teachers who give kids many, many early math experiences — measurement, talking about greater or less than, larger or smaller, etc, etc…

 

SF: How many schools do you think a parent should compare before making a decision about where their child attends school? 

PT: This is more a function of geography and family income. Some of us will have no choice at all. Others of us will choose between a wealth of options. There is no set number.

 

SF: How can parents phrase or rephrase questions that teachers and administrators typically give textbook or vague responses to without appearing confrontational?

PT: How’s this: “I’m sorry, I really don’t understand your answer. Can you say it in a different way?” Or  “I’ve been reading a book called The Good School and in that book, the author cites some research about (FILL IN THE BLANK HERE.) I was wondering if I could give you a copy and we could talk about how your program, class, curriculum incorporates this important research?”

 

SF: What should a parent look for in order to tell if the school administration is supportive of its teachers? When my kids, now in their 20’s, were in elementary school, whole language was all the rage. I’d never heard of it. I found it incredibly frustrating to allow them to misspell words in their essays and to assume words when they were reading, without attempting to sound them out phonetically.  Should a parent support a teacher’s techniques if they contrast with their own beliefs or is it time to look for a new school? If a parent cannot request the teacher they want their child to have, what can they do to help ensure that the teacher their child does have provides a good educational environment and learning opportunities?

PT: Stay on top of development in reading and math. Children should be moving forward in their development of skills in these important subjects. Make sure other subjects are being taught — there should be reading assignments in science, social studies and history– fact based and informational texts– as well as fiction.

 

SF: How can parents help their children become better readers when schools won’t subscribe to what has been proven to be effective in teaching kids to read? (A study of 72 elementary education programs at selective and not-so-selective teachers colleges revealed that only 15% of these schools were teaching aspiring teachers what the scientific community agreed were all the components of reading.)

PT: Read to your child at home. Every day. Keep a close eye on their progress in reading at school.  If they plateau, get a workbook on phonics and start working your way through it with your child. Get a tutor who specializes in science based reading instruction.

 

SF: You state that almost 30% of students accepted into a 4 year university have to take the remedial classes to do college-level work. That’s scary. How do students even get this far in the acceptance process if they aren’t capable of handling the work?

PT: In many communities, especially low income communities, standards are watered down. A “B” in a low income school is often an indication that kids are doing C level work. It’s a tragedy. The first inkling the kids get that they are not college ready is when they take the SATs and realize that they score too low to get admitted to good schools and to get scholarships.  It is tragic.

 

SF: I read that you have 2 sons. Have you encountered any specific incidents in their education that prompted some of your research? 

PT: Many times, I was pouring over some academic journal and I’d uncover (in dense academic-ese) a nugget of useful information and I’d slap myself on the head and think– AH! I WISH I HAD KNOWN THAT WHEN I WAS MAKING THE EDUCATION DECISIONS FOR MY OWN CHILD! That’s why I wrote the Good School– to translate some of this really important information into an accessible format that busy parents could use.

 

SF: What have you found to be the most effective questions you’ve asked to their teachers/administrators that helped in your decision process?

PT: How many new teachers did you have this year (if the number is none, this is either a good school with great teachers who the administration works to retain or a really bad school where no one ever leaves because there are no standards at all. If the number is really high, this is probably a school in transition (avoid it) or a bad school (ditto)

 

Peg Tyre is the author of The Trouble With Boys, a New York Times Bestseller, and was awarded the prestigious Spencer Fellow for Education Reporting at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. Her writing about education has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Family Circle and iVillage.com.

While raising her two children, Susan Frasca worked as a writer and editorial assistant for an award-winning parenting magazine, and quickly discovered that researching and writing about parenting issues is far easier than actually doing the parenting!  Married once and still to the best man she’s ever known, and with those children now grown adults, she writes on a variety of topics and has scores of bylines in multiple publications, as well as many other articles, blogs and books for which she can’t take credit – the downside of ghostwriting!

 

 

 

 

 

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