In “We will not draw only inside the lines” (September 30), Ted Kolderie offers ideas for change in K-12 education that were first promulgated by “progressive” educators 100 years ago and have had decidedly unprogressive consequences for students living at the urban core.

Kolderie says we are not getting the discussion or the necessary good thinking for decisionmakers to make needed changes — that we must understand what and where the problems are before proceeding.

But Kolderie himself does not understand that the vexing problems in K-12 education are 1) weak curriculum, 2) wretched teacher training, 3) lack of aggressive, highly intentional skill remediation, and 4) failure to provide needed resources to families struggling with dilemmas of poverty and functionality.

Students should, at the K-5 level, be acquiring logically sequenced grade-by-grade knowledge and skill sets in mathematics, natural science (biology, chemistry, physics), history, economics, psychology, world and ethnic literature, English usage, and fine arts (visual and musical).

At grades 6-8, this subject area emphasis should continue, with increasing attention to the study of world languages.

At grades 9-12, all students but those facing vexing mental challenges should be academically prepared to take Advanced Placement courses and to focus on electives meeting their driving interests in the liberal, vocational and technological arts.

An excellent education is a matter of excellent teachers imparting a common, knowledge-intensive, skill-replete curriculum to students of all demographic descriptors. Redesign must therefore focus on overhaul of curriculum for knowledge intensity, on the training of teachers capable of delivering such a curriculum, on skill remediation according to student needs, and on the delivery of counsel and services to families struggling with dilemmas of poverty and functionality by sensitive staff comfortable on the streets and in the homes of those living at the urban core.

Kolderie touts legislative changes that brought us Post-Secondary Options (PSO), charter schools, online learning programs, and interdistrict choice during 1985-1991. But most students are not prepared to take full advantage of PSO; charter schools were a demonstrably terrible idea; online learning has very limited utility, and choice sends parents scrambling for solutions that typically are not satisfying and neglects the hard work required to agitate for the needed overhaul.

PSOs provide opportunities for students to attend college and university classes and earn postsecondary credits while still in high school. Lamentably, very few students are academically prepared to digest information delivered by college professors: One-third of graduates of the Minneapolis Public Schools need remedial education once they arrive on college and university campuses.

As to charter schools, these have been a disaster, draining resources and attention from the mainline public schools while offering a quality of education that is even worse than that found in locally centralized school districts.

Online learning is at best an adjunct to instruction provided by the adroit teacher; it is not at all appropriate for students with critical academic needs and challenging life circumstances, who need a great deal of attention from skilled and caring teachers.

The best school systems in the world (South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Germany, Finland, Canada) design systems at the national level for the delivery of a consistent excellence of education throughout the nation. But in the United States we have a mania for local control. So the needed programmatic overhaul must come at the level of the locally centralized school district.

Excellent education consists of elements in direct opposition to those identified in this commentary.

We need greater commonality of curriculum.

Students should be challenged to move at the greatest possible pace along with their grade-level peers, with extra challenges once grade- level performance is attained.

Projects are an inefficient way to deliver knowledge and skill sets; impartation by a skilled teacher in lecture and whole-class discussion is far more effective.

Curriculum should be established at the level of the locally centralized school district for delivery to all students at given grade levels.

Kolderie’s approach gives no attention to the needed change at the district level, no consideration to the weakness of teacher education programs, and denies students the common knowledge sets that will send them forth as culturally enriched, civically prepared and professionally satisfied citizens.

Decisionmakers at the level of the locally centralized school district should be focused on curriculum overhaul, teacher training, skill remediation, and counsel to struggling families.

Gary Marvin Davison is director of the New Salem Educational Initiative in north Minneapolis. He blogs at