The "high failure rate" at Westerly High School (The Sun, Oct. 11) may just be an indication that teachers are taking their responsibilities seriously.
The main problem with education across the country is not that students get failing grades. A more serious problem is that they often get passing grades for failing work. And that gives students the wrong message.
At the University of Rhode Island, we see students who have graduated from high school lacking the most basic ability in writing and arithmetic. In fact the problem seems to get worse with each new freshman class:
How do you teach an elementary course on probability to students who do not know how to multiply 1/2 by 1/3 or 0.2 by 0.3? In 1991 we have students who cannot multiply 0.17 by 100 or divide 2 times 13 by 2 without laborious paper-and-pencil computations. And a significant percentage of college students suffer from the delusion that 1/2 plus 1/3 equals 1/5.
No one wants to be the ogre who gives out failing grades. So teachers in high school and at colleges and universities often give a D or C to a student who really earned an F.
I do not know the teachers at Westerly High School or the math class which had 49 percent failures. But, on the basis of my experience at URI, I was not surprised that so many students earned an F.
I was surprised and encouraged to learn that there are teachers who are not afraid to tell their students that bad work (or no work) is not acceptable.