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World’s best school systems don’t exploit idealism of young talent

Thank you for your recent story on low pay for tutors at Match charter schools (Page A1, Dec. 30). Lawrence Harmon’s op-ed (“Define tutors as what they are: volunteers,” Jan. 4) unfortunately drew all of the wrong conclusions from this scandal.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should state that I was a volunteer in VISTA after graduating from college in the 1970s. I made so little money that I had to work as a night watchman on weekends to avoid going on food stamps.

More recently I’ve studied high-achieving school systems around the world with very different policies from those in the United States. I’ve learned that none of these systems exploits the idealism of young people to advance their most important educational goals. Instead, these systems focus intensively on rigorous teacher preparation and support, especially in the crucial beginning years.


The idea that we should ask volunteers just out of college and with no teaching preparation to be at “the heart of local and national efforts to close the academic achievement gap,” in Harmon’s words, is preposterous. It reflects a dangerous and willful ignorance of the best international evidence on school improvement.

Dennis Shirley

Chestnut Hill

The writer is a professor at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College and is co-author, with Andy Hargreaves, of “The Global Fourth Way: The Quest for Educational Excellence.”