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Good old school days.

The teacher lectured in front of a chalkboard. We sat in neat rows of desks listening. Every 10 weeks, we took a report card home and got Mom and Dad to sign it.

Traditional education. It was good enough for us. And our parents. And theirs. But for too many of our children, it just isn't working.

One-third of city schoolchildren are at least one grade behind in their basic math and reading skills. Educators and parents agree that too many students are graduating from high school ill-prepared.

Children and their parents are partly to blame. But so are educators who have failed to change.

Traditional methods still have their place and are successful with many students -- witness the parochial schools and public schools such as Campus East. But other students require something different.

"We have to find ways to do a better job so that children enjoy learning and are successful at it," said Linda Croglia, principal of the Makowski Early Childhood Center.

Why change?

A body of research produced in the past generation shows there are more effective ways of teaching than relying strictly on traditional methods. Classrooms that engage students in active learning and offer a variety of environments stand a better chance of reaching more children.

Children are different, especially those growing up in big cities. They are more impoverished and ethnically diverse and more likely to come from troubled family situations. The behavior and motivation of many students pose an unprecedented challenge for schools.

The job market has changed. Technology and the global economy have created a demand for a range of skills that can't be taught simply through lecturing or measured on multiple-choice tests.

The city's educational leaders need to look no further than their own classrooms for successful models: Child-centered classrooms at School 90. Engaging curriculum at Waterfront School. High-tech learning at the Science Magnet.

"We have some programs and innovations and teaching techniques that would rank at the top of anything going on in schools anywhere in the country," said Samuel Alessi, assistant superintendent for curriculum, evaluation and development. "The challenge is to make them a reality in all of our schools for all of our children."

Getting there requires better leadership, more money and a collaboration involving the schools and outside service providers. Fortunately, the district has a strong foundation to build on, and Hugh Petrie, dean of the University at Buffalo School of Education, said a revitalized system is within reach if the commitment is made.

"In principle, you could have the very best education," he said. "You could have all of the advantages of academics combined with the extra benefit of getting it in a multicultural setting."

The News' concluding stories on Buffalo schools begin on Page A10.

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