Letters to the Editor
To the Editor:
It grieves me that my article "The Magical Success of Private Schools" has offended some of my colleagues (Letters, Oct. 26). Certainly that was not my intention, particularly since I agree with one of my critics that teachers, in both public and private schools, have enough problems without bickering among themselves. But after a careful examination of my conscience, I really can't see that the fuss is justified.
I find it strange to be accused of criticizing or "putting down" private schools for doing what I myself studiously attempted to do during my six-year tour of duty as a high-school dean. As I understood it, one of my main functions was to try to get rid of our hard-core troublemakers.
My big problem, of course, was that I didn't have the options that were available to my peers in the private sector. I didn't condemn the private schools; I envied them.
But I do see that my piece impinged on a widely cherished domestic myth. Americans are fond of believing that their good fortune and success are the by-products of their virtue rather than of some favorable rigging of the system. Hence, teachers and administrators in good schools tend to speak glowingly of their "hard work and dedication," clearly implying that their colleagues in other schools owe their fate to their sloth and ineptitude.
I am not minimizing good teaching and administration, just placing them in proper perspective. My experience has convinced me that good schools begin with good students. It is up to the staff to make the most of them.
Admittedly, a handful of problem cases can be redeemed in the proper environment. But masses of bad students will overwhelm the best system. I envy the innocence of the writer who thought that my Alphonse and his antics were "fictional." Would it were so.
Sadly, I can assure my reader that his was a relatively mild case, chosen only because he had gone to a private school prior to coming to us. There were (and no hyperbole here) at least ten dozen youngsters who were far more destructive in their behavior and who would never begin to be considered for admission to any school which could exercise the slightest bit of selectivity. I don't claim that private schools have abused their power of selection. From the little I've seen I think they've acted with compassion and restraint. But I find it a trifle hypocritical to pretend that they don't have a crucial option that I am denied.
Edmund Janko English Department Bayside High School Bayside, N.Y.
To the Editor:
In the Commentary section of the Nov. 2 issue of Education Week, an article entitled "Throwing Money at Schools" by Eric A. Hanushek, presented a considerable amount of misinformation.
If Education Week purports to be "American Education's Newspaper of Record," at least there should be some attempt to keep the data
accurate. It seems incredible, in these troubled economic times, that a professor of economics would have the gall to criticize any other profession.
I am reminded of Harry Truman's comment that he would like to find a one-armed economist because when they give a prediction or an explanation they always finish with "but on the other hand."
Specifically, Mr. Hanushek obviously has no idea at all of how schools are funded, or the tremendously wide variance between how schools are funded, often in the same state. His most damaging statement, however, is when he indicates:
"At this point we have a story about what doesn't improve schools, but we don't have a story about what does. An enormous amount of research has been devoted to identifying the elusive characteristics of teachers, classrooms, and schools that predict student achievement. The underlying notion is that such characteristics, once identified, could form a blueprint for a successful school system. Despite the considerable effort, no list of ingredients for a successful school or classroom has been uncovered. There is little or no reason to believe that we are close to discovering one."
For a person who pretends to have even the slightest knowledge of educational research and practice to make such a statement is incredible.
The fact is that specific factors leading to school success have been identified. They are not that complex.
They are, however, of such a nature as to require considerable expertise and leadership to attain. The specific points are as follows:
High principal expectation--there must be strong administrative leadership on the building level.
There must be strong emphasis on basic skills.
There must be high teacher expectation--the teacher must believe that students can succeed.
There must be adequate time spent on the task of specific learning.
There must be parental involvement or strong adult support.
There must be a classroom climate that is conducive to learning.
To provide a classroom climate conducive to learning, several factors must be presented:
Teacher behavior (verbal and nonverbal) utilizing specific instructional skills is the single most important factor.
Classrooms must be structured and the teacher must be supportive.
The teacher must use constant positive feedback or reinforcement.
There must be recitation or response by the student to make certain that learning is occurring.
Training programs which make this type of teacher performance possible are available, and in fact are being utilized in a number of school districts in the United States.
The reality is that teaching is moving closer to becoming a true profession than ever before, and articles such as Mr. Hanushek's which are apparently from another era, do little to forward the cause.
I would hope that your paper would be more careful before printing that sort of nonsense--especially when some of us who read your paper know what is going on.
Thank you for your consideration.
John Pagen Superintendent of Schools Waterford, Mich.
Editor's Note: Education Week takes no editorial positions but makes its pages available to readers for their comments, criticisms, and ideas.
To the Editor:
I very much appreciate the attention paid to "Options in Education" and to my role in producing the series. However, not emphasized enough in the article are the roles played by co-host Barbara Reinhardt and associate producer Rebecca Goldfield, both of whom are vital to whatever success the series enjoys. We function as "interchangeable parts," interviewing, editing, writing, and doing production work as necessary.
Two mistakes I'd like to correct: In that liquor episode, two men who sold to minors were arrested and convicted; sadly, they only had to pay a $500 fine, although that law may be changed, partly as a result of our program.
Finally, my series for PBS, "Your Children, My Children," will be
produced, in cooperation with the Institute for Educational Leadership,
public television station KTCA, in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and each PBS program will be followed by a four-hour national call-in on public radio.
Again, my thanks for the fine article.
John Merrow Producer Options in Education National Public Radio