Letters to the Editor
To the Editor:
Your recent article, "The Middle School--Philosophical Concept as Practical Solution" (Nov. 16) was read with much interest by the educational community in San Francisco, Calif. While today this approach is a "hot" educational concept, five years ago the San Francisco Unified School District implemented the grade 6-8 middle-school concept under a local educational redesign program after extensive administrative study and community input.
Our middle schools offer a student-centered and process-oriented curriculum rather than a teacher-centered, content-oriented approach. Many of the educational innovations mentioned in the article--team teaching, flexible scheduling, exploratory programs, and mini-courses--are vital components of our 16 middle schools.
Though our administration's major intent was to serve the special needs of adolescent students, the implementation of the middle school concept in our city better served our school integration program and placed our school district in a very competitive position with non-public schools.
Today, San Francisco public schools are the recipients of much positive national publicity centered on our notable increases in daily attendance, enrollment, and test scores.
It is a pleasure to note we were also in the forefront in establishing effective middle-school environments.
Marcia L. Hunt Public Information Officer San Francisco Unified School District
To the Editor:
The Cross-Finn script for totaling the Department of Education (Commentary, Nov. 16) was a howl, a real gas. Like most of your readers, I'm sure, I shrieked with delight when it stuck the Office for Civil Rights in the Army. Wow! And the part about dropping Title I on the Appalachian Regional Commission was inspired deviltry. Imagine putting aid to handicapped children in the Bureau of Printing and Engraving. Cool!
These haven't always been laughing matters for the authors. Both were responsible leaders of the bipartisan forces that almost blocked the creation of the department (Mr. Cross as a gifted parliamentary tactician and Mr. Finn as pamphleteer and theoretician extraordinaire), and both were, unsurprisingly, well-publicized front runners for senior posts in it when Ronald Reagan was elected. Only the heavy hand of right-wing politics kept them out. Fine fellows, honorable opponents (I favor the department), and valued colleagues of long standing--but they shouldn't have trivialized a grimly serious matter.
Whatever happens to the luckless Department of Education will, I suspect, be unsatisfactory to all but the ideologues who detest everything about it. The states and municipalities are already grumbling about losing a decent Washington presence in education. Parents are, at the least, highly skeptical, as are members of the Congress, about any move that might greatly reduce federal support of programs in their localities. And a thoroughly demoralized department staff, which includes some of American education's unknown heroes, is battling for professional existence on any terms.
This is not the time to reach for belly laughs. When and if the department bites the dust--and the dust clears--the schools will move straight back to where they were a generation ago: de facto segregation widening the gaps between classes of American children, short shrift for those with handicaps, fewer students able to afford college. By denying the Department of Education its moment in the sun, we are deciding, on the basis of no supportable evidence, that it didn't, doesn't, and can't work. If it has to expire, though, let's permit it to die gracefully and not to the accompaniment of poor taste masquerading as frivolous satire.
George R. Kaplan Senior Research Associate City University of New York New York City