Letters to the Editor
Jim Sutton Member, Iowa Block Grant Committee, and Administrative Lobbyist Iowa State Education Association Des Moines
Your story on block grants in the March 24th issue of Education Week mentions "winners and losers" and participation by private schools, but does not link the two. To determine the "winners," it is first necessary to reduce a state's allotment by the sum that accrues as a result of its private-school enrollment. If this were done, your list of "losers" would exceed the 32 states that you mention. Iowa, for example, with 10 percent of its students in private schools, would not experience a 6.6 percent increase, but a net loss. Under block grants in their present form, most states are "losers" in net public assistance to public schools.
A second problem is unfunded liability. A school that elects to continue a high-cost categorical program under consolidation must open that program to private-school students on an equal basis. The cost of providing high-cost programs to the private sector could exceed the income that accrues to a public-school district because of its local private-school enrollment. The result could be a reduction of public-school programs in order to fund high-cost programs in the private sector. The liability of any public-school district to provide programs to the private sector should be limited to the income that accrues as a result of a private school's enrollment. Otherwise, public schools will be obliged to eliminate high-cost programs in self-defense.
Your general observation, that block grants shift resources from the "have nots" to the "haves," is consistent with Iowa's disposition of federal allocation. Funds are indeed being shifted from urban districts to rural; from districts without budgetary surpluses to districts with surpluses; from districts with developed and successful categorical programs to districts that have been innocent of such programs. This is consistent with the President's philosophy. But the expansion of assistance to private schools in legislation that is reducing assistance to public schools is intelligible if and only if the objective is to shift public funds from public programs as a subsidy to the private sector. This is not consistent with the President's philosophy, but it is the major consequence of his block-grant legislation.
Finally, state departments of education have, by and large, failed to use the instability created by block grants to confront any of the major problems afflicting education in their states. The states have not attempted to use block-grant allocations to deal with problems of class size (a high-cost factor if ever there was one); teacher preparation; state-based educational research; or any of a number of issues relating to educational quality. The prevailing attitude has been to dispose of the issue of block grant planning and funding as quickly as possible on the grounds that the available funding was not worth the effort of risking leadership capital. The same state departments, however, have been diligently successful in ensuring that the maximum allowable state allocation is reserved for state department use. So much for educational leadership on the part of the state chiefs who labored long and hard to make certain that they remained in control of the block grants process.
Rudolph C. Troike Director Office of Educational Policy Research University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
I have found Education Week to be the best and most informative publication I have ever read in the field of education.
With this as prologue, I should like to point out several inaccuracies in a recent article that concern me, since one should expect that articles in a publication for educators--in contrast to an ordinary newspaper--not contain such inaccuracies.
In the news article, "Virginia English-Language Program is a Model for Other Districts" (March 24), the reporter refers to "the esl (English as a second language) method" [emphasis added] in describing the Fairfax County (Va.) program for limited English speaking students. esl today encompasses a great many methods and approaches--some highly ineffective and others quite effective--as does, say, the teaching of mathematics or French. One would not refer to "the mathematics method" or "the foreign-language method," and the reference used here is equally inaccurate.
The further statement that esl is a "bilingual-education method" further confuses the issue, and it will mislead many readers. Bilingual programs normally contain an esl component, which focuses on building students' second language skills while they continue their content learning through the medium of their native language, until they are able to switch over to English. This helps ensure that they do not fall behind in their content learning while they are acquiring English (as they would in an esl-only program).
Since bilingual programs include esl, it is inaccurate to state that esl has been limited in recent years. In fact, far more esl instruction goes on today than before the advent of bilingual education.
Finally, in contradiction to the article, there are also many linguists and language teachers who feel that traditional esl, taught by audiolingual methods and in isolation from the rest of the curriculum, is not pedagogically sound. Even TESOL, the national organization of the esl profession, has endorsed bilingual education, and has emphasized that the appropriate context for esl, whenever possible, is within a bilingual program.