Letters to the Editor
Dorsey E. Enck Director of Management Services Pennsylvania School Boards Association Harrisburg, Pa.
I am taking this opportunity to express my views regarding the May 12 article, "Study on Collective Bargaining Shows 'Moderate, Manageable' Consequences." [The article concerned a study conducted by Susan Moore Johnson, a research associate at Harvard University's graduate school of education.] It is difficult for me to understand how a study that examined only six school districts "around the country" could draw national attention. This lack of understanding on my part is in light of several statistically sound studies done nationally, which were based on carefully developed research techniques, involving all levels of the educational community.
The article made much use of generalities, innuendos, and ambiguous statements that did not seem to have statistical support.
Several studies have shown that principals want to be more involved in the collective-bargaining process to protect management prerogatives and accountability.
Second, collective bargaining will probably never remove the "total'' effectiveness of the principal's role, since many studies have shown that the principal's leadership role is the most significant factor in educational effectiveness.
Third, private-sector collective bargaining should not be compared with public-sector bargaining for many reasons. Private-sector bargaining is based strictly on economic success in a free-enterprise system. Public-sector bargaining is based on services rendered with no competitive alternatives, a monopoly paid for with public funds. However, many of the characteristics of private unionism are developing in the public sector. Those characteristics, which are still in an infantile stage, include: adversarial relationships, union competition for dues-paying members, "strong arm" tactics in strikes and political action. Kids and their education have proven to be better pawns for bargaining than have coal or automobiles.
The researcher's approach is less than scholarly, and the conclusions very suspect.
Susan Moore Johnson replies: Mr. Enck appears to have read a brief article about my study, decided that the findings do not fit his beliefs, and dismissed it.
The purpose of this research has not been to legitimize one set of beliefs, as Mr. Enck implies, but to understand more fully and precisely how unions affect schools. As anyone who has read the study will realize, there are no simple answers.
Mr. Enck suggests that only one method of inquiry is "sound"--quantitative research. Although quantitative methods are good for investigating some questions, they do not adapt well to the organizational questions posed in this study. The qualitative methods used here, which are explained fully in the report, permit a more complicated inquiry and analysis of the effects I set out to study. The validity of the findings cannot be determined by statistical tests. Instead, the findings are valid to the extent that they square with the reader's experiences.
Alice C. Blair Deputy Superintendent Education Services Chicago Board of Education
I must take issue with George Schmidt's primary assertion that the Chicago Mastery Learning Reading Program (cmlrp) is a failure. (Letters, June 9, 1982.)
Since General Superintendent Ruth B. Love's release of the latest reading scores of high-school students, Mr. Schmidt has conducted a one-man crusade against cmlrp, using data that are obviously unsupported by facts or logic.
For example, he maintains that the Chicago public schools are significantly less successful in teaching reading to their students than other urban school systems. Yet, there are no existing data that prove that Los Angeles, New York, Detroit, Philadelphia, and other cities have reading scores that are better than Chicago's.
To the contrary, scoring results in these cities are not higher, and they are not likely to be higher in the near future. Chicago's problems, like those in other major cities, are the problems of urban education, not of continuous progress or of mastery learning.
Mr. Schmidt has persistently attributed Chicago's low reading scores to continuous progress and mastery learning. And, in his description of these programs, he ultimately has theorized that "bottom-up" or skills-based reading programs are unsuccessful.
Such criticism, however, is in direct contradiction to research conducted by leading educators on the characteristics of effective urban schools. These characteristics include objectives-based goals and testing, in general, as well as phonics objectives, in particular. Never does Mr. Schmidt prove his point by reporting scores from urban systems that use a non-objective based program with success. But, then, he has probably found this impossible to do, since such data simply do not exist.
Mr. Schmidt's point of view is, reportedly, the consensus of reading experts such as Kenneth Goodman. However, it is the opinion of at least one newspaper reporter who interviewed him recently that Dr. Goodman has never seen the cmlrp materials and has no clear knowledge of the program.
As we in the Chicago public-school system have maintained time and again since Mr. Schmidt launched his series of empty attacks against our reading program, there is an enormous teacher and student reservoir of positive and successful experiences with cmlrp, if only he would take the time and interest to discover them. We hope that he will do so soon, at least before he writes another article or letter to the editor exposing his ignorance of this subject.
Anthony Marchione Associate Superintendent Staff and Community Relations Baltimore County Public Schools Towson, Md.
I agree with Peter R. Greer's statement that we should "keep only the best and most qualified teachers in the nation's classrooms" ("Another Simple Truth: We Must Get Serious About Deciding Who the Best Teachers Are," Commentary, June 2, 1982). Unfortunately, Mr. Greer's article gives the impression that no one is succeeding in retaining the ''best" teachers when reduction in force is necessary.
In Baltimore County, Md., we are able to do this because of an evaluation process and a reduction-in-force procedure that allows us to keep qualified and effective teachers. I am sure many other school systems have effective teacher-evaluation programs.
The teachers in Baltimore County are evaluated by an appraisal team that includes the principal, assistant principal, supervisor, helping teacher, and department chairman.
All administrative and supervisory personnel are trained in the process through extensive staff-development programs. As a result, we have been able to bring about consistency in what we expect of each administrator as he or she implements the school system's appraisal process.
The appraisal process includes identifying expectations for teachers, working with teachers to list yearly goals and objectives, observing their work in and out of the classroom, conferring with them on strengths and weaknesses, and writing a final evaluation with an appropriate rating.
This process was developed by a committee that included teachers and administrators. A standing committee with a representative from the teachers' association has been responsible for monitoring its implementation.
The Evaluation of Personnel Advisory Committee has recommended a number of revisions and refinements to the process over the past several years. By involving the teachers' association, we have had a commitment to making the process work that not only makes it possible to eliminate poor teachers but also protects the teachers' rights.
Ineffective teachers are terminated or counseled to leave teaching every year by this process. We do not keep "bad teachers."
Principals are held responsible for following appropriate procedures and recommending which teachers should be terminated. Area assistant superintendents become involved by confirming or denying these recommendations. As a result, the quality of the teaching staff in Baltimore County has improved each year.
The teacher-layoff provisions in Baltimore County are not used to eliminate unsatisfactory teachers. We believe that the appraisal system we have established is the appropriate procedure for doing so. Therefore, when decisions about reduction in force must be made, we are considering only individuals who are rated at least satisfactory.
Our reduction-in-force provisions in the Master Agreement allow us to keep teachers who are qualified to teach their subject and who have demonstrated their effectiveness. Probationary teachers and those holding a Class II Certificate can be laid off regardless of seniority. While seniority of teachers in each area of certification is taken into consideration with respect to layoffs, junior teachers are retained "where other relevant and valid considerations justify the retention of a less senior tenured teacher." This provision is similar to the one suggested by Mr. Greer.
During the past four years, we unfortunately have had layoffs in the Baltimore County public schools because of budgetary reductions. The most junior teacher has not always been the one placed on the layoff list. Our best teachers who are qualified to teach the subject are kept. We believe in maintaining quality teachers during this period of declining enrollments.
We have been striving to achieve excellence in our schools, and our teachers' association has aided in this endeavor by agreeing to contract provisions that allow us the flexibility to keep the most qualified teachers and to protect teachers' rights. It is too bad that the Mr. Greer's article has given many people the impression that his lament applies to all school systems.
J.P. Lutz Director of Elementary Education and Douglas K. Whittaker Principal Franklin Park Elementary School Lee County School District Fort Myers, Fla.
Dorothy Gilliam's "Fashioning a New 'Analytical Framework' for Black Youth" (Commentary, June 1, 1982), was long on the rhetoric and short on the analytic. She offers up the shoulders of those who have gone before upon which minority children should stand and fight. We suggest that Ms. Gilliam offer something of greater substance: that her daughter and millions of other minority children stand on their own feet and produce. It may not be as "analytic," but it is definitely more realistic.
It is downright silly to think that "disadvantaged" children, whether they are minority, poor, or from single-parent families, will do poorly on standardized tests because of their home environment alone. It is even more silly, we suppose, to believe there are not legions who think this way. But lies are seldom put to rest through fights; fighting falsehoods only gives credibility to the distortion and, if fought long enough, the lie will become so ingrained that whole generations will believe it to be true.
We believe this myth of inferiority can be laid to rest in hundreds of schools across the country with hard work and common sense. One of the most common tools used to propagate this myth is the standardized test score. However, we have discovered this to be the very tool most effective in refuting this lie.
Our example is Franklin Park Elementary School, an inner-city school in Fort Myers, Fla., with a population that is predominantly black--a school where 73 percent of the pupils come from single-parent homes and where 93 percent of the children receive free or reduced-price lunches. This school boasts test scores that are among the highest in the district's 25 elementary schools. In fact, the children who went to middle school from this school scored higher than the county, state, and national averages in all achievement areas. The school received no special monies; in fact, it dropped some of the fancy programs and replaced them with direct teaching and time to learn. Excuses were replaced with very high expectations for student behavior and achievement.
Children at this school are much too busy thinking about their futures as physicians, lawyers, and teachers to bother about something as vague as standing on someone's shoulders. They are now free--free from the myth, free from excuses, and free to stand on their own two feet.