Letters To The Editor
Your series on the National Instititute of Education (Education Week, Dec. 8, Dec. 15, Dec. 22) has prompted me to express the following concerns:
If mistakes of the past are to be avoided, people appointed to positions at nie must be aware of past research and trends in education if they are to design requests for research proposals in the future. Their language in formulating such proposals must be precise. If people applying for funds can not understand the proposal request, they will not be able to respond with proposals of high quality.
People in these nie positions must have the respect of the research community if they are to attract top-flight research proposals.
One of the most important roles of nie staff members is the involvement of professionals in planning, conferences, publications, and in the critical research-review process.
If these people are not respected, they will not attract expert assistance.
I recognize that the new director may wish to move in an entirely new direction. But the new direction will hardly involve top quality research since none of the appointees are researchers. There is a need to involve more school practitioners within the administration of nie, but the overall direction must be in the hands of someone who understands how to formulate researchable, important, and relevant questions for the future.
For all of nie's past faults, it is clear to me that the organization has had an enormous effect as a leavening force throughout the research community.
For every 20 proposals funded by nie, at least another 80 are eventually funded by other sources.
Donald Graves Director, Department of Education The University of New Hampshire Durham, N.H.
In response to Eugene Epstein's and Ira Gelb's commentary, "The Lessons of Japanese Productivity" (Education Week, Dec. 15, 1982), I would like to make a few comments that may put their essay into a more honest light.
There are several unique features of the Japanese education system: It is run by the federal government; there is limited entry, (based on national testing) into grades 10 and beyond; a national examination determines entry into Tokyo University, which essentially guarantees lifetime employment with a major corporation, (or defeat, despair, suicide, and exclusion for those who do not pass the test on two tries); and there is an essentially ethnically "pure" student population, which relieves Japanese schools of the race-related problems faced by those in this country.
With those factors, the Japanese have done brilliantly what they had to do for their society's needs and desires and are to be commended for it.
American society has always been more diverse ethnically and geographically. How many of our students, past and present, have not heard: "melting pot," "free enterprise," "Protestant work ethic," "Horatio Alger," and so on. States and local governments control the schools, not the federal government. And President Reagan is pushing to reduce the federal role in education.
The laws permit students through age 21 to stay in the public-school classroom except under extreme conditions, and they mandate that teachers "teach" them.
Many of our schools throughout the United States do an exemplary job even with these restrictions.
For example, North Allegheny School District places 66-to-71 percent of its students into postsecondary schooling, and its students' sat scores have never dropped below 1963 levels.
Yes, a strong educational system clearly has a positive effect on society. Rather than constantly criticizing its weakness, let's look at American education's strengths and find ways to build on them.
Campbell Witherspoon Staff/Program Coordinator North Allegheny Schools Wexford, Pa.
After reading your article, "California Board Proposes New 'Model' Curriculum" (Education Week, Dec. 15, 1982), I was left with the same feeling that one has after hearing a sick joke.
I cannot believe that the California board is serious about their recommendations, but if they are, they had better be ready to answer the following questions:
1. Where are you going to find enough mathematics and science teachers?
2. When will students find time during the school day to take electives such as business education, home economics, and industrial arts?
3. Will special-education students be exempt from some of these requirements?
Does the California board really think that educationally or mentally handicapped students will be able to understand algebraic and geometric concepts? These "special" students will undoubtedly be exempt from these two courses, as well as from a number of the other courses recommended by the board.
There will also be many non-special-education students who will be unable to meet minimum levels of comprehension in a number of the board's new requirements (unless, of course, the requirements are watered down to the point of being ridiculous or unless the teachers give passing grades for "effort").
Will there be an increase of non-special-education students wanting to join special-education classes to gain exemption from taking one or more of the required courses? Will California end up with college-bound students (required to pass the courses) and special-education students (exempt from taking the courses) with nothing in between? This is an interesting possibility, but hardly practical.
4. Whatever happened to statewide minimum-competency testing? This is the only way the legislature and the taxpayers will really know if their students are learning what they want them to learn. Perhaps Californians think it is best that they not know.
5. Will local districts or the state be able to afford the additional expenses for remediation and the added demand for special-education services?
But why should I get so excited? This "model curriculum" is only being proposed and would not be binding on districts. Also, the board committee was chaired by a mathematician. What else could be expected but a recommendation for three years of mathematics?
The California board (and Superintendent Bill Honig) probably expect to retreat once they begin public hearings from January through April 1983. Their motives are probably political anyway. They will get thousands of California citizens involved and receive positive press for their valiant efforts. Meanwhile, within the local districts, the educational process will go on as usual. The state board is at it again. Ho hum.
Edward Butler Superintendent Astoria Unit Schools Astoria, Ill.
I am responding to your article, "Publishers Reluctant To Develop 'Courseware"' (Education Week, Nov. 24, 1982). Although your comments may represent the major publishers' reluctance to produce educational software, their reluctance should not be taken to mean that excellent software is not available.
Our educational cooperative in southwest Colorado has developed an educational software lending library for member school districts. Consequently, we have had the opportunity to review and use many programs. To be sure, very little of the collection has been produced by major publishers.
I would venture to say that probably most of the companies putting out good software did not exist even a couple of years ago.
Yes, there is a lot of junk on the market, but even so, there are also a great many excellent, significant programs available right now. And there is no question that the scope and quality of educational software is noticeably improving over the short run.
We are, as various people have pointed out, in the midst of an "information revolution." One of the results of that will be overall decentralization, which will have significant effects on the way business and education are organized. It may become much less necessary to rely on the major publishers as individuals and small companies begin to produce high-quality programming for a wide array of individual applications.
R.W. (Bill) Brown Executive Director San Juan Board of Cooperative Services Durango, Colo.
Your series on the sad state of staff-development programs (Education Week, Sept. 29, Oct. 6, and Oct. 13) casts some light in a dark corner of education. Careful observers have long noted (and teachers have long chafed at) the trivial and episodic character of staff-development programs. The slicker programs offered by national curriculum and principals' groups also suffer from those faddish and fragmented qualities. Few seem to care, and those who do seem too often to appear to be crying in the wilderness.
The Cheltenham [Pa.] Public Schools and the University of Pennsylvania have developed, over the past two years, a modest alternative to present staff-development practices.
This approach incorporates in more than six days of training several topics that relate to learning, such as techniques for analyzing and teaching concepts, communication skills, instructional design, and curriculum theory.
These topics are integrated through extensive readings and with two complementary models of learning: one based on brain research, the other on the intellectual-humanist tradition.
Thomas R. Stretton Jr. Curriculum Coordinator Cheltenham Public Schools Cheltenham, Pa.
Richard A. Gibboney Chair, Educational Leadership Program University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education