Published Online:

Letters To The Editor

Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints
  • CommentsComments

I found your July 27, 1983, special report on mathematics and science education to be of great interest. Although I am not now directly concerned with precollegiate science education, I was involved at one time when I served as director of the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (bscs), a group that selected and edited programs for science curricula.

From that vantage point, I would like to demur from the observations in the article, "To Democratize Science: Curricula for 'Citizens."' You write that the "... curriculum materials ... developed in the 1960's ... deliberately avoided applied science." In support of that position, you quote Paul deHart Hurd as saying that the curriculum designers "were 100 percent opposed to the notion of applications" and Robert Yager, who says, "All the mainline curriculum efforts got rid of applications."

To test those observations, I scanned the first edition (1963) of one of the versions (yellow) of the bscs volumes. That text is designed for 10th-grade biology students, and I found 11 pages devoted to malaria, five to pasteurization, 22 to small organisms of great economic importance, and three to edible and poisonous mushrooms.

Skimming through the index (from A to F) I found references to these topics: African sleeping sickness, agriculture (many references), pernicious anemia, sickle-cell anemia, antibiotics, appendicitis, artificial insemination, botulism, cattle (many references), cereal grains, clothing in cultural evolution, color blindness, corn (many references), coronary thrombosis, cortisone, cotton, DDT, death rate in U.S., deficiency diseases, food preserved by dehydration, diabetes, disease (many references), domestication of animals and plants (many references), Dutch Elm disease, amoebic dysentery, and foot and mouth disease.

Throughout many sections of the book, for example in genetics, illustrations are drawn from humans and domesticated animals and plants. Applications are literally woven throughout the fabric of the text. I am sure that is why many teachers and students found the bscs materials to be both interesting and teachable.

Incidently, many observers besides Education Week refer to the curriculum studies of the 1960's as "post-Sputnik reforms." Actually the first National Science Foundation grant to the Physical Science Study Commission antedated the launching of the Sputnik by several months. The work of the University of Illinois Committee on School Mathematics preceded Sputnik by several years. I suppose, though, that the label is useful regardless of the fact that it is inaccurate.

Arnold B. Grobman Chancellor University of Missouri-St. Louis

The special report on math and science education was outstanding. Would that it could be put in the hands of the general public to provoke discussion. Too few writings of this stature reach the people who need it most--the general population.

Another report focusing on social studies and the humanities is overdue. What is true in science and math is certainly more pronounced in the fields that are perceived as less important by the consuming public. Math and science can sell themselves to students and parents. These courses are like national-defense spending--sacred.

But students who are not able to communicate in their native tongue, much less use a foreign language; students who have digested a steady diet of rock music and TV jiggle shows; students who do not know or appreciate the past are not going to solve the problems of the future, regardless of the amount of technical training they receive. Students must develop taste as well as talent.

Teachers in these areas are also unappreciated and underpaid. Because their task has been viewed as unimportant, transfers within their disciplines are commonplace and little heed is given to expertise and skill. That anybody can teach history or social studies has long been the criteria in many schools. Teachers develop a poor self image. Teachers lacking self esteem can not inspire students to learn.

As past president of the Pennsylvania Council for the Social Studies and current editor of News and Views, the official publication of the Council, I am very concerned about education in general. There is a crisis in math and science but the problem does not stop there. The entire educational system needs to be strengthened.

Leo R. West Pittsburgh, Pa.

Replacing single-salary schedules for teachers with differentiated teaching roles and salaries is an oversimplified and divisive approach that is actually counterproductive to achieving improved teaching without having to increase public-school budgets.

The private-industry approach of rewarding excellence at the expense of incompetence makes good sense in a profit-oriented business. It does not work in a public-service, nonprofit area like teaching.

I have worked in successful systems operated under both pay approaches. Frankly, neither works very well in practice, although each sounds very good in theory. In one school district, the awarding of pay differentials pitted faculty members against each other. The school committee set a figure for the budget and then sat back and watched the teachers and administrators fight over who was going to get what. As one would expect, those who ended up doing well applauded the concept as vindicating good teaching, while the majority attacked it as arbitrary and unfair.

The dilemma is that creating and maintaining a successful learning environment in a public school requires faculty sharing, friendship, and trust in order to foster a spirit of collegiality. This atmosphere is much harder to nurture and maintain at the public-school level than at the college level for many reasons, the most obvious being the different ages and emotional and academic ability level of the students. The frustration and emotional intensity that schoolteachers must deal with every day is all too readily vented on fellow "lazy" staff members. Indeed, as any visitor to a teachers' room can attest, each department can easily be encouraged to attack others for having it easier. I realize that each department's "benefits" are more than offset by unmentioned burdens. Teachers do indeed all work equally hard, regardless of the discipline or the number of years in teaching, with the possible exception of the first year.

Pay incentives do not increase teaching ability. Teachers work not because administrators are standing over them holding a paycheck as an incentive, but because the students require it. Every secondary-level teacher has over a hundred students who must be dealt with every day. Teen-agers are very demanding and tough customers. It is the structure of the factory-model system of secondary education in America that needs to be changed, not the single-salary schedules.

The master-teacher proposal is a sound idea that has been around a long time. Any occupation that encourages its most highly trained and skilled personnel to leave through a lack of promotion opportunities and reduced rather than increased pay the longer a person works needs to be examined for structural organizational flaws. Making the life of an experienced teacher more like that of a college professor is certainly appealing to all of us in a profession that demands the same level of energy output every year regardless of one's age, experience, or pay, but such a practice has never been implemented because of its cost.

Critics of America's school systems must learn to approach the issue with an appreciation for the complexity of contemporary public-school education rather than presuming that cheap one-step solutions such as a return to basics, tuition vouchers, or differentiated pay scales for teachers will remedy perceived defects.

Steven O'Brien Social Studies Teacher Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School Hamilton, Mass.

Everyone is in favor of improving the quality of teaching in our schools, but the question remains as to how to do it. The leading suggestions all seem to focus on the individual teacher and take the form of merit-pay increases, stricter evaluation of teaching performance, and similar criteria. And all have been criticized as being susceptible to individual favoritism, political considerations, and so forth.

A completely different approach should be considered. I suggest that we focus on group performance of teachers in a school as an entity rather than on the teacher as an individual.

My proposal includes benefits to the teacher in the form of financial reward, recognition, constructive evaluation from other teachers, the elimination of favoritism, and other incentives that would motivate those who can improve the quality of education.

We must recognize that the education--good, bad, or indifferent--each student receives is not solely due to any one teacher but is the result of the efforts of several teachers who work with students as they pass from kindergarten through 12th grade, from elementary school through middle school and high school. We should think in terms of a team rather than individual performance. We don't want a student to be "well-educated" in only one year or one class or one subject; we want a good end-product after he or she has completed each stage of schooling. That means we should grade the collective efforts of the teachers at a school, and by rewarding that school, we also indirectly reward the teachers in it.

The reward to the school rewards all those who have something to do with its educational processes. Its teachers share in the financial reward and the intangible but greatly sought honor of recognition--and perhaps the greatest reward is the personal satisfaction of accomplishment.

In addition to the carrot, there is also a stick. Since each teacher would have a personal stake in seeing that every teacher does a good job, he or she might become motivated by honest peer evaluation. An inadequate teacher could be helped or shamed into doing a better job, all to the students' benefit.

My proposal also largely eliminates the possibility of favoritism or political considerations because the reward would be based on what a school has accomplished rather than individual or personal factors.

How would the school or schools be selected? I assume there would be several classifications of awards to cover the different school levels. I recognize that there will be problems about the method of selecting school winners--but certainly no more (and probably fewer) than for any of the present proposals based on individuals.

I can picture geographical nominations and screenings with final selections to be made by a statewide body (perhaps the Board of Regents or Board of Education or a blue-ribbon panel named by the governor). I assume nominations would be based on merit. For example, if a school superintendent plays a role in recommendations, it would be to that superintendent's advantage to make the right selections because only a meritorious choice could win in the final competition. If nominations were on a county basis, for example, county officials or educators would select a particular school to be its nominee in a final competition with entries from other counties which would be decided by the statewide body.

Since one phase of a school's reward might include a fund of money to be shared by the teachers in that school, it may be helpful to pattern that sharing after the method used by private industry in comparable situations. The usual profit-sharing plan allocates each share on a percentage of that individual's rate of compensation. That method has been approved by the Internal Revenue Service, and private industry has found it to be the most practical and acceptable method of sharing in a fund under such circumstances.

Incidentially, it is recognized that the differing contributions of the school's teachers may on occasion mean that even a poor teacher shares in a reward. By the same token, any individual teacher-reward program may see a poor teacher profit from political reasons. In that regard, no perfect program has been suggested.

Foster Furcolo Administrative law judge Needham, Mass.

Editor's note: Mr. Furcolo is a member of the Massachusetts Board of Regents. The ideas expressed here are his own.

Web Only

Notice: We recently upgraded our comments. (Learn more here.) If you are logged in as a subscriber or registered user and already have a Display Name on, you can post comments. If you do not already have a Display Name, please create one here.
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories