In The Press
Blaming teachers for the poor performance of students is "comforting," writes Diane Ravitch, author of The Troubled Crusade, in the Nov. 7 special issue of The New Republic devoted to education.
In her article, "Scapegoating the Teachers," Ms. Ravitch, who is associate professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University, suggests that the blame is falling on teachers because that relieves "so many others of their own responsibility for many years of educational neglect."
Those "others," she says, include colleges that lowered their entrance requirements, thus undermining high-school graduation requirements; business employers who set up multimillion-dollar programs to teach their workers basic skills, instead of telling the public that the schools were sending them uneducated people; state legislatures, which diluted or abolished high-school graduation requirements; the press, which has been indifferent to educational issues; the federal government, which has "toyed" with the curriculum and introduced programs, regulations, and practices that narrowed teachers' professional autonomy in the classroom; and the courts, which have whittled away the schools' ability to maintain safety and order.
"With so many guilty parties still at large," Ms. Ravitch writes, ''it should be clear why almost everyone seems eager to pin responsibility on the teachers for the bad news about the schools."
The New Republic special issue also includes articles on President Reagan's federal education policy, merit pay, illiteracy, and magnet schools.
James Fallows, the Washington editor of The Atlantic, says he began his study of America's "new immigrants" with a bias against one product of the new wave of American citizens--bilingual education. But, in this month's issue of the magazine, Mr. Fallows says he has changed his mind.
"Bilingual education is inflammatory in large part because of what it symbolizes, not because of the nuts and bolts of its daily operation," Mr. Fallows argues. The success of bilingual education in the classroom is mixed, he maintains, but that is true for almost every pedagogical method.
What makes bilingual education controversial, he writes, is the sometimes strident advocacy of leaders in the Hispanic community. "I felt ... irritation welling up when I talked with many bilingual instructors and policymakers. Their argument boiled down to: What is so special about English?" That rhetoric notwithstanding, Mr. Fallows reports that he found Spanish-speaking people generally eager to learn English.
Indicative of this desire, he writes, are the findings of a 1982 survey conducted by the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project. Ninety-four percent of Chicanos between the ages of 18 and 25 could speak English, compared with 78 percent of those between the ages of 66 and 87.
Public-school advocates would be well-advised to stop believing myths about Catholic schools and instead to emulate many of their characteristics, Danielle L. Schultz writes in the November issue of The Washington Monthly.
Partly because of the celebration of church-operated schools by New Right leaders, Ms. Schultz contends, "liberals" often instinctively react negatively to the idea of parochial schools. The shortsightedness of that attitude, she says, is suggested by the interest in Catholic schools shown by black families--one of the key constituencies traditionally supported by liberals.
Ms. Schultz debunks the "myths" that Catholic schools are just for Catholics, that they keep open by using the low-cost labor of nuns and brothers, that they accept only the best students, and that they provide an education inferior to that offered in public schools.
The ability of Catholic schools to fire incompetent teachers, to hire bright young people without education credentials, and to discipline their students, are among the traits public schools should copy, Ms. Schultz concludes.
An article on the U.S. Education Department in the September/October issue of Common Cause magazine contends that conservative officials in the department have crippled or eliminated many programs designed to help those students "most at risk." Common Cause is a public-policy lobbying organization.
In "School for Scandal," Senior Editor John Hanrahan and Staff Writer Julie Kosterlitz argue that "a New Right element appointed by President Reagan has been calling the shots at the Department of Education."
The writers contend that the Reagan Administration has used the department as a "dumping ground" for extremists.
"While right-wing organizations outside the agency have been carrying on a major propaganda campaign blaming the federal government and 'Washington bureaucrats' for declining educational standards, falling test scores, lack of classroom discipline, and even decaying moral values, the right-wing appointees on the inside have already wreaked havoc on the department, crippling or effectively eliminating some programs and slashing funding for others."
According to the article, most of the affected programs--such as bilingual education, programs for the handicapped, civil-rights enforcement, and monitoring of Chapter 1 funds--"were designed, ironically enough, to help those students [the National Commission on Excellence in Education] termed 'most at risk."'
The article treats in detail the dismissal of Leslie Wolfe, a career employee at the Education Department. The authors allege that Ms. Wolfe was forced to give up the directorship of the $6-million Women's Educational Equity Act Program after being "riffed" by the department in August, following an attack against her in The Conservative Digest that influenced her newly appointed superiors.
As one of the few social programs spared by the Reagan Administration, Head Start is a unique effort that has "managed to be many things to many constituencies," according to Peter Skerry, a doctoral student in the department of government at Harvard University. His article on the program--"The Charmed Life of Head Start"--appears in the fall issue of The Public Interest.
Some see Head Start as a federal compensatory-education program, he writes, although it is administered by the Department of Health and Human Services, not the Education Department. Others, Mr. Skerry says, see it as a provider of medical and dental services to poor children. At the same time, he points out, the program also provides employment opportunities for many of their parents, a fact that often is overlooked. Still others see the program as a catalyst for community change, he notes.
Because of Head Start's broad appeal, "even the most zealous critics of big government have recognized the political cost of taking on this particular program," Mr. Skerry says.
The Administration has supported the program, he notes, but "with little enthusiasm. Indeed, it has done so with its eyes shut, not wanting to look too closely at what it has come to embrace. The irony is that if Administration conservatives were to examine Head Start more carefully, they would find that this most popular survivor of the war on poverty actually demonstrates the validity of their concerns with self-help, individual sacrifice, and private initiative."