Letters to the Editor
John Caruso Jr. and Students of Multicultural Education Western Connecticut State University Danbury, Conn.
It was refreshing indeed to see the full-page illustration wishing everyone 'Happy Holidays!' (Education Week, Dec. 21, 1983). What made this drawing so poignant was the New Year conversion of the artist, Loel Barr, to the realities of multiculturalism in American society. No longer does she hide behind the insensitive facade of depicting races by their hairstyles. Ms. Barr is now dealing with people as they exist in our society, recognizing their individuality in appearance. We are all pleased with her enlightened perspective and hope that other readers will moderate their racially insensitive attitudes as did Ms. Barr. Keep up the good work in the new year!
Dina Fulmer School Director Upper St. Clair School District Upper St. Clair, Pa.
Tut, tut! Send your headline writer and proofreader back to 6th-grade English class. The headline on a recent article, "Education Highlighted in Governor's Messages to State Legislatures" (Education Week, Jan. 11, 1984), implies that one governor addressed many state legislatures, and the error is compounded by being repeated on the jump page.
The possessive of a plural noun ending in "s" carries its apostrophe after the "s." How can we expect students to master and use the rules of punctuation if the education community shows them such disrespect?
Editor's [sic] note: Good question. We hope that error will have been a singular occurence.
Edd Doerr Executive Director Americans for Religious Liberty Silver Spring, Md.
Bruce S. Cooper's arguments for coerced public support for private religious schools through tuition tax credits and/or vouchers ("Government Should Help Families Pursue Religious Education," Education Week, Dec. 7, 1983) fail to address the strong public-policy arguments against such plans.
Many countries tax their citizens to support parochial schools, but the results are not as felicitous as Mr. Cooper would have us believe. Curiously, he discusses only the example of Denmark, a small, homogeneous country. What may cause few problems in Denmark is responsible for many in Northern Ireland, where tax-supported religious segregation in education must shoulder a lot of the blame for the sectarian violence.
Political fights over "parochiaid" have led to strikes and riots in France and Belgium. "Parochiaid" has nearly destroyed public education in the Netherlands. In Australia, more federal aid per student goes to parochial than to public schools. In Spain, the government had popular support for shifting public funds from church to public schools.
No country is as pluralistic, enjoys as high a level of religious freedom, or has a constitutional tradition of church-state separation as does the United States. There is no good reason we should copy the mistakes of other countries.
Mr. Cooper fails to mention that tuition tax-credit and voucher plans contain no prohibitions against "add-on" tuition or additional private institutional support, which would leave per-student spending in private education far less equitably distributed than in public education. Administering a voucher/tax-credit plan would require "means tests" and pervasive government intrusion into family financial matters. Such a plan would lead to endless controversy over the "right" amount of government regulation of tax-supported private schools. Mr. Cooper's arguments will not stand up to the public-policy case against such aid.
The U.S. Supreme Court has held that tuition tax credits or grants (the equivalent of vouchers) are charges made against the public treasury to advance religion and are therefore unconstitutional. The 1983 ruling upholding Minnesota's tuition tax deductions did not overturn the earlier rulings and upheld the Minnesota plan on the shaky grounds that the aid to church schools was "attenuated" and that public schools received some minuscule benefits. The constitutional barriers cannot be wished away.
Nor does the public favor parochiaid. In all 14 referendums on the issue since 1967, parochiaid has been decisively defeated. Tuition tax credits were crushed 9 to 1 in the District of Columbia in 1981; vouchers were trounced 4 to 1 in Michigan in 1978. The Nixon and Ford Administrations failed to get a single school district to experiment with voucher plans that included religious schools.
Vouchers and tax credits would support the kinds of selectivity common in nonpublic schools. This is mainly religious, but nonpublic schools also enroll proportionately only half as many black students as public schools. Nonpublic schools tend to be academically selective and seldom offer vocational courses or serve handicapped children. They expel students and dismiss teachers for reasons not tolerated in public schools. Parents of nonpublic-school students, the U.S. Census Bureau tells us, have average incomes 37 percent higher than public-school parents.
Vouchers and tax credits would fragment our society along socioeconomic, creedal, ethnic, ideological, academic ability-level, gender, and other lines. It would tax all citizens for the support of schools not under their control, as are our public schools. It would undermine public education, replacing open democratic education with segregation and special-interest indoctrination. Teachers would become indoctrinators.
Parents have the right to enroll their children in religious private schools, but such schools should not be supported even partially by taxation. Religion is stronger in the U.S. than in any other country where religious institutions are aided by coerced public support. The American system of church-state separation and public education works. Any substantial parochiaid plan would have tragic consequences for religious liberty, democratic public education, and our nation.
Kathryn Diehl Education reviewer Lima, Ohio
Diane Ravitch's Commentary ("Bring Literature and History Back to Elementary Schools," Education Week, Jan. 11, 1984) hits the center of the target. The essay omits only one major pertinent point--the reason that elementary test scores give the very misleading impression that all is well in the elementary grades.
During the mid- to late-1970's, the major achievement tests were rewritten and "re-normed" downward. This occurrence, which has happened several times over the past 40 years, temporarily provides better scores. In truth, the standards have fallen over the years since the 1930's.
The slightly better scores were touted to the news media by the reading establishment as proof that the elementary reading problem had been "solved" and that all attention should be diverted to high-school problems, somehow missing the points that the "gain" was very small--from an abysmal level on the average--and that millions of children still score well below grade level throughout the elementary grades. Most of the news media have blindly followed in the direction they were misled; I'm glad to see that you are not following the herd.
May I suggest that you present a detailed review of the new section of Jeanne Chall's new edition of Learning To Read: The Great Debate, which gives the real reasons literacy is so poor in most schools. Ms. Ravitch is quite right in asking whether this "incredible phenomenon" of the ousting of real literature from the grade schools is a "product of the reading profession's fascination with the 'whole-word' or 'look-say' instruction." Precisely so, and not only is the reading profession "fascinated" with the wrong methods, but it persists in using them in spite of years of research discrediting the methods, as Ms. Chall points out.
The corollary suggestion would be that you avoid a typical "psycholinguistic theory" review from the reading world, as these are the people who do not accept any of the research and will not accept it in Ms. Chall's new section. (Psycholingusitics is just the new 1980's name for the old "look-say" theory; it is entrenched in most colleges' education departments as though in cement.) On the other hand, perhaps the garden-variety reviewer outside the reading field would have difficulty understanding the tremendous difference between the two kinds of ''phonics," and therefore the "passionate" controversy Ms. Chall discusses.
Jean Lloyd Education writer New York, N.Y.
When major corporations attempt to attract executives or reward them for good performance, they do so in a number of ways, including elevations in status (promotions, attractive job titles), monetary awards (bonuses, raises), and spectacular noncash benefits, sometimes called perquisites. Such "perks" include the use of company cars, planes, yachts, and apartments; special parking facilities and executive dining rooms; credit-card privileges; and free tickets to theaters, concerts, and sporting events. Perks have ranged from the deferred gratifications of stock options and savings plans where the savings are matched in whole or in part by the employer to the immediate enjoyment of free residences, country-club memberships, and even personal bodyguards.
The reward system of higher education is meager in comparison to that of the corporate world. However, status and monetary distinctions also serve to identify those in universities and colleges who have performed at a high level. For example, the ranking of faculty--from instructor to assistant, associate, and full professor--acknowledges differences among professors in relation to tenure and income. Such distinctions also carry with them differences in "social honor" or prestige, and can be associated with perquisites that enhance the teaching experience, such as high-quality hotel accommodations when presenting papers at professional conferences, institution-subsidized housing, and spacious offices.
The well-established differentiations and resulting rewards of higher education make more puzzling the absence of a similar reward structure in elementary and secondary education. At this level, the teacher is locked into an occupational status with no ranking system. All teachers have identical rank and the only way to move up is to move out of the classroom.
Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell, who convened the National Commission on Excellence in Education and who has greatly influenced President Reagan in this matter, has persistently chided the teaching profession for continuing to lose gifted teachers because there is "no career ladder for teachers that in any way parallels the academic-rank system enjoyed by college faculty." In a recent address to the Ninth Annual Conference of Public and Nonpublic Schools in New York, he recommended a solution that had been frequently suggested by the sociologists Martin Trow of the University of California at Berkeley and Holgar Stub of Temple University.
Almost a decade ago, Mr. Stub suggested a ranking system for teachers that would show gradations of rank without changing the teacher's major activity of teaching. The rungs of this career ladder would include those who are associate teachers (noncertified individuals), teachers (those who are beginning to be certified), career teachers (the majority of those with tenure), and master teachers (members of an elite group who have demonstrated outstanding teaching ability and professional skill). And although teachers--and their unions--have traditionally rejected any attempts to differentiate among them, recent reform initiatives in the states illustrate the growing commitment to the adoption of status distinctions.
When elevated to the rank of master teacher, classroom teachers have every right to expect rewards commensurate with their new status. However, merit pay does not presently seem to be a realistic appendage to the new position. Budget cutbacks and freezes and declining enrollments pretty well guarantee that these rewards will not be monetary. It is fitting then that the range of rewards open to this new elite mirror the reward structures of corporations and universities as being noncash benefits or perquisites. While public education cannot recognize excellence with fringe benefits of equal splendor, it is capable of generating a wide range of rewards for master teachers. Mr. Stub has suggested the following "symbols of rank and privilege":
Out-of-classroom time to give demonstration classes to beginning teachers, accomplish special projects, meet with visitors, or finish classwork. During this time (in the case of elementary teachers) the master teacher's class would be scheduled for activities like art, science, or music, to be supervised by a capable "cluster" of teachers;
Private offices--underused school plants make this a possibility--with personal telephones and private bathrooms; and
Special parking facilities.
It is now clear that the best and brightest of teachers do not remain in teaching. Indeed, many leave the profession within five years, perhaps because, as beginning teachers, they quickly realize that their ability has little value in advancing their careers. Maybe perks for master teachers are a practical solution to the problem.