Letters To The Editor
David Tavel Professor and Director Division of Educational Foundations College of Education and Allied Professions The University of Toledo Toledo, Ohio
I am glad Bruce S. Cooper admits that "prayer or meaningful religious practices are central" to the activities of parochial schools ("Government Should Help Families Pursue Religious Education," Education Week, Dec. 7, 1983). I hope that his comments will be read by the Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court and others who fatuously contend that while the state cannot aid the religious segment of private-school programs, it can aid the secular phase. There really is no secular phase, for religion is supposed to permeate every aspect of the schools' instructional operation. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine the local religious leader turning to his parishioners and saying, "Support our church school--it really does the same thing as the public school, but then we throw in a few religious activities."
Mr. Cooper is not the first person to suggest that the American ideal of church-state separation should be discarded, and that we should imitate those countries--he suggests Denmark--that have no First Amendment tradition. (Previous writers have suggested we copy the Dutch, the Spanish, and you name it.) That churches in our country are more active and dynamic than their counterparts in other Western nations, and that the U.S. has thus far been spared much of the religious strife that marks the history of these other countries is doubtless due primarily to our efforts at separation.
Mr. Cooper concludes that "giving families the resources to seek private religious education ... should not be abhorrent to a nation that prizes religious liberty." It is precisely this taking of tax monies from all the people and allocating them to promote religion that is the most abhorrent practice, violating the spirit of the First Amendment.
Mr. Cooper calls for government to help families pursue religious education. In this country, it is as much the business of government to get involved in promoting religion as it is in promoting the use of shoelaces. Religion--promoting it or combating it--is none of the government's business.
Alan C. Purves Director, Curriculum Laboratory College of Education University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Urbana, Ill.
I read with some dismay your article on American students' scores on the eight-nation test ("U.S. Pupils Rank Low in 8-Nation Test," Education Week, Dec. 21, 1983). As one who has conducted a 10-nation study of achievement in literature and is conducting an 18-nation study of achievement in writing, I can appreciate the zeal of The Dallas Times Herald. I can also appreciate the efforts of Glenn T. Seaborg [a Nobel laureate in chemistry who served on the National Commission on Excellence in Education and supervised the development of the science test] and the other experts who assisted the newspaper in developing the tests. We have found, however, that the matter is not simply one of making up a U.S. test and giving it in other countries, nor in having U.S. students take a Japanese or British test. Any differences in achievement levels will be meaningless.
First, there are clear differences in the curriculum in each subject from country to country--what is taught, when it is taught, to whom it is taught. A test made in one country will be unfair to students who have not had an opportunity to learn the material (as is probably the case of the Japanese students in geography in the Times-Herald tests). Do the Times-Herald tests reflect an international consensus as to what is taught?
Second, the sample of students tested should reflect comparable groups, and there is doubt as to whether they are comparable in the Dallas test. National school systems vary in many ways--some are more selective, most have students begin school at different ages, and most vary in the kinds of courses offered, even at the 6th-grade level. We have found, for example, that different countries have quite different expectations about the type and amount of writing instruction, and about the amount of classroom time that should be alotted for a single composition. All of these factors must be taken into account when one considers differences in national averages.
In sum, an educational Olympics can create a headline, but it cannot tell the public, legislators, or school boards what should be done. Ray Herndon [the Times Herald assistant managing editor who directed the project] says he is sending the results to legislators. What legislation can emerge if the results include no context, no explanation of results, and no set policy alternatives? I am sorry that Mr. Herndon could not wait for the results of the current International Association for the Evaluation of Education Achievement studies in mathematics, science, and written composition, and that he and the distinguished panelists have provided simplistic scores that only confuse those they hope to enlighten.
Mr. Seaborg responds:
The objections to The Dallas Times Herald study pointed out by Mr. Purves are thoughtful and to the point. It is clearly important for truly collaborative studies to be undertaken to develop instruments that will more fairly assess the understanding of science and mathematics among students of several different countries. To avoid the sampling problem, such studies will have to sample several different socioeconomic groups within each country.
While I appreciate the efforts of the Times Herald staff, I also appreciate the objections raised by Mr. Purves and encourage further studies that are more rigorous.
Gary L. Payne Superintendent Wyoming City Schools Wyoming, Ohio
After reading the New York Times' limited report of the U.S. Department of Education's ranking of the 50 states, I looked forward to my issue of Education Week. Alas, the Jan. 11 issue did not even bother to print the table. If school superintendents cannot expect complete reporting from education publications, where must we turn? At the very least, your paper could have given an address and office to which interested parties could write.
I realize that space is limited and many items must be reported. In the final analysis, it is a matter of priorities, and I guess a Secretary of Education's attempt to rank the 50 states was not worthy of complete reporting.
Editor's Note: The Education Department released the table just before the deadline for the Jan. 11 issue, which did carry a lengthy report on the subject. The Jan. 18 issue carried the table as a Databank on pages 12 and 13.