Letters To The Editor
John H. Hollifield, in his letter to the editor, called the Scholastic Aptitude Test "the specific measure that we use to judge all ... high schools ("An 'Effective' School That Fails To Meet the Standard Measure of Effectiveness," Education Week, March 21, 1984). Who is the "we" he is talking about? The sat is a fine measure for colleges to use--along with other criteria--in trying to predict the academic performance of an individual applicant, or for students to use--along with other criteria--in selecting a college. But it is not an appropriate measure for judging a high school's effectiveness.
First, the sat is not designed to measure most of the instructional objectives an effective high school ought to have. Second, and far more important, the test is administered to a self-selected group of students in the school. Since such students are drawn from the top of nearly any talent distribution one would want to consider, any attempt to increase the pool of college applicants by encouraging promising students to take the sat will have the effect of lowering the school's mean score. Given two schools of equal "effectiveness" in educating their students, the one with the higher proportion of sat-takers will have the lower mean score.
The sat should not be used to judge the effectiveness of the instructional program of any school, any district, or any state. That some people do so is regrettable and something the education profession ought to work to change. That Mr. Hollifield, who is assistant director of the Center for Social Organization of Schools, does so is especially regrettable because it shows how far we have to go.
Jeremy Kilpatrick Professor Department of Mathematics Education The University of Georgia Athens, Ga.
John H. Hollifield, in his letter to the editor, disputes my appraisal of St. Benedict's as an effective inner-city high school located in downtown Newark, N.J. ("Great Expectations, Successful Schools," Education Week, Feb. 29, 1984). He claims that St. Benedict's fails the grade because the average Scholastic Aptitude Test scores run below the national median. Wrong, Mr. Hollifield.
Leave aside Mr. Hollifield's odd contention that the sat is the "specific measure that we use to judge all ... high schools." Many would now agree that the sat, like other standardized tests, is a limited, cognitive, sometimes barren, and often misused instrument, by no means a complete or standard index of a school's overall quality.
The St. Benedict's pool of test-takers is radically different from the nation's "macro-pool" of 18-year-olds who take the sat, a point that a Johns Hopkins education specialist like Mr. Hollifield might have found obvious. As my essay stated, every senior at St. Benedict's takes the sat; three-quarters of the nation's high-school seniors do not. The fraction of lower-class black and Hispanic students in urban schools who fail to take the sat is much, much larger than this.
Also obvious, perhaps, is that St. Benedict's serves students with greater verbal and mathematics handicaps than those of students at the college-oriented, green-garden public schools where sat-taking is the norm. If intellectually able, middle-class kids do better on average on the sat than do the students of St. Benedict's--who have extremely disadvantaged backgrounds and widely varying scholastic capacities--that's no reason to cynically attack the kind of urban school, public or private, that can give authentic reformers some hope.
Gilbert T. Sewall New York, N.Y.
Evolutionists would have us believe that they are trying desperately to save the world from the threat of that dreaded danger--creationism. Any person deserving of the title "scientist" should not be afraid to investigate any body of data through, of course, the scientific method.
Since evolution is admittedly unprovable, it can hardly be defended as undisputed fact. After all, a scenario of life's origins that begins with an unexplained "big bang" that yields several planets conveniently encircling a source of heat and energy is quite a leap of faith in itself. And to visualize one of these spheres coincidentally falling into a rotation that keeps it from either burning or freezing is truly astonishing. Moreover, we are expected to believe that something called "life" somehow began and, again for unknown reasons, expanded--possibly as depicted in the infamous "Blob" movies.
Surely such hypotheses, weakly supported by unreliable dating methods, challenge the imagination of even the most avid adherent of science fiction. Creationism is no less based on a belief system than is evolution. To promote only the system of evolution as constitutionally acceptable is, I fear, more the result of political pressures than either common or scientific sense.
The curriculum in our public schools must be free to ask ultimate questions. We must not be afraid to provide our students with different points of view just because a wealthy and judicially active minority would dictate that we teach secular dogma. In a free country, we deserve and demand better!
Richard Daugherty Superintendent Dodge Public School Dodge, N.D.
James W. LoGerfo obviously considers himself to be among those "broadly educated people" who should be permitted to teach without having been exposed to the "questionable benefits of education courses" ("The Crisis in Education Is Mainly a Crisis in Teacher Education," Education Week, March 21, 1984). This "broadly educated" critic takes one instance and concludes that it is typical of all of teacher education. I learned long before my first course in college that this is an unforgivable bit of stupidity.
Education Week is, on the whole, an excellent publication. It should reserve its valuable space, however, for enlightened and well-meaning criticism.
Gurney Chambers Dean School of Education and Psychology Western Carolina University Cullowhee, N.C.
James W. LoGerfo's citations of incompetence among education faculty members remind me of the university history professor I once had who used our valuable time to preach his doctrinaire views on economic cooperatives.
Also, I hold to dim views of the competence of some of those who prepare and publish social-studies textbooks (based on one particular social-studies series).
Am I to conclude--using the LoGerfo research-methodology and logic pattern--that "the crisis in education is mainly a crisis in education writing wherein the author is both a history professor and a publisher of social-studies textbooks?"
Eldon Breazier Curriculum Coordinator Unified School District 331 Kingman, Kan.
James W. LoGerfo's Commentary on the sad state of teacher education is a broad indictment based on very limited evidence. A traveler who judges all roads in the country based on one trip on a road that is in very poor repair exhibits unfair judgment.
Teacher education in America may or may not be in as bad shape as Mr. LoGerfo says, but his one unfortunate trip through the field provides no basis for his generalizations.
Gerald P. Speckhard Chairman Department of Education Valparaiso University Valparaiso, Ind.
Mr. LoGerfo certainly presents a depressing view of teacher-education programs. If such programs exist, it surely is deplorable. What I find most disturbing is that Mr. LoGerfo generalizes from his experience to condemn all education programs. I am reminded of the man who observed: "All Indians walk in single file; at least the one I saw did."
Mr. LoGerfo was trained as a historian. Would he assert that all history programs are alike? Is experience with one dull history professor grounds for condemning all other history professors?
Gov. Thomas H. Kean's solution to the improvement of education in New Jersey appeals to Mr. LoGerfo. Teacher training is unnecessary, proponents of Governor Kean's plan believe. One cannot help but wonder whether Governor Kean and Mr. LoGerfo are ready to close down New Jersey's schools of engineering on the grounds that bridges built by the graduates of those schools are in terrible shape.
When the nouveau critics of education are finished taking pot shots at the "establishment" and move on to other trendy issues, those of us who recognize the complexity of the problems will still be here trying to solve them. In contrast to Mr. LoGerfo, I doubt that the demise of professional education will contribute to better schools.
Larry A. Harris Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies College of Education Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Blacksburg, Va.