Letters To The Editor
I read with interest Stuart A. Rosenfeld's commentary on vocational education ("Vocational Agriculture: A Model for Education Reform," Education Week, Sept. 26, 1984). For the most part, it is right on target. As a former student of vocational agriculture, a farmer, and a concerned legislator in the state Senate in California, I have had quite a bit of experience with the subject.
In 1981, the teachers of vocational agriculture in California realized that their program was being largely ignored at the state level. They brought their problem to the legislature and, knowing my background in agriculture, to me. Together, we developed a strategy to reform vocational agriculture in California. Our methods and procedure might well be worthy of emulation throughout the country.
We chose a three-step procedure. The first step was to re-establish a unit for agricultural vocational education within the state education department. This would assure continuity of administration and help give direction to local programs. The second step was to develop and define what the agricultural vocational-education program in the state should be. The third step was to get funding for the program.
To make the package more acceptable to other members of the legislature, I advised that we put the first two steps into legislation without funding. To our dismay, the major opposition came from the education community. We did, however, get the legislation passed and then spent several months fighting educators to get it implemented.
The second step of no-cost legislation was to develop a state program for agricultural vocational education. The legislation stipulated that an advisory committee be formed to work on the program. Committee members were to serve at no expense to the state and be phased out at the end of one year. We found many agricultural-industry people anxious and willing to serve. This advisory committee met for several months and then presented its work to the legislature and the state board of education.
The advisory committee proposed 15 standards complete with compliance criteria. It was estimated then that $6 million would be needed to fund the additional costs to districts with vocational agriculture programs.
During the summer of 1983, a colleague in the Senate saw an opportunity to add $6-million to the state budget. This met with some opposition and we compromised on a figure of $3 million. A proviso that local districts match that amount was attached, along with an additional requirement that limited funding to expenses other than salaries.
We are in the second year of funding at this level and we expect the state superintendent of education to make it a permanent part of his budget.
The 15 standards and compliance criteria are improving vocational agriculture programs in California. Ten of the standards generate no cost to school districts. The remaining standards, which require such things as reductions in class sizes, complete summer programs, and additional student supervision, are cost-effective. The increased funding helps compensate districts for additional costs in these areas.
I and several of my colleagues from the legislature have taken the opportunity to make "on site" visits to local programs. We believe the program is working and that reform will definitely strengthen our agricultural vocational-education programs in California.
As a follow-up to this, I have since put into place additional legislation that creates a permanent advisory committee for vocational agriculture. This has helped put the agricultural industry solidly behind agricultural education in California.
I pass along this information because I think it might have implications for all of vocational education. The "back-to-basics" reform movement must not be carried out with complete disregard for, or at the expense of, vocational education. Vocational education is still important for the majority of our young people.
Senator Jim Nielsen California State Legislature Sacramento, Calif.
Your recent article on the National Commission on Excellence in Teacher Education hearings held at San Francisco University leads off with what seems to be a blast at teacher-training programs that is attributed to yours truly ("Teacher-Training and Credentialing Programs Attacked in Hearing," Education Week, Oct. 31, 1984).
Nothing could be further from the truth.
In my testimony, I merely intended to inform the committee that currently in our physics department we have a few students about to receive B.A.'s who seem to me to be particularly well qualified to teach physics and mathematics in the high school.
My intention was simply to ask the committee to consider mechanisms that would allow us to channel these gifted students into an area where we are told the need is particularly pressing.
I certainly did not intend to cast any aspersions in the direction of the excellent school of education at San Francisco State University and, in particular, I can state categorically that I have only the highest regard for its dean, Henrietta Schwartz.
Gerald A. Fisher Chairman Physics and Astronomy Department San Francisco State University San Francisco, Calif.
Editor's note: The comments quoted by Education Week were made by Mr. Fisher in prepared testimony at the hearing.
I was appalled to learn through the media recently that the New York Jets defensive end, Mark Gastineau, was involved in a New York City discotheque brawl and was sentenced by Criminal Court Judge Alan Marrus to serve not as an inmate, but as a "teacher" to adolescent offenders at a Rikers Island juvenile facility.
Many teachers are offended when so-called "celebrities" are punished for crimes by being "sentenced" as teachers for some community human-service agency or prison program. Would Mr. Gastineau be assigned to serve 90 hours as a surgeon at Mt. Sinai Hospital? Would he be sentenced to serve as a public defender in the district attorney's office in Queens? No!
What will youthful offenders learn from him--that crime pays? Will they learn that if you are a celebrity or a person of means, you can get off easy for an act of violence? The jury should have recommended a punishment or "rehabilitation" experience worthy of Mr. Gastineau's talents (18.5 quarterback sacks)--like 90 hours of protecting the homeless and starving street people of New York City from the muggers and thugs who prey on the helpless.
Teaching is a beautiful profession! It shouldn't be seen as punishment by soft-hearted judges. It is a privilege to teach youths--even young folks who have special problems like the kids at Rikers Island. As educators, we should protest the "help" we are getting from well-meaning but uninformed officers of the courts.
Sylvester Kohut Jr. Dean, College of Education Kutztown University Kutztown, Pa.
Your recent Commentary ("Miss Manners: Rules for Teachers, Parents,'' Education Week, Nov. 21, 1984) begs for a response from teachers, museum educators, and those parents who receive your publication.
The separation of experiences between home and school is a reductionist, if not a bureaucratic philosophy. The learning process should build personal databases through a continuum of experiences found in the school curriculum and augmented by a community's cultural resources.
The director of the language-arts bureau of the Chicago Public Schools remarked recently, "We can't teach language arts unless we provide experiences that foster curiosity and interest so that students have something to talk, read, and write about. ... Museums provide these experiences for our students ... [and they] lead to exploration and discovery in other subject areas." The director of the bureau of foreign languages agreed and commented that "museums bring our books to life.''
Teacher training in science and mathematics has rightfully emerged as a new national priority. But what about the human experience of awareness and understanding of cultural history, artistic expression, and geological and biological change over time, among others?
These are the things that museums are about. They are reservoirs, large or small, of real things that connect us to the real world and to our heritage. Whether it be in an art, history, or science museum, or a zoo or planetarium, the museum educator is ready and willing to make the excursion relevant to the school curricula. Suggestions for activities to do before or after the museum visit are available and usually recommended to teachers.
When used properly, a visit to a museum can change students' attitudes and interests and may even lead parents to new discoveries. A day out is most often the best day to share with our peers, family, and friends.
Carolyn P. Blackmon Chairman, Department of Education Field Museum of Natural History Chicago, Ill.
beth: this shd go after witherspoon or fisher. pw
I am a new subscriber to Education Week, and thus far I have enjoyed the issues that I have received. The articles have been informative and written for professional readers. In light of your publication's high standards, I was surprised to read the commentary by Judith Martin..
I found the article to be objectionable in that it made inaccurate assumptions about educationally sound procedures and provided a non-educator with a forum to speak as a professional. Our junior high school was selected as one of the outstanding schools in the state. Many of the practices that Miss Manners criticized were the very things that helped us earn our title.
It's time to blow the whistle on uninformed "know-it-alls" and to take a hard look at a professional publication that subjects its readers to the great wisdom of such a respected educational leader as Miss Manners.
Robert Crouch Principal Silver Hills Junior High School Osburn, Idaho
Beth: must go before blackmon. pw
Miss Manners! Where are your manners? Your presumptuous dismissal of teachers who find your rules for classroom discipline inadequate if not preposterous is most unexpected.
There has been a long line of woefully uninformed but influential people ahead of you who nevertheless feel qualified to tell teachers how to do their job. Perhaps public education would be farther along the road to improvement if more people were listening instead of dreaming up instant solutions to very complicated problems.
Fred Gibson Teacher Westside School Thermal, Calif.
I have some trouble following one of the tables that appeared recently in your "Databank" section ("Percentage of 1980 High-School Seniors Ever Married and With Children, Spring 1982," Education Week, Nov. 21, 1984).
Is socioeconomic status (ses) defined by the individual senior's ses or the parents' ses? How is cognitive-test performance defined? I find it hard to believe that the higher the test performance, the more likely the individual is to be married within two years of graduating from high school.
In the future, I think you should include more information in the tables defining the terms used.
Joel Margolis Policy Analyst, New York State Legislature Albany, N.Y.
Editor's note: The ses index used by the National Center for Education Statistics in the study cited was a composite of five equally-weighted factors: father's education, mother's education, family income, father's occupation, and household items. Respondents, the nces says, were placed in one of three subgroups (lowest, middle two quartiles, or highest quartile) based on "the weighted distribution of the composite score."