Letters To The Editor
It was good to see your coverage of the English-as-an-official-language debate ("National, State Groups Pressing for English as Official Tongue," Education Week, Feb. 13, 1985). However, a lot more needs to be said and looked at.
As a national civil-rights organization that specializes in the defense and promotion of the educational rights of language-minority children, we are very concerned about the implications of this movement.
Regardless of its rhetoric and purported interest in language-minority children, U.S. English and its allies around the country contribute to a destructive "us versus them" mentality that undermines the progress made in several major states and hundreds of local school districts over the last 20 years to begin providing effective, nondiscriminatory special-language programs to students who need them.
Fortunately, from our perspective, state laws and referenda such as those mentioned in the article must be in keeping with federal and state civil-rights laws, including the federal Equal Educational Opportunity Act. This act entitles every child with limited proficiency in English to special-language programming.
Similarly, the California state referendum referred to in the article amounts to empty words since the bilingual-ballot provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act remain in effect, and have precedence. In this sense, the movement's legal importance is marginal and self-defeating.
This all reinforces our concern about the political thrust of the various state and federal moves toward proclaiming English as an official language. The situation in Florida, particularly, merits attention and analysis.
The current movement to support a state constitutional amendment must be looked at within the context of Florida's backwardness in the area of special-language programming for language-minority children. Florida stands alone among the large states with high numbers and high concentrations of such children in failing to have a state law that entitles them to appropriate English and native-language instruction.
Its state policy regarding such concerns is two pages long and provides no mandatory framework for ensuring local compliance with federal requirements, nor for systematic monitoring or funding of local needs.
U.S. English's involvement in Florida is thus especially irresponsible, and politically transparent. The Florida effort builds on the ugliest kinds of linguistic and national chauvinism growing out of the recent influxes of Cubans and Haitians, as well as the state's historical and continuing mistreatment of a large Mexican-American farmworker population, and increasing numbers of Central Americans and Puerto Ricans.
The most insidious aspect of U.S. English and movements like it is that their issue is a false one. In 14 years of combined experience around the country in language-minority rights advocacy, we have never met a parent who told us that they did not want their children to learn English.
We have met hundreds of parents who feel that their children are receiving ineffective English-language instruction by untrained, uncertified, monolingual personnel for as little as 45 minutes a day. These children spend the rest of the day receiving literally incomprehensible noise in classes that are conducted entirely in English without regard to the children's limited proficiency in that language.
In addition, many language-minority parents would like their children to develop and retain full literacy in their home language, and do not feel that the price for learning English should or need be the loss of their ethnic, linguistic, and cultural identities or self-esteem. U.S. English seeks to turn the concept of a "melting pot" into a state-imposed cudgel that reminds one of the damage caused to generations of Mexican-American children throughout the Southwest from the "No Spanish" rules that were enforced by corporal punishment and humiliation.
An international perspective broader than the narrow vision of U.S. English is also appropriate. Many nations of the world--from Switzerland and Spain to Canada and India--recognize more than one official language for varying purposes and at varying levels of governmental authority.
U.S. English and its allies would like to hold their breath until all this goes away. It won't. As a community and as its advocates, we are here to stay. In both languages.
Camilo Perez-Bustillo Staff Attorney Multicultural Education Training And Advocacy (meta) Project Inc. Cambridge, Mass.
Gary Sterling's recent letter saddened me ("In Support of Jumping Off the Computer Bandwagon," Education Week, Feb. 13, 1985). He is so right about "the junk that passes for software" and so wrong about the potential of computers to revitalize education and improve learning.
Like many a thoughtful critic, Mr. Sterling has not had the opportunity to see good software and good teaching with computers, so he joins the baby-with-the-bathwater disposal ranks. To say that the computer must confine students to rote learning and the self-evident is a mistake. The computer is a powerful tool, but it can only do what we humans program it to do.
The fault, then, is hardly with the machine; it is with the educators who are using a new technology to deliver old messages. Packaged learning, be it in print, film, or software, reflects what we want it to.
For the first time, a learning reformation--not unlike Martin Luther's--is possible. Each of us can develop expertise and understanding free of the constraints of the official doctrine (textbooks, worksheets, multiple-choice tests) and its high priests. We can both examine history and bridge the borders between disciplines. We can go further than syllabi can take us, because our only limits are the available, shareable knowledge and our own intelligences. It would be a shame to kill this open-ended medium by using it only for prescriptive instruction or tests.
As with any new technology, we have to be shown what is possible. There is marvelous software out there for all kinds of educational purposes. My hope is that the computer, together with the new kinds of software that take it beyond the textbook, will open up instruction, help us rethink curriculum and teaching styles, and restore the joy to learning.
Adeline Naiman Director of Software HRM Software Cambridge, Mass.
A recent article concerning drug use among teen-agers includes an opening paragraph that seems inaccurate ("Drug Use Among Teen-Agers Continues To Drop, Survey Shows," Education Week, Jan. 16, 1985).
The paragraph begins by saying, "The use of illicit drugs among the nation's teen-agers has continued to decline ... " and concludes with a reference to an entirely different group, "... 16,000 seniors at public and private schools ..."
One cannot, in sample research, generalize properly from a sample that is not really representative of the population from which it is drawn. Public- and private-school seniors are not representative of either public- and private-school students as a whole, or of all school-aged children.
Many school-aged children, although teen-aged, are not students, much less seniors, especially teen-agers who are nonwhite residents of one of the nation's major urban centers.
To headline an article on this particular survey as you did may increase the probability that school-based policies and programs dealing with the prevention of alcohol and drug abuse will be aimed only at students--children formally enrolled in and attending school--and that thousands of out-of-school, school-aged children, most of whom are teen-agers, will be discriminated against.
Carlton D. Trotman Coordinator, Special Projects Addiction Research and Treatment Corporation Brooklyn, N.Y.
Editor's Note: Lloyd D. Johnson, principal director of the study and program director at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, comments that it is reasonable to conclude that drug use among teen-agers is down based on the findings of the survey of high-school seniors. Although the study was confined to students and did not include dropouts, he says that "you would need an enormous offsetting shift among the dropouts to make the findings untrue."
While there are several interesting ideas in Nicholas P. Criscuolo's commentary ("Sweetening the Pot To Discourage Teacher Absenteeism," Education Week, Jan. 23, 1985), there are some important elements missing.
I would first quarrel with the underlying assumption that there is wholesale abuse of sick days. In my last 15 years of classroom teaching, I saw little of that. If teachers are guilty of anything, it is going to work sick when they should be home in bed. They have a real sense of responsibility and are reluctant to turn "their kids" over to a substitute.
If certain districts are having excessive numbers of absences, perhaps they should look at the working conditions in their schools. Perhaps teachers are being worn down by the stresses and lack of support in the school or district. Years of large classes, limited resources, and nonexistent support from the administration and parents can lead to physical, psychological, and emotional illnesses of varying degrees of seriousness.
Substitute money spent on Hawaii trips, fishing poles, or movie tickets for a few individuals might be better spent on improved working conditions and support systems for all teachers. Schools should try reducing class sizes or providing more aide time or volunteer help for routine clerical tasks. They could make release time and workshop opportunities more accessible to teachers. Many of those workshops and seminars are very energizing.
Maybe administrators could do some little things to make teachers' lives more pleasant, such as teaching a class for a teacher when he or she needs to meet with a parent or canceling a staff meeting because it's been a hectic week for everyone. Making teachers' lives more pleasant seems to be a wiser investment than raffle prizes.
When teachers do need to be out of the classroom and substitutes are called in, don't sell them short. Substitutes' effectiveness depends a great deal on the quality of the lesson plans that are left for them. Many do a fine job when they are given the proper information. Effective use of good substitutes can be an addition to a good program, not a liability.
Although I have real concerns about reward programs, I do feel that there is a place for the recognition of dedication and loyalty to the school. A plaque or certificate signed by the mayor or superintendent doesn't really mean much (though it is a nice gesture). Teachers with unused sick days at the end of their careers should receive partial pay, added insurance, or additional pension benefits. This type of recognition has real meaning to a person who has devoted a large portion of his or her life to others. Such a teacher deserves to retire with some added comforts.
Katie Stout Former 4th-grade teacher Franklin Elementary School Appleton, Wis.
In the "Update" section of a recent issue, you state that the Minneapolis school district has the nation's first minimum-competency test for kindergarten students (Education Week, Jan. 23, 1985). You add that the test was first administered in April 1984. If that date is accurate, then Minneapolis did not offer the first minimum-competency test for kindergartners.
The district in which I am employed has been giving a minimum-competency test to kindergarten students since the 1979-80 school year. My district developed minimum-competency testing for grades K through 10 in the 1978-79 school year and implemented it at the beginning of the following school year.
This testing in our district is part of our promotion policy, in which we use not only minimum-skills testing but also a standardized achievement test and teacher recommendations. A student must satisfy two of these criteria to be promoted. This has been successful for our district.
I do not mean to imply that our district was the first to have minimum-competency testing for kindergarten students. I call this to your attention only to correct an error if, in fact, Minneapolis did not institute its minimum-skills testing for kindergartners before April 1984.
Charles W. Spradling Director, Elementary Education Principal Platte County R-III Schools Platte City, Mo.
Patricia Albjerg Graham's commentary, ("Cautionary Admonitions from our Educational Past," Education Week, Jan. 30, 1985) presents a cogent argument for the implementation of outcome-based education in the schools of our country.
If implemented in heterogeneous classes with clearly enunciated objectives at each level, outcome-based education does away with the use of individualization as a rationale for tracking children into programs where less will be expected of them.
Believing that individual readiness is frequently an excuse for marking time and holding children back until they are substantially behind the better students, we in Red Bank, N.J., have equally high expectations for all our children at each grade level. This is reflected in pupil-learning objectives that all students are expected to achieve, expectations that our large minority population meets with few exceptions. As a result, the average achievement level on standardized tests in the basic-skills areas has grown by as much as five years in the four years since we implemented outcome-based education.
Where I part company with Ms. Graham is in her remarks concerning top-down models. The truth is that, had the Red Bank Borough board of education and its superintendent waited for the staff to agree to use outcome-based education and had we not determined to implement it, we would still be graduating large numbers of children who function two, three, and four years below grade level.
At the present time, outcome-based education is alive and thriving in the Red Bank schools in spite of its beginnings as a top-down model. This is because, having made a decision at the top level to implement it, all resulting decisions concerning curriculum and materials have been made by the staff. What I wish to emphasize is that a top-down model, mitigated by maximum staff involvement in its implementation, can ultimately be bought into by the staff and can flourish.
Joan D. Abrams Superintendent of Schools Red Bank Public Schools Red Bank, N.J.