Letters to the Editor
To the Editor:
In reviewing a recent issue of Education Week, I was pleased to see a Commentary by Judith D. Singer on the history of P.L. 94-142 ("10th Anniversary of P.L. 94-142: A 'Visionary' Law That Has Worked," Education Week, Feb. 27, 1985). At the same time, I was extremely disappointed by the reference she made to "special schools" as places where students are "hidden away."
There are many so-called "special schools" in Massachusetts and elsewhere that have been providing outstanding educational programs for handicapped students. In fact, these private schools were providing special-needs education long before the public sector ever considered taking on this responsibility.
The special school exists because special needs exist. While I am pleased that public education has made significant gains in providing for the needs of many handicapped children, there remains a significant number whose needs cannot be met in the public schools.
I feel confident that Ms. Singer's comment was not intended with malice toward special schools. However, it implies an "us versus them" attitude. We would prefer to think that those of us in the private-school sector provide one part of a continuum of services for children whose needs cannot be met by others.
I sincerely hope that this letter will be looked upon as the start to better communication between public-school educators and private-school educators for the benefit of all children, particularly those with special needs.
Michael L. Talbot Assistant Superintendent Cotting School for Handicapped Children Boston, Mass.
To the Editor:
I thoroughly enjoy Education Week and look forward to its being passed on by our building principal.
I sure was surprised, however, that Thomas Hobart, the president of New York State Teachers United, would equate choices in education with choosing, of all things, a golf course ("Teachers' Union Attacks New York Tax-Credit Plan," Education Week, March 13, 1985).
To me, it reflects a very shallow understanding of education in general and, more specifically, of the rights and responsibilities of both parents and the state in education.
First, attendance at school is required by law, golf is not.
Second, parents have the prior right to determine the form and philosophy of education they wish for their offspring. To compare something sacred with the frill of golf is ridiculous.
And last, it is sad that biased arguments must cloud a real issue of justice.
I congratulate you for trying to present all side of issues as fairly and objectively as possible. Please continue.
James Sustman Art Teacher Washington High School Two Rivers, Wis.
To the Editor:
Morris Freedman's suggestion that precollegiate educators "publish or perish" is not in the best interest of students. Publishing has nothing to do with the art of teaching. One cannot assume that educators who write about effective teaching know how to put their theories into practice in the classroom.
Although Mr. Freedman claims it is "egregious nonsense" to argue that publishing takes time away from teaching, those of us who work with children in elementary and secondary schools know it is egregious nonsense to argue that writing articles for publication does not take time away from educating students.
Beside teaching during the school day, precollegiate teachers' responsibilities include writing curriculum guides, planning lessons, making teaching aids, writing reports, conferring with parents, attending meetings, and supervising extracurricular activities. According to a recent report by the Rand Corporation, a typical secondary teacher works 47 hours per week. Many of my colleagues in the Grinnell-Newburg Schools work even longer. Add "publish or perish" to the long work week and teachers will have less time to devote to educating their students.
Of course, precollegiate educators should be well-informed and articulate, but look for evidence in classrooms, not professional journals. Mr. Freedman should be reminded that actions speak louder than words.
Norma J. Reimers Fourth-Grade Teacher Davis Elementary School Grinnell, Iowa
beth: plz run this before gibbon or ranson. pw.
To the Editor:
As an educator with experience as a secondary-school teacher, elementary-school principal, director of instruction, and college professor, I have some trouble with Morris Freedman's recent Commentary ("'Publish or Perish' for Precollegiate Educators," Education Week, March 27, 1985).
Mr. Freedman's notion that merit pay and promotion for teachers should depend at least in part on their publication record sounds like a bright idea rather than a carefully reasoned proposal. Much as I agree with his desire to recapture prestige for elementary and secondary teachers, his idea doesn't take into account the publishing world in the field of education, the training of teachers, or the actual work of teachers in schools.
First, the journals that now would accept the kind of article suggested by Mr. Freedman are few in number, and many of them are not refereed in the same sense that academic journals are.
Second, teachers are typically trained in subject matter and pedagogy, not research or publishing skills.
Finally, as the profession is now structured, teachers would have to spend about half of the time they now devote to teaching and related duties to thinking, researching, and writing to meet the requirements Mr. Freedman proposes.
So, all we need to implement Mr. Freedman's proposal is several new journals in education, about 50 might do for starters, plus colleges of education that would add required courses in research and writing, and boards of education that would agree to double their instructional staffs or make other enormous expenditures to provide the staff time needed for the proposed new publishing requirements.
Along the way, we would also have to change what legislators and society expect of elementary and secondary schools, as well as establish school-admission standards so that difficult students and students with special needs would not be part of teachers' workloads.
My proposal would be more modest: Make professional contributions from teachers more valued, but in areas other than simply classroom teaching. Teachers should be recognized for such things as working on curriculum development and inservice-training programs for their colleagues, writing texts and manuals, and experimenting with the use of improved teaching methods in collaboration with college and university researchers.
Of course, much of this is now being done, so I admit that I am reporting the information, not inventing the ideas for future use.
Hugh W. Fraser Associate Professor of Education The Pennsylvania State University Executive Director Pennsylvania School Study Council University Park, Pa.
beth: please run after fraser. thanks, pw.
To the Editor:
Morris Freedman's case for requiring public-school educators to "publish or perish" rests on a number of assumptions that should not be accepted on faith.
He argues that this evaluation system effectively identifies superior teachers, contributes to the expansion of knowledge, and raises the prestige of the teaching profession. But does the evidence from postsecondary education provide support for these assumptions?
Since effective teaching requires communicating with students at their current level of understanding, while publishing requires satisfying editors and referees, there is no clear correlation between superior teaching and publishing success. For evidence of the actual degree of correlation between the two, one could examine the student evaluations of professors along with their publishing records.
Contributing to a field requires divergent thinking and unconventional insights, while publishing requires conforming to the standards of editors and referees who often act as keepers of the faith. It would seem, therefore, that there is no necessary correlation between contribution to a field and success in publishing. For evidence on whether "publish or perish" expands knowledge, one could look historically at what percentage of the total number of articles published within and across disciplines actually present fundamental innovations.
Since the prestige of a profession is seen by the public as resting on its serviceability to society, while its prestige within the profession rests on standards accepted by others in the field, there is no necessary correlation between public status and success in publishing. For evidence on whether "publish or perish" raises the prestige of professors relative to those who do not publish or those in other professions, one could examine numerous sociological studies of the ranking of professions according to their status in our society.
I am confident that on each count the evidence will show that "publish or perish" fails in postsecondary education, making it a thoroughly bad proposal for precollegiate education.
But that is not the most serious failing of Mr. Freedman's article. Most discouraging is his lack of concern for reasoned discourse or the statement of assumptions and hypotheses in testable propositions, so that correlations among them can be observed.
Mr. Freedman's article typifies the low quality of debate on public-policy issues in this country. If professors will not engage in reasoned discourse, we will continue our academic jousting over ill-defined issues, the public will remain unenlightened, and policymakers will continue to ignore us.
Baldwin Ranson Professor of Economics Western State College of Colorado Gunnison, Colo.
Beth: plz run this after fraser. pw.
To the Editor:
Morris Freedman has a point. It is indeed sad that a profession of several million people makes no contribution to the intellectual life of the country and very little to professional matters such as curriculum or pedagogy. Teachers are passive and unambitious when it comes to matters beyond their classroom or school. The reform movement has been initiated and carried through by professors and legislators.
Certainly, some incentives for publication would increase the "respectability" of precollegiate education and perhaps that would encourage the ambitious and talented to try teaching and to remain in the profession. However, much would have to change.
Secondary-school teachers teach five classes a day and an average of 125 students. If you are grading papers and doing your job right, there is no time for a serious intellectual life. The job is very different from the leisurely life of professors--90 percent of whom make no contribution to scholarship.
Furthermore, most teachers are not intellectually equipped to publish. An average combined score of 800 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test suggests bare literacy--hardly the skills necessary to string together interesting thoughts.
Let's face it--despite Mr. Freedman's nostalgia for the good old days when "teaching used to be a prestigious profession," precollegiate education has always been in every way designed to attract the average and unambitious. The profession has always provided easy access, low and uniform salaries, much menial work, and little chance for advancement. That a few manage to surmount these restrictions is a compliment to the idealism and self-sacrifice teaching can elicit.
But to seriously consider changing the teaching profession in order to attract scholars and writers would be an expense and diversion of talent that would not appeal to the American public--a public that does not value disinterested inquiry or the intellectual life.
Mass education in America requires millions of workers--albeit nice, dedicated, minimally educated workers--performing low-level, repetitive tasks. The original, the eccentric, the brilliant--the potential "publishers"--are misfits.
Peter Gibbon Director, Upper School Hackley School Tarrytown, N.Y.