Letters to the Editor
Rudy Pouch Director of Special Services Ellsworth-Kanopolis United School District #327 Ellsworth, Kan.
I'd like to make a few comments on a recent article about national testing for new teachers ("Study Panel Backs National Test for All New Teachers," Education Week, March 20, 1985).
Do we need yet another study? It would appear that almost all of the high-powered thinkers have again missed the boat or else have become a part of the incompetence they object to.
No, salaries will not produce a long-term solution, nor will a national licensing examination for teachers. The boat I feel many educators have missed is the "boat of control." A lack of discipine, or control, and a lack of respect for teachers and schools are the real monsters we must tame.
One can look back to lawsuits and Supreme Court rulings to see where the erosion began. Flimsy claims against teachers because students failed to learn to read or to learn a specific fact, claims of abuse when firm discipline was used, and parents' failure to admit that they are a part of the problem and their tendency to place the blame elsewhere have all contributed to the decline in control.
When control left the classroom and school, so did some of the desire to push for excellence or do more than was required. Some teachers just did their jobs, hoping that the majority of students might learn and achieve. Yes, it's sad that a professional would fall into that trap, but after trying so long to seek excellence, one tends to bend under the pressure. When just touching a student can lead to charges of "battery," the human, caring side of education tends to suffer and ultimately the students suffer.
There must be a wedding of parents and schools, a return to some of the lost, time-proven standards and rules that made education great. Oh yes, I have heard how teachers and schools have "lost" respect, but one would have to look more closely at the factors leading to the decline in discipline to find the causes of that loss. That's yet another study.
We don't need another panel, study group, or commission. We do need to fund education, to return to some basic rules of conduct for students and teachers, and to get on with the job at hand--educating young people.
Kate Rousmaniere Social Science Department Dana Hall School Wellesley, Mass.
I was somewhat puzzled by your recent article on female students in independent schools, ("Girls in Independent Schools: Equality of Access Is Not Enough," Education Week, March 27, 1985).
The article, in examining the changing climate for young women in independent schools, drew little distinction between coeducational and single-sex schools.
It is incorrect to assume that women's studies or any curriculum with a feminist orientation has the same weight at a coeducational school that it does at a girls' school.
While women's studies may raise issues of curriculum modification or "incorporation" at coeducational schools (in particular, at traditionally boys' schools that are just learning how to incorporate girls into their structure), at a girls' school a feminist spirit is by necessity more acceptable, whatever form it takes. Otherwise, how could the school's philosophy be consistent with its continued existence as an all-female institution?
This is not to say that girls' schools are necessarily "more feminist" than coeducational schools. But girls' schools are in a position to accept women's studies in their curricula with much less fanfare and political debate than at coeducational schools.
Dana Hall School in Wellesley, Mass., for example--a school you did not investigate for this article--has offered an upper-level course in American women's history for three years and has consistently offered courses that examine black and white women writers as well as Western and non-Western women's perspectives in English, history, and modern and classical languages.
Ben Visnick Vice President nea Substitute Teacher Association Kensington, Calif.
Your recent article on substitute teachers was a welcome acknowledgment of the crisis we confront in maintaining continuity in the nation's classrooms ("Substitutes: The 'Other' Teacher Shortage," Education Week, April 3, 1985). There are some points, nevertheless, that need to be emphasized again.
Whenever a regular site teacher is asked to take extra students or give up a preparation period because there is no substitute teacher, education suffers considerably. There are teachers with credentials and talent who would return to the public schools as substitutes if the salary, benefits, and respect were of a professional caliber. And the exclusion of substitutes from summertime unemployment insurance increases the transitory nature of the substitute workforce.
Last October, a California state appeals court ruled in Board of Education of the Long Beach Unified School District v. Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board that substitute teachers were not entitled to collect unemployment-insurance payments between the close of school and its reopening in September. The judges' argument stressed the similarity between teachers and substitute teachers and insisted that if permanent teachers are ineligible, substitutes should be as well. Thus, the "Catch-22" practices of school districts and their friends in high judicial places continue to exacerbate the substitute crisis.
I believe the substitute shortage has been artificially created. Strong collective-bargaining agreements for substitute teachers may not be easy to achieve, but higher pay, fringe benefits, and professional treatment will only come through such overdue efforts. Substitutes need to be aggressively organized.
It is scandalous that both the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers are recruiting on an active basis all school employees except substitute teachers. The argument about substitutes being "transients" is begging the question; the issue is how we can make substitute teaching into a stable and respected part of the profession.
Sandra Feldman Executive Director United Federation of Teachers New York, N.Y.
Congratulations on your article about the growing substitute-teacher shortage ("Substitutes: The 'Other' Teacher Shortage," Education Week, April 3, 1985). It is high time thoughtful measures were taken to head off this imminent crisis.
I was surprised that your analysis failed to mention our union's role, although it referred to the New York City Board of Education's administrative efforts to deal with the crisis here through its substitute registry. I'm sure the registry personnel will confirm that without our success in raising pay and benefits, the registry's job would be impossible.
In 1982, the United Federation of Teachers capped a seven-year drive to become the collective-bargaining representative of day-to-day substitute teachers. The initial contract covering this group raised substitutes' salaries from $50 to $63 per day; set up a joint committee to consider the cost of providing health benefits; and guaranteed such working conditions as preparation time, a work day of a specific length, safety, access to restrooms, supplies, facilities for storing coats, integration with the rest of the school staff in appropriate activities, relief from nonteaching duties, limitation of teaching periods, union representation in disciplinary hearings, a grievance procedure ending in binding arbitration, and other due-process rights. We are currently negotiating the successor agreement, to be effective retroactively as of September 1984, and we hope for more dramatic improvements for this group.
We are proud of what we have accomplished so far and recognize that we still have a lot more to do. We believe that our approach of fighting for both substitutes and regular teachers in the same organization is beneficial to both groups and to the school system as well.
Of course, we can't do it alone. We hope the New York City Board of Education will support the necessary upgrading of salaries and benefits for these teachers that will be required to head off an even worse crisis than now exists.
Susan Ohanian Senior Editor Learning: The Magazine For Creative Teaching Springhouse, Pa.
I thought your readers might be interested to know that at the time my Commentary about one 12-year-old special-education student's difficulties in the mainstream appeared in Education Week ("To 'Pete,' Who's Lost in the Mainstream," Education Week, April 3, 1985), he was appearing in Police Court. Pete is charged with stealing a video-cassette recorder from the school. He also faces third-degree assault charges in an unrelated incident. Pete is now 16 years old.
Edmund Janko Writer, Public Relations United Federation of Teachers New York, N.Y.
Statistics can be treacherous. The same set of numbers or percentages can be looked at in different ways to prove all sorts of opposing arguments. Therefore, you should have been a bit more cautious in drawing conclusions in your article on the study, "The Catholic High School: A National Portrait" ("Catholic High Schools Found Sound, Yet Vulnerable," Education Week, April 3, 1985).
According to the survey, Catholic high schools expel "only" 1 percent of their students annually. This, your article says, disputes the ''widely held belief that Catholic high schools minimize behavior problems by simply expelling ... troublesome students ..."
But to me, from an urban, public high-school perspective, the 1-percent figure, which must seem so trifling to most readers, really proves that the "widely held belief" about how Catholic high schools deal with their bad eggs is true, not false.
Let's take a closer look at the statistics. When I was dean in a large public high school in New York City, we had the same percentage of expulsions for each of my six years in office, that is, 0 percent. We were able to expel no one, regardless of his or her behavior. The best we could do was occasionally arrange a "Fulbright" for one of our nasties, which meant trading with another school, their mugger for our arsonist or some other such deal.
According to the recent survey, the average Catholic high school has 568 students. In other words, 5.6 are bounced every year. In my school, we had a population of about 2,700. If we had been allowed to expel 1 percent, we could have sent 27 of our worst cases packing annually.
But this figure looms larger than a trifling 1 percent. In the dean's office, we did some of our own calculating and concluded that 200 hard-core problems caused 90 percent of the disciplinary referrals. By getting rid of 27 students, we would reduce our grief by more than 13 percent. So the "only" 1 percent in your article is really 13 percent to us, if you follow my logic.
Then there's the question of the balance of trade. Down the road from us, there was a large Catholic high school with about 1,200 students. If they ran true to the survey form, they expelled 12 a year, or 1 percent.
Guess where those students went after they were sent down? In other words, we began with our quota of tough cookies; after parochial-school house cleaning, we were up to our full complement of 200. On our part, we sent no one to them so we were stuck with an eternal deficit, growing by 12 per year. At the end of my six-year term, we were down, the survey suggests, 72 to zero.
Consider another angle. If we didn't get the parochial school's 12 rejects, we would still have 188 of our own. If we could have expelled ''only" 1 percent of our student body (that is, 27), we would have been able to reduce our grief factor by over 14 percent, up from 13 percent.
The survey contains an interesting set of figures that is not mentioned in your story. Catholic high schools accept 88 percent of those who apply. This is used as proof that they are really not so highly selective in choosing their students and makes them look even more successful. After all, they "only" reject 12 percent.
Again, the facts merit close scrutiny. The key phrase is "of those who apply." The several score students who spent much of their time in the dean's office in my day would never have dreamed of trying to get into Saint So and So down the block. In most cases, those who applied to the Catholic school had at least some sort of respectable record that would give them a shot at being accepted.
And we were no slouches with our own statistics. We accepted 100 percent of those who applied! If we were able to reject "only" 12 percent, we could have kept out all of our 200 hard-core problems and then some. We deans could have closed up shop.
Based on a proper reading of the facts and figures, the Catholic high schools, compared to public schools, are abject failures when it comes to discipline. First of all, they don't even consider our 200 rotten apples (over 7 percent of our school population). On top of that, they reject 12 percent more, which would amount to about 324 of our students. Amazingly, with all this skimming, they still expel another 1 percent. In other words, they're still cracking heads after effectively closing out 19 percent of the least desirable students. We, in our public high school, would have established a New Arcadia under those conditions. That's what the statistics prove.
Editor's Note: The conclusions referred to in the article were those drawn by the researchers.
Mike Barlow Community Affairs Oklahoma City Public Schools Oklahoma City, Okla.
I am disappointed that rivalries between national teachers' organizations are clouding important reform issues. The recent letter by Marilyn Russell Bittle criticizing Albert Shanker's support for a national teachers' exam smacks of such rivalry ("Writer Sees Call for National Teachers' Exam as 'Public-Relations Gimmick,"' Education Week, April 10, 1985).
A national teachers' exam will go a long way toward ensuring that all those entering the profession are literate. Granted, an examination cannot predict whether or not a teacher will be successful in the classroom, but it can guarantee a minimum level of competency.
A review of current state legislative proposals clearly indicates that the public is demanding reform and is willing to put massive amounts of money behind reform measures. The American Federation of Teachers' proposals have been bold and responsible. Mr. Shanker should be applauded rather than criticized.
I hope other national teachers' unions will put aside their rivalries and work for meaningful reform. A combined effort by all segments of the education community is necessary for the development and implementation of the needed reforms.
Albert Shanker President American Federation of Teachers Washington, D.C.
While it is not customary to carry on prolonged exchanges through letters to the editor, lies and distortions should be corrected in whatever form they appear ("Writer Sees Call for National Teachers' Exam as 'Public-Relations Gimmick,"' Education Week, April 10, 1985).
Marilyn Russell Bittle, president of the California Teachers Association and author of the letter, not only has misrepresented my proposal for a national teachers' exam and the policies of the American Federation of Teachers, she also seems to be ignorant of the positions of the organization she represents, the National Education Association.
It is a matter of public record that I did not propose a federal teachers' exam--nor any federal involvement in teacher licensing or certification. Rather, I proposed a national teachers' exam, including an internship, that would be administered by the teaching profession itself. Every other occupation, once it has accumulated a sound knowledge base, has followed this course, setting high entry standards and transforming itself into a true profession in the process.
Medicine, law, and other professions have national exams devised by their respective professions; even the state component of these exams, found mostly in the bar exam, is determined by the profession and its theoretical and practical body of accumulated knowledge. Every other profession attempts to ensure that its potential entrants are highly qualified and does not permit states to periodically set certification standards so low that untrained, inexperienced graduates can enter its ranks.
The nea does not object to any of these practices when it comes to doctors, lawyers, accountants, or others. Nor does it argue that professional standards and control thwart state certification of the prospective practioners of any other profession or craft.
Why then does the nea object to the prospect of the rigorous entry exam and internship for teachers, historically defensible methods of ensuring both quality and professional autonomy? Why is it more exercised over a proposal to raise standards than over the likelihood of further diminishing them to meet the teacher-shortage crisis?
The answer, the nea would have us believe, is states' rights. States' rights?
First, a national, professional licensing exam is not incompatible with the states' certification responsibilities--as seen in the relationship between the professional entry requirements of the American Bar Association and American Medical Association and state requirements to practice law or medicine.
And second, I fail to see how states' rights have superior moral and political standing regarding the obligation to provide equal educational opportunity, of which ensuring qualified teachers is a large part.
But let us look at the nea's defense of states' rights on its own terms. Ms. Bittle sees fit to instruct me that education is a state responsibility and "that Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to more federal control." Why then has the nea consistently pushed for one-third federal funding of education, a sure-fire way of getting more federal control? Why was the nea the prime advocate of the creation of the federal Education Department, many of whose programs undermined state and local control? Why did the nea support federal bilingual-education regulations that would leave states and localities free to use only one approach to bilingual education? And where is the nea's solicitude for states' rights in its persistent opposition to state efforts to enact even minimal competency tests for beginning teachers?
The fact is that the nea is not for states' rights but is against tests for new teachers. I refer Ms. Bittle to the 1984-85 "nea Handbook," which asserts, as it has since 1969, that exams "must not be used as a condition of employment, evaluation, criterion for certification, placement, or promotion of teachers." If Ms. Bittle has evidence for her statement that the nea "favors high standards and both written tests and other measurements to ensure that new teachers meet those standards," the American public and I would like to see it.
I would also like to see Ms. Bittle's evidence that the aft does not believe that inadequate pay and poor working conditions are major causes of the teacher-shortage problem, or that we support merit pay, or that the democratic structure of the aft is such that Adam Urbanski, an elected union official mentioned in her letter, "has little alternative but to exalt Mr. Shanker's ideas."
These are ugly statements, the kind of mud that gets thrown when there is no substantive defense for a position. The truth is that the issue of attracting and retaining a qualified teaching force is not a question of states' rights or teachers' rights or the relative merits of the aft or the nea It is a question of the survival of public education and the pluralist, democratic society it makes possible. Rome burns and the nea fiddles.