Letters To The Editor
I enjoyed your series on education in Japan and found it to be informative and accurate in the main ("Schooling in Japan: The Paradox in the Pattern," Education Week, Feb. 20 and 27, and March 6, 1985).
The single exception I noted was the exam question that was cited as illustrating the type of item contained in Kobe University's entrance test ("Kobe University's Entrance Test: A Sample Question," Education Week, Feb. 27, 1985).
I read through the question, one that dealt with Greek and Roman philosophy, and then checked the answers included. Unfortunately, there were four incorrect answers given in the group.
Needless to say, I was a bit dismayed. I noted that Japan's High School, by Thomas P. Rohlen, was cited as the source. My initial inclination was to believe that your editors had incorrectly reproduced the set of answers from Mr. Rohlen's work. When I checked his book, however, I realized that the error was there and not with your staff--forgive me. The original source was a work written in Japanese--my inquiry was terminated.
One hears a good deal about the anxiety that Japanese students suffer. I sincerely hope that they were not penalized for failing to give correct answers if this is a valid sample of such test questions. If they were expected to give those answers, then one can partially understand the frustrations felt by these young people when taking such exams.
William Vanderhoof Assistant Professor School of Education Texas Christian University Fort Worth, Tex.
After reading your recent article about bilingual education ("Educators Stress Economic, Social Value of Bilingual America," Education Week, March 27, 1985), I would like to suggest that the members of the National Association for Bilingual Education read an article in the Feb. 18 issue of U.S. News and World Report entitled "The English Language, Out To Conquer the World."
The article makes the following important points:
English is the native language in 12 nations inhabited by 345 million people. In 33 other countries and Puerto Rico, English is regarded as an official or semi-official language and is often used to conduct business. In at least 56 other nations, English is required in school or is studied widely.
When an Argentine pilot lands his airliner in Turkey, he and the ground controller talk in English. When Japanese executives cut deals with Scandinavian entrepreneurs in Bangkok, they communicate in English.
English has become to the modern world what Latin was to the ancients, dominating the planet as the medium of exchange in science, technology, commerce, tourism, diplomacy, and pop culture. Indeed, so wide is its sweep that 345 million people use English as their first language and an additional 400 million use it as their second.
Eighty percent of the information stored in computers around the world is in the English language.
Need I say more?
Gerard A. Norve Parent San Jose, Calif.
Michael Reed, assistant director of admissions and alumni relations at Williams College, is quoted in your article on minorities on college campuses as saying that "the average student can graduate with a $10,000 debt ..., an unacceptable level of debt for most black students because they don't think they'll have the resources to repay it" ("Campus Tensions Flare Up Amid Charges of Racism," Education Week, April 17, 1985).
If any student with a college degree doesn't end up with resources to pay a $10,000 debt, he or she is wasting time pursuing such a degree. We're only talking about the cost of a new car. That's a small fraction of a graduate's potential.
It might also be worth studying why so many nonresident aliens acquire graduate degrees (as stated in the companion article, "Hard-Won Enrollment Gains Are Quietly Deteriorating") as compared with minority citizens.
Many nonresidents come from wealthy families, but not all. I suspect that attitude--the appreciation of freedom of choice and the privilege of attending a college--plays a large part in their motivation. I also suspect that many do not look for or wait for others to pay the bill, but do whatever they have to on their own (namely, work) in order to finish.
Ray Mannier Principal, Belmont High School Dayton, Ohio
I found Eileen Foley's Commentary about the effect of recalibrated standards to be extremely timely and important ("What Will Recalibrated Standards Hold for Dropout-Prone Students?" Education Week, April 17, 1985).
Educators seem to suffer from the same kind of "trendiness" that we see in clothing, music, and many other aspects of everyday life--we abandon the wisdom and learning of the past for the latest fad.
While general excellence in education is extremely important, we seem to be taking up that battle cry at the expense of those students who fall on either side of the "normal" bell curve. That is, we appear to be abandoning education programs for the gifted and the disadvantaged in favor of those for the so-called "normal" student.
It has taken years to develop many of the excellent programs targeted to the disadvantaged and the gifted that we have had in the schools during the last 10 years. Are we going to quickly discard these? What will be the effect of improved standards of academic excellence if they yield a smaller percentage of better educated citizens?
Rather than make the age-old mistake of "throwing the baby out with the bathwater," perhaps we should more carefully define excellence in our schools. Our definition should not only reflect better programming for "regular" students, but also include a challenging, motivating, and inclusive environment in which all students have the opportunity to benefit from the educational system of this country.
Such an inclusive definition is far more difficult to achieve since it requires that we provide educational services for more than a "homogenized" prototype of the American student. But only if we take on this more difficult challenge now will we be able to lay claim to the accomplishment of producing an "educated" American people, not just a better educated elite portion of the population.
We have the knowledge and the ability. The task is formidable. Yet the possible outcome certainly seems to be worth such an effort.
Daniel J. Maloney Director The Ocean Tides Residential Treatment Center for Juvenile Offenders Narragansett, R.I.
In response to your Commentary about improving the status of elementary schools ("Time To End Denigration of Elementary Schools," Education Week, April 24, 1985)--please don't!
By continuing to "disregard" the elementary school, we are saved from attracting intellectual attention to ourselves and are thus "delivered" from the zealots and missionaries and subsequently allowed the precious time and energy to go about our business.
You all remember our business, don't you? We teach kids to read and write and cipher and be polite.
Allan Shedlin Jr. was absolutely correct when he observed that we elementary educators are frequently a hopeful and optimistic lot. We are not reaching the limit on this by any means and we are still "keeping the faith."
Please, please, leave us alone. We are doing our job, we are doing it better today than we did yesterday, and we will do better tomorrow.
I pray we do not need or have to confront a task force of any kind. They have a tendency to be a "vexation to my spirit" and they interfere with my work and thus the education of our children.
Bruce Fritz Principal Branson Elementary School Branson, Mo.
Allan Shedlin Jr.'s Commentary about elementary schools ("Time To End Denigration of Elementary Schools," Education Week, April 24, 1985) was the most refreshing and courageous statement I have read in a long time. It was refreshing because it reflected the feelings I and a lot of other professionals have about the role of elementary education in the overall process of human development, and it was courageous because it dared to take to task the least efficient level of that developmental process, higher education. It is about time.
I have been in public education now for 32 years, and in that time I have been both a teacher and an administrator at every level, from elementary school through graduate school. If there is one truth I have learned in all that time, it is that the quality of teaching deteriorates in direct relationship to the academic level at which it takes place, with the best being found at the elementary-school level and the worst taking place in higher education.
Teachers in colleges and universities may be experts in their fields, but they know little or nothing about how to teach, how people learn, or the process of human development. Teachers of elementary-school children may not be scholars in their subject areas (although I have known many who were), but they know their students' needs and minister to the whole child. If only this could be said for those who teach in subject-area departments.
Perhaps if teachers at the high-school and college levels were not so enamored with teaching their subjects and took more personal interest in their students, as elementary-school teachers do, there would be fewer problems with drugs, dropouts, and gangs at the higher levels of education.
The fact of the matter is that the American educational community is an elitist caste system that has created a pecking order that places teachers of elementary education and administrators at the lowest level. This is reflected in the fact that school principals are divided into two separate professional organizations, one for the elementary level and another for the secondary level, as though they had no skills, training, and issues in common.
This alone says that to be an administrator at one level precludes one from being an administrator at the other. This same prejudice also applies to the position of superintendent. It can be seen over and over when there are job vacancies, making it almost impossible for an administrator in an elementary-school system to move to a post in a high-school district or into higher education.
This discrimination has been going on for years and is reinforced by silence on the part of the American Association of School Administrators and the National School Boards Association.
Another way we can see the presence of an elitist caste system in the American educational community is in the accepted fact that teachers who work in state tax-supported common schools are required to be state-certified, while teachers who work in state tax-supported institutions of higher education are not.
In addition, before a person can be certified as an elementary-school teacher, he or she must take many courses on the theory of learning and human development, while high-school teachers in most cases need only take a certain number of courses in the subject area in which they are to be certified.
So what we have is a system that says that the more "facts" teachers know about a limited field of knowledge, the less they have to prove their competency to help students learn.
This must all change if there is to be any real and lasting reform in public education. One way of forcing this change would be to require all teachers at all levels to prove their competency by being state-certified. They could also be required to start their careers in education by working first at the elementary-school level for about five years before being allowed to teach at any other level. I am convinced that this would produce a more humane teacher and therefore better learning at all levels.
Anthony Torres Superintendent Community Consolidated Schools District 168 Sauk Village, Ill.
Lynne Glassman's Commentary on federal involvement in private schools ("The 'Paradox' of a Growing Federal Role in Private Education," Education Week, May 1, 1985) raises important policy questions. Thus it is unfortunate that the "public-private" terminology she employs--a usage accepted by most educators--makes it almost impossible for her to present the issues fairly and objectively.
As John E. Coons, professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley, rightly argues, we have in America a system not of public schools but of "geographically exclusive" schools that are "functionally private."
With few exceptions, so-called "public" schools are not any more open to the general public than are so-called "private" schools. Poor parents in Hartford, Conn., are learning this lesson the hard way. Because they cannot afford to live in Bloomfield, their children are effectively excluded from Bloomfield's "public" schools.
It would be fairer and more accurate to speak of "government" and ''nongovernment" schools. The case for such terminology is further strengthened when we realize that as a total group, "private" schools are about as well-integrated socially, economically, and racially as are "public" schools.
We must also remember that nongovernment schools perform the publicly valuable function of educating children as well or better than do government schools, and they often do this at far lower per-pupil costs.
When the Reagan Administration raises the issue of tuition tax credits and education vouchers, it is dealing with a fundamental question of fairness and equity. It is asking if there are any good reasons for the government to continue to discriminate against religious and ideological minorities that find government schools oppressive in terms of their basic freedom of conscience and desire to see their own religious and ideological traditions survive and flourish.
American government schools offer families fewer basic choices about the kind of education their children receive than do the government schools of practically any other Western democracy. Discrimination against religious schools is often justified on the basis of the nonestablishment clause of the First Amendment. But if it is once realized that no system of education--government or nongovernment--is religiously neutral, then we will be in a position to address more dispassionately the questions of basic equity.
As John Dewey so clearly recognized, secular and humanistic values and beliefs can be just as religious as more traditional Jewish and Christian beliefs. If we see this, we will then be able to understand that government aid to nongovernment schools, rather than violating the First Amendment, is the only way the First Amendment can be fairly applied.
The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights expresses the importance of educational diversity when it insists that every person has a right to free education at the "elementary and fundamental stages," and that "parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children."
Only by breaking the monopoly that government schools currently hold because of their access to tax money will we be able to approach this ideal more closely.
Richard A. Baer Jr. Director, Program in Agricultural and Environmental Ethics Member, Graduate Field of Education Cornell University Ithaca, N.Y.
Lynne Glassman uses a broad brush to paint a grim picture of "the growing federal role in private education." The result is a very confusing melange that does nothing to add clarity to the legitimate public-policy question that can sometimes be detected in her Commentary.
Her discourse is in trouble with the facts from the start. The percentage of private-school students being served by federal programs is going down, not up, and the rate of the decline is accelerating. The largest increases in private-school enrollment over the past decade have been among schools that do not make use of federal services available to some of their students, chiefly evangelical Christian schools.
The vast bulk of federal aid going in the direction of private education is for students eligible for categorical services that are funded for all students, such as programs for the disadvantaged, handicapped, and limited-English-proficient. Yes, more private-school students are being served by Chapter 2 block grants than by the previous categorical programs because the latter simply didn't meet the needs or interests of many private-school students, even though they were eligible to use them.
Almost all federal aid directly funneled to particular private schools will come as grants and loans to those that have the highest number of students subject to the highest degree of hazard under the Environmental Protection Agency's Asbestos Hazard Abatement Program. This is also clearly a child-benefit expenditure involving student health and safety.
Ms. Glassman's essay mentions as a "less obvious" form of the federal role in private education the present Administration's support of tuition tax credits, vouchers, and school prayer. The latter is not an issue for private education, which is widely divided on its merits for public schools. The only voucher plan now getting close government scrutiny is the Chapter I voucher. At this point, it is too early to gauge the degree of private-school enthusiasm for it because Chapter I is extremely popular and effective in those areas in which it is serving eligible private-school students. The educational voucher is, of course, a state and not a federal matter. It will continue to generate great interest because of its capacity to broaden school choice and thus educational opportunity.
Tuition tax credits would be a great step forward in the same direction. Those who wish voucher and tuition tax-credit ideas would disappear need to remember that both address one of the most glaring inequities in our democracy--that rich people can get the education they want and poor people get whatever is in their neighborhood.
Nonprofit institutions are not taxed because they serve a broad national interest that would not otherwise be served--in this case a pluralistic system of education. Though Ms. Glassman is not suggesting a change in our tax code, she is making clear that we should be aware of the other ways in which the federal government helps private schools.
I have outlined the general programs through which federal help goes to private-school students. The U.S. Supreme Court has made a series of First Amendment rulings that, while confusing and still evolving, have given broad and tolerably useful guidelines in this important and complex area. The policy issue Ms. Glassman raises will be working its way along, with the help of the Congress and the Court, for a long time. But the paradox of a growing federal role in private education can be best described as a fantasy.
Robert L. Smith Executive Director Council for American Private Education Washington, D.C
Just to set the record straight, there was nothing about "vouchers" for public or private schools, either in the remarks I made to the New York State United Teachers or in my interview with you, contrary to the headline and story in your recent issue ("aft Head Backs Voucher Proposal for Public Schools," Education Week, May 8, 1985).
What I recommended to the New York State affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers was that there be much broader choice within the public schools for both children and teachers--choice within schools, choice within districts, choice across district lines, and perhaps eventually choice within an entire state or even more than one state.
Choice implies just that--not the mechanics of a bureaucratic voucher scheme in which parents exchange a chit for one kind of education or another. Unfortunately, your story and similar misinterpretations have led the U.S. Education Department to comment that I appear to be supporting the Reagan Administration's tuition tax-credit and voucher schemes. That has never been the case and is not the case now.
In fact, I recommend greater options within the public sector specifically to counteract the Administration's arguments that children are captives of the public schools and public-school teachers to which they're assigned on the basis of geography. This is decreasingly the case in many large-city systems that have developed "magnet" schools at the junior-high level and academic-option high schools for teen-agers. To expand this concept, it seems to me, would be fruitful, and, in fact, would spur real competition within the public sector with everybody competing under the same ground rules.
There is no reason for children to be locked into one public school or even into classes with one teacher. In cases where there is just poor chemistry between a given child and a given teacher--and that sometimes happens--both would benefit from the ability to make a change. The ethos and focus of one school may be appropriate for some children, but inappropriate for others. Why force a marriage between incompatible parties?
In my remarks, I also pointed out that teachers tend to be locked into one school system because school-district management does not grant an experienced, incoming teacher full salary or pension credit for previous service in another district. Of course, this practice also shortchanges the districts themselves, since they cannot compete as private industry does for the talented employees of a competing enterprise. Teachers should have the same kind of mobility within the public schools of a state or several states that I am advocating for children.
All of this is far removed from a "voucher" system as that term has come to be used in education over the past two decades. While it may be a convenient kind of shorthand for reporters and editors, it will confuse the issues and make less likely the kind of clear thinking that has to be done to shape up the public schools for the century ahead.
Albert Shanker President American Federation of Teachers Washington, D.C.
Editor's Note: The story made clear that Mr. Shanker's remarks favoring the provision of greater choice were limited to public schools. Although the first paragraph said Mr. Shanker "supports the concept of a public-school voucher plan," it elaborated on his views sufficiently to avoid their being confused with any specific school-choice proposals currently under consideration. We regret that we resorted to the "shorthand" word voucher in the headline.