Letters to the Editor
To the Editor:
Allen Shedlin Jr. makes a fine case in his Commentary defending elementary schools ("Time To End Denigration of Elementary Schools," Education Week, April 24, 1985).
One way to end the denigration would be to end some of the meaningless teaching methods and practices used in teacher-training programs.
These methods focus on a formula I have developed for evaluating them: C + P = WLT, or copy, color, cut, and paste equals wasted learning time.
When teachers use C + P = without cognitive purpose or expectations that relate to specifically planned learning outcomes, we have WLT.
Alfred L. Lazar Professor of Educational Psychology California State University, Long Beach Long Beach, Calif.
To the Editor:
I read with great interest your article about top-down reform ("Top-Down Reforms Rekindle Old Debate for Local Boards," Education Week, May 8, 1985).
It was very interesting to read the remarks made by local education officials. The statement that really caught my attention was one by John C. Cone, executive director of South Carolina's school boards' association. His comment that "the easy decisions are made by a principal somewhere" makes me wonder how the principals in the school district where he is a board member feel when they read such statements. It appears that Mr. Cone does not have much regard for campus administrators.
David Pevoto Principal Wiederstein Elementary School Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City Independent School District Cibolo, Tex.
To the Editor:
Your recent article discussing the ramifications of legislated public-school reform was most informative. I agree with most of the points presented, but take issue with the statement made by John C. Cone of South Carolina.
Mr. Cone states that "the easy decisions are made by a principal somewhere. The hard ones are made by the superintendent. But the impossible decisions, the ones that are always going to make a certain element of the community angry, are made by the school board." I question his perspective.
Certainly few would dispute that there are tough decisions made by school boards. However, if school reform is really going to occur, every level of the hierarchy must be prepared to make decisions that may be politically unpopular and live by them.
My initial response to Mr. Cone was to wonder how an active board member could make such an off-the-wall statement. However, perhaps he sees school boards as pseudo-administrators rather than as policymaking bodies. Another possibility is that he does not have a realistic picture of the scope of decisions that are made by principals.
No, Mr. Cone, we principals do not spend our days deciding how much ink to put in the ink well.
Principals also react with disfavor to arbitrary legislation that often has a disruptive effect on students and on the education process, whether it comes from national, state, or local legislative bodies.
Fred Anderson Principal Custer County District High School Miles City, Mont.
To the Editor:
Your recent Commentary on parents' home-schooling efforts ("States Should Help, Not Hinder, Parents' Home-Schooling Efforts," Education Week, May 15, 1985) was well-written and informative, but missed a few issues. I would like to add several questions and comments.
First, in those states where there is no required monitoring or testing of children, how are the rights of home-based, exceptional-education children--those who are emotionally disturbed, learning-disabled, or hearing-impaired--being protected?
Second, will school officials, prosecutors, or judges be willing to challenge the parents of a handicapped child if they are obviously unmotivated and ill-prepared to teach students with these complex problems?
Perhaps my biggest concern is the parents--the approximately 10 percent of those who teach their children at home--who withdraw their "at-risk" children from school in frustration because of their own inability to suggest changes and work with teachers. Or those parents who work full-time and have eight kids whose schooling takes place in the evening when they learn from each other. I would like to see more information on this group of people who abuse the privilege of home instruction.
The phenomenon of home schooling is also filled with conflicts between agencies over child-welfare laws and the responsibilities of schools. If states appear to be opposing home schooling, the issue of possible abuses may be at the root of their concern. Many regulations and laws in society are not debated or passed because the majority needs them.
Finally, I am pleased that one student who was educated at home got into Harvard University. But how many others are not taxpayers but tax users? How many are in prison? How many are not in the workforce?
Finally, I believe that if all the data were in, we would see statistics similar to those that illustrate the successes and failures of public schools.
James P. Haessly Director, Student Services and Exceptional Education School District of Waukesha Waukesha, Wis.
To the Editor:
I enjoy every issue of Education Week and think you are doing an excellent job of informing teachers about what is really going on in the field of education.
We speak and hear much about career ladders, national testing programs for teachers, longer school days, longer school years, and a variety of other reforms. The goal of these reforms is to improve the teaching profession. The assumption is that in this way we will free education from "bad teachers" who are preventing our "wonderful" youngsters from learning.
Now I am not so naive as to maintain that all teachers are the best and that everyone in the profession belongs there. However, I believe it is time that we start putting the blame for "nonlearning" where it belongs--on the students, not on the teachers. Teachers have taken and are taking enough abuse. It is time for the public to get off their backs.
I would like to hear what Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and Mary Hatwood Futrell, president of the National Education Association, see as the cause of poor schooling in our country.
Instead of flying around the country issuing profound statements about the condition of education, they should sit behind a desk and think about some of the real reasons we are getting poor results from public schooling. They should look at the serious discipline problems in our classrooms, at the effect of the shameful absenteeism that plagues our schools, at the endless paperwork that teachers have to fill out in duplicate and triplicate and that no one ever looks at, and at the awful effect sports programs have on the school day. They should also look at the last period of the day and see what is going on in classrooms. And they should look at the hours of preparation and correction necessary for teachers to survive in the "blackboard jungle."
Teachers have been abused by the public much too long. The courts have given students every possible right, but no obligations have ever been attached to those rights.
If teachers were allowed to teach and guide our youngsters in an atmosphere of quiet, cooperation, and safety, our country could boast the best corps of teachers in the world. The majority of them are really well prepared and love to teach. They just are not given the chance.
J. Guy Morin Professor of Chemistry Our Lady of Holy Cross College New Orleans, La.
To the Editor:
I find it hard to believe that Ted Sanders, Illinois's superintendent of education, plans to reorganize schools on the basis of a study that purports to link student achievement to high-school size ("Illinois School Chief Seeks Reorganization of Districts," Education Week, May 22, 1985).
The supposed "major breakthrough in effective-schools research" that was discussed in the article used students' scores on the American College Test (act) and two state-developed tests to conclude that high schools with small enrollments are ineffective. The study divided high schools into four arbitrary groups and apparently no variables other than size were used in drawing the conclusion that the best schools are those with enrollments of between 494 and 1,279.
The issues related to school size and consolidation are treated fully in the book, Education in Rural America: A Reassessment of Conventional Wisdom, edited by Jonathan P. Sher. I refer Mr. Sanders to the section entitled, "Economy, Efficiency, and Equality: The Myths of Rural School District Consolidation," for a cogent discussion of the pertinent issues.
I was equally amazed at the comments provided by two professors of economics who were quoted in the article.
First, Elchanan Cohn of the University of South Carolina states that there have been "literally dozens" of studies that have "failed to show any correlation" between school size and achievement. He then goes on to claim that there are strong arguments favoring consolidation that are accepted by "most educators and economists associated with education." He concludes that a minimum size of 500 "sounds good to me." I hope all economists do not use such criteria to make judgments!
A second economics professor, John Riew of Pennsylvania State University, also makes the unfounded and inaccurate statement that "when you have small schools, you can't have breadth." With very little effort, the professor could find a significant amount of evidence to disprove his statement.
A wide variety of resource-sharing and collaboration programs are successfully providing the necessary breadth to small schools where creative administrators have found viable solutions that permit retaining the significant advantages of the small school. Many successful examples of this can be found in educational collaboratives in Massachusetts, to cite only one state. Examples from other states and from other countries are described in Rural Education in Urbanized Nations: Issues and Innovations, also edited by Mr. Sher.
Although your article says that Professor Riew cautioned that the benefits of larger schools do not necessarily imply that consolidation is a good thing, the bias in this statement is clear.
The negative effects of consolidation involve a lot more than students' spending "a lot of time on buses." In fact, a full study of all the issues would lead to the conclusion that there are no unique benefits to be derived from consolidation of smaller schools into a larger school.
I hope that Ted Sanders will investigate the matter further before he subjects the state of Illinois to a consolidation program.
Eileen M. Ahearn Assistant Superintendent Maynard Public Schools Maynard, Mass.