Letters To The Editor
I wish to make several points regarding public-private relationships in addressing the needs of the handicapped, which include considerations not addressed in Lynne Glassman's Commentary, "The 'Paradox' of a Growing Federal Role in Private Education" (Education Week, May 1, 1985).
First, for many decades before P.L. 94-142, private special-education programs were the major source for developing both the social morality and economic rationality of investing in better futures for those with special needs.
Second, in the early days of P.L. 94-142 private special education played a critical role as a resource for public education, as schools geared up to meet their new legal obligations to the handicapped.
Third, even today, in the 10th-anniversary year of 94-142, private special-education programs play essential roles in the continuum of programs for the handicapped. For example, many children are served in private programs before they become eligible for public school or after they advance beyond school age.
Fourth, public education will continue to find it in the best interests of some handicapped children to fulfill its legal responsibilities to these children by placing them in private programs.
Finally, it is important in this dialogue to look at the value returned for the modest amounts of federal, or any other public, investment in private education. Almost never do tax dollars that find their way into private education cover the full cost of developing and delivering such programs, as would be necessary if public schools were to attempt to duplicate the private programs.
Those of us in private special education hold tenaciously to the belief that private components in education, particularly in special education, represent a source of invention, demonstration, innovation, research, and alternatives for parental choice that is good for the vitality and vigor of the entire education enterprise.
Given these considerations, we believe that a strong case can be made for federal efforts to protect the continued viability of private special education and to maintain some continued financial involvement.
Frank R. Kleffner President The National Association of Private Schools for Exceptional Children Washington, D.C.
As a member of the National Education Association's board of directors, I have read your publication with both interest and respect for your impartial coverage of education news. I was, therefore, particularly disappointed to detect what I perceived to be a clear bias toward the American Federation of Teachers in "Teachers' Unions Bringing Reform Issues to Bargaining Table" (Education Week, May 15, 1985).
Although the references to the nea and aft affiliates are roughly numerically balanced, of the four specific teacher experiences with bargaining on reform issues extensively detailed in the article, three--Hartford, Conn.; Toledo, Ohio; and Miami-Dade County, Fla.--are aft locals, while only one--the Denver, Colo., Classroom Teachers' Association--is an nea affiliate. In addition, in discussing state-affiliate reform plans, the article features two aft affiliates--Illinois and Ohio--and only one nea--Washington State.
I contend that such coverage grossly distorts the fact 75 percent of all organized teachers belong to an nea affiliate; the nea has 14,000 locals in contrast to the approximately 2,100 aft locals, 800 of which are located in New York State.
All over the country, in small rural districts like Yukon Flats, Alaska, as well as in large urban districts like Springfield, Mass., nea locals are continuing their long-standing efforts to participate in professional decision-making about education through bargaining.
In addition, the entire final column highlights the positive efforts of various aft teachers, while the only allusion to the nea is an apparently negative quotation, presented without explanation, about Florida's reform efforts from the executive secretary of the nea affiliate in that state.
These comments may seem like petty cavils to some, but to those of us former members of the aft who remember the macho "out-unioning the union" propaganda stance of the aft of a decade ago, this sudden conversion to "out-professioning the profession" would be amusing, if the public (like President Reagan) weren't so willing to credit the aft's uncritical embrace of everybody's reform initiatives to "real" professionalism, in contrast with the nea's alleged "union fanaticism."
I don't expect this letter to impact the frantic PR efforts of the aft; like Avis, as Number Two they have to try harder. But I would like to be assured that future articles in Education Week will adhere to the impartial reporting of the vast majority of your stories, and leave bias to your Commentary and Letters columns.
Susan Stitham Director for Alaska National Education Association Fairbanks, Alaska
While compulsory school attendance is the rule and not the exception in most states, the fact that it is on the books as a law cannot and should not be overlooked or ignored.
Perhaps it was passed "approximately 100 years ago to address the problem of truancy," as Patricia M. Lines pointed out in her Commentary ("States Should Help, Not Hinder, Parents' Home-Schooling Efforts," Education Week, May 15, 1985), or it was passed to help assure that all children are provided the opportunity to avail themselves of an education.
The claim that "on average, children educated at home do well academically" is accurate to the extent stated, but several very reliable facts were ignored:
1. Parents desiring home teaching are highly motivated, for whatever reason, to keep their children at home.
2. This motivation carries with it the willingness to make whatever sacrifice is necessary to assure success.
3. Experience has shown that a large percentage of these youngsters come from families placing a high value on education. The same cannot be said by a large number in our general society.
The Oregon statutes (ORS 339.010) state that "all children between the ages of 7 and 18 years who have not completed the 12th grade are required to attend a public full-time school of the district in which the child resides."
ORS 339.030 lists exemptions from compulsory school attendance to include (6-a) "before the children are taught by a parent or a private teacher, the parent or teacher must receive written permission from the executive officer of the resident school district" and (6-b) "children being taught by a parent or private teacher must be examined in the work covered. If the executive officer determines after examination that the children are not being taught properly, he shall order the person having control of the children to send them to school for the remainder of the school year."
The practical application of this statute is extremely awkward, to say the least. The reality of the specific situation in this eastern Oregon district involves five families currently providing home teaching. Only two of the families have met the legal requirements of having their children tested. Since our testing program is administered in early May, with results returned in mid-May, we have only two weeks of school remaining for that year. Obviously, not a very practical period in which to require school attendance.
An attempt is being made in our legislature to change the law. The change would simply move the responsibility for the testing from the local district superintendent and assign it to the local county superintendent. The change would provide for the home-teaching parent to simply notify the county superintendent of the intent to keep the child home for teaching. This notification would then be passed along to the appropriate district superintendent. This is simply a watered-down version of existing practice in meeting the requirements of the compulsory-attendance law.
Should such views as those expressed by Ms. Lines prevail, then the law should be changed. As a superintendent involved in public education since 1940, I do not agree that all members of society will assume the responsibility for the education of our youth if the decision is left in their hands. Any society must have appropriate rules established by the majority and enforced by those responsible if a semblance of order is to be maintained.
Warren Linville Superintendent Umatilla School District #6R Umatilla, Ore.
Why did you print that absurd "correction" to Albert Shanker's letter ("aft President Used 'Choice,' Not 'Voucher' in Speech to Teachers," Education Week, May 22, 1985)? Your reporter was correct in the first place. While Mr. Shanker would limit open enrollment to public schools only, it still fits the classic definition of the voucher system--the per-capita student aid would follow the pupil.
If you will bother to check, you will see that they've been battling over this issue in Minnesota nearly all year, with Gov. Rudy Perpich being honest enough to call his program what it is--a voucher system for public schools.
If this plan is adopted, it will decimate many rural and big-city districts. "White flight" has been bad enough in integration cases--imagine what happens when the affluent and highly mobile can opt for the public school of their choice.
Frosty Troy Editor The Oklahoma Observer Oklahoma City, Okla.
I cannot believe that anyone who has attended college and obtained a degree and a teaching credential can for one minute believe that obtaining a master's or a doctorate can be as simple as placing a mail order with Sears Roebuck ("U.S. 'Dipscam' Nets Diploma Hawkers; Educators Named," Education Week, May 29, 1985).
Those thousands who did it the easy way got what they paid for--nothing. I am pleased that they are being exposed, especially those who are pretending to be educators.
It is pleasant to think that maybe the so-called teachers, professors, administrators, psychologists, and other school personnel who have bogus degrees and credentials will clear out their desks, turn in their resignations, and find something else to do come September.
Jack Wallen District Superintendent Springville Union School District Springville, Calif.
A letter by Eileen M. Ahearn ("Illinois Superintendent Should Reconsider Push For School Consolidation," Education Week, June 12, 1985) alleged that our school-size and student-achievement study did not consider any factor other than school size and that our school-size groupings in the study were arbitrary.
Both of these assertions are incorrect. Our study, relating school size and student achievement, was comprehensive and sensitive to the very concerns she raises. The findings are based on results from 14 subtests of achievement. The student populations responding to these achievement measures differed, but the same patterns of results were found consistently across multiple indices. This alone argues for the validity of our inferences.
However, the research also looked at the impact of other school and student factors besides school size. Multilevel analyses were conducted, including school wealth, courses offered, community type, location, school climate, and student motivation. The impact of school size remained significant even after controlling for these other factors.
Finally, the school-size groupings were not arbitrary, but were representative of the quartiles of school size in the state of Illinois. Approximately one-fourth of Illinois schools fall into each of the categories.
Before we released our report, we thoroughly tested the credibility and reliability of our findings, which for the first time clearly show that student achievement is directly tied to school size. There is clear and substantial empirical support for our policy on school-district reorganization. If Ms. Ahearn or any of your other readers would like a copy of the study, I'd be happy to share it.
Ted Sanders State Superintendent of Education Illinois State Board of Education Springfield, Ill.
Rudolf Flesch, in his Commentary ("Why Can't Johnny Read? We Never Taught Him Correctly," Education Week, June 12, 1985), makes it sound so simple. His strong case for phonics as the method of teaching reading is weakened by the omission of the other components of the reading learning process. Phonics has its place in the process, but it is not what reading is all about. Rather, reading is understanding the message that the author sent and relating that material to other ideas, going on to form thoughts new to the reader.
Children taught phonics only are often unable to relate the decoding skills to reading for meaning. Thus, pure phonics is also building on false ground. Beginning readers need to have rich experiences in concept formation that allow them to use language effectively. Young children need to know that reading is a form of communication. Some come to the reading process without this knowledge. Decoding is part of the start of the reading process; it leads to being able to use the text as a link with the author, who was communicating ideas about a topic. It is not reading, but a tool with which to unlock words. A child who has little knowledge of what the word means is at a distinct disadvantage.
Reading is more than decoding; it requires that ideas be understood, related to other ideas, and communicated to other persons via writing or the spoken word. It is time to refrain from simplistic solutions and examine the whole fabric of the reading process.
Diane Ravitch, writing in The New York Times on June 3, 1985, succinctly reports the research, current and past, that bears on teaching reading. She debunks myths of physical skills, such as skipping, hopping, scissors use, and the like, as criteria for reading. Rather, the research shows that phonics and such processes as reading to children at an early age, using texts that use natural language, informal home instruction, providing pens, pencils, and chalkboards, and conversation between adults and children about their daily activities all provide background support to the reading process.
Included in the summary was limiting television watching on school days to one hour and using the time thus gained to engage in reading. Readers become better readers by actually reading!
In addition, research suggests that teachers should read daily to the children from the rich cultural written heritage of the world, thus exposing them to the various forms of literature while they are learning to read. Further, there are commments in the research about the waste of time in the use of worksheets that now constitutes much of a child's reading instruction. The suggestion was made that this time be used for silent reading by the student.
Finally, the use of libraries during preschool and school years enters into a successful reading program.
Phonics is important, but let's not get sidetracked into thinking that the reading process is that simple; it is vastly more complicated. And it is also more pleasantly accomplished using the research suggestions outlined by Ms. Ravitch. I know, for I've been using them for years and they work.
Ara L. Nugent Reading Teacher Fair Haven, N.J. must follow first flesch letter: Nugent.
I plan to use Rudolf Flesch's Commentary in my classes as an example of how research results combined with outright misinformation are often used to manipulate readers.
In this connection, I submit for the Non Sequitur of the Month Award the following paragraph from Mr. Flesch's article:
"Recently, Bernard R. Gifford, dean of the University of California, Berkeley, Graduate School of Education, wrote in this newspaper that only 26 percent of blacks, 39 percent of Mexican-Americans, and 50 percent of Asian-Americans passed the 1983 California Basic Educational Skills Test, compared with 76 percent of whites. (See Education Week, March 20, 1985.) Clearly, most of the minority candidates had been taught to read by the whole-word method in U.S. inner-city schools."
And clearly, the spirit is willing but the Flesch is weak!
Juanie Noland School of Education Tuskegee Institute Tuskegee, Ala.
This letter is in reply to your report on the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education's proposal for more stringent accreditation requirements for teacher-education programs ("Accrediting Group Adopts Stiffer Standards for Education Schools," Education Week, June 19, 1985). I am a professor of secondary (mathematics) education at Hofstra University, a highly selective, ncate-accredited institution. My views are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the university.
Restricting the supply of teachers by raising the requirements for admission to and graduation from ncate-approved programs is less of a problem than the article suggested. ncate accredits a minority of teacher-education programs. Others could expand to satisfy the putative demand. Market forces operate in the groves of academe, too.
The profession has within its reach today powerful ways to exclude the less able. Schools of education are free to set high admission, retention, and graduation standards, but they frequently have not. Why? School administrators, beset with applications, are free to cull out all but the most academically talented candidates, but they frequently have not. Why? School administrators are capable of applying demanding standards for awarding tenure to teachers, but they frequently have not. Why? School boards and state departments of education are capable of setting challenging criteria for employment, tenure, and certification of teachers, but they frequently have not. Why?
As important, the supply of future teachers is dependent on the financial and psychic rewards that students perceive attach to the profession. If teachers' salaries, working conditions, and status remain low, then the "best and brightest" will not choose to become educators and will not face ncate's requirements.
ncate, in my view, suffers from tunnel vision if it believes that creating a "choke point" in schools of education will improve the quality of teaching in the schools. By nature, stringent requirements are negative criteria--they exclude those who fail them. They do not increase the proportion of well-qualified applicants in the pool of candidates, nor do they increase the size of the pool itself.
I am in favor of selectivity for admission to teacher-education programs. I endorse exclusion of the academically less qualified. More important by far, I believe, is our profound need to attract the academically talented into the professional schools. ncate does nothing to enrich the pool of potential teachers if it concentrates its efforts on exclusionary strategies.
William J. McKeough Professor of Secondary Education Hofstra University Long Island, N.Y.