Letters To The Editor
The content of Ted Sanders' letter ("'Credible, Reliable' Study Links Illinois School Size and Student Achievement," Education Week, Aug. 21, 1985) compels me to comment further, not only on my original letter concerning this topic ("Illinois Superintendent Should Reconsider Push for School Consolidation," Education Week, June 12, 1985), but also on the issue of school-district size.
First, my previous comments were limited to your article ("Illinois School Chief Seeks Reorganization of Districts," Education Week, May 22, 1985), which did not provide full details on the study. I have since read the Illinois Board of Education's study, "School District Organization in Illinois," and I am even more puzzled by the conclusions being drawn and the recommendations based on those conclusions.
Throughout the report, claims are repeatedly made of "significant differences," with no explanation or reporting of the tests of significance. In fact, except for one comparison of American College Test results in which a level of highly significant difference is reported as .0001, no results of levels of significance are reported.
More important, however, is the glaring omission of any reference to other important variables, such as teacher quality or administrative leadership, that have profound effects on excellence in a school. The report claims to have "controlled" for factors such as economic status, location, and community type, but again no specific data were provided.
A statement on page 23 of the report is most revealing: "As one would expect, these percentages showing the predictive weight of school factors are decidedly lower than those of student variables in explaining student performance at the 11th grade. The student variables and parental influence received, by far, the highest weights for that explanation."
The report claims that school variables are the only ones the state can influence, but it included only a very small portion of the total array of variables that are involved in student performance. The size of a school is but one variable, which, although a valid consideration in any effort to improve school performance, cannot be treated in isolation from the more important influences that affect the student.
The rush toward excellence so much in vogue must not result in applying outdated strategies that have failed in the past. We should direct our energies to finding new ways to address today's problems in education by using technology and new instruction-delivery systems, rather than wasting energy and resources on questionable solutions. As the Illinois report observes, "... citizen commitment to 'their' school/district is one of the most emotionally volatile issues in education." Can challenging that attachment be the best way to improve student performance?
Eileen M. Ahearn Assistant Superintendent Maynard Public Schools Maynard, Mass.
It is a statistical fact that most students are average--in terms of their academic prowess and their economic status. When average students graduate from high school, they do not receive college scholarships. They also cannot expect much support from their families. Nevertheless, many average students have qualified for federal financial aid that has made postsecondary education a possibility for them. Once in college, many have proven to be late bloomers who have far exceeded the expectations of their high-school teachers.
The coming year could be a landmark year for these average students. The Higher Education Act, which authorizes funds to postsecondary students and institutions, is due to expire in September 1986. The act is usually reauthorized by the Congress every four or five years. This time, postsecondary education is in particular jeopardy, because the Reagan Administration is advocating that the Congress make large cuts in order to reduce the federal deficit. Students who are average are most likely to be affected by program cuts; unlike more sharply delineated groups, such as the economically disadvantaged, average students have no lobbyists for their interests.
The House Subcommittee on Postsecondary Education is one of the committees responsible for rewriting the new higher-education-aid law. I urge all secondary-school teachers to safeguard access to postsecondary education for their average students by writing one-page letters of support to Representative William D. Ford, Democrat of Michigan, chairman of the subcommittee, with copies of their letters to their favorite Congressmen, who may get a chance to vote on a new bill as soon as December.
Having attended public hearings regarding the Higher Education Act, I know that Congressmen are concerned about the viewpoints of parents, teachers, and students. The office of the House Subcommittee on Postsecondary Education also welcomes any questions from the public regarding the act.
If secondary and postsecondary instructors each write just one letter, they will have formed a loosely knit coalition to promote the postsecondary education of average students in the next decade. I know the coalition can be successful. Considering the scores of students whose attention and respect we have won, can a few Congressmen be much of a challenge?
Nancy Rabianski-Carriuolo President-Elect National Association for Developmental Education and Assistant Provost, University of New Haven West Haven, Conn.