Letters To The Editor
I would like to clarify the National Education Association's policy on divestiture and South Africa's regime of apartheid. I'm sorry we were unable to get the information to you in time for your recent story on the topic ("Anti-Apartheid Moves Affecting Educators Grow," Education Week, Aug. 28, 1985).
The organization does have a clear policy on divestiture: "The NEA encourages its affiliates to lobby their state legislatures for divestment of public monies in the Republic of South Africa. The organization will help its affiliates secure all the relevant information necessary for a successful campaign." (NEA New Business Item 1984-16)
We have responded to specific requests for assistance by state associations that are developing strategies to confront divestment initiatives.
The NEA has also given its support to the economic-sanctions legislation now before the Congress (HR 1460). The bill has four major components: no new investment in South Africa, no loans to the South African government, a ban on the sale of krugerrands in the United States, and no computer sales to the South African government.
With respect to the NEA's investment policies, we are consistent with the anti-apartheid resolutions and the spirit of the new-business item quoted above. No NEA general-fund monies are invested in corporations that have South African interests. We bank with a Washington, D.C., institution that has no loans or investments in South Africa. In any future transactions, we will not knowingly invest in corporations with a South African connection.
Of course, I'm sure you know the NEA has been very active in protesting apartheid both here in this country and elsewhere, in conjunction with our international union. We have participated in several demonstrations in support of black and colored South Africans at the South African Embassy and at the State Department.
Our organization is a founding member of an international committee of educators that works against all forms of discrimination, including apartheid. Former NEA President Willard H. McGuire is chairman of that committee, Mary Hatwood Futrell is the NEA member, and I am its secretariat.
John A. De Mars Special Assistant for Peace Programs and International Relations National Education Association Washington, D.C.
Peter Rynders's reply ("Systematic Phonics Alone Won't Help Johnny's Reading Problem," Education Week, Sept. 4, 1985) to Rudolf Flesch's Commentary ("Why Can't Johnny Read? We Taught Him Incorrectly," Education Week, June 12, 1985) is the epitome of the ignorant anti-phonics position--the look-guess-Dick-Jane drivel that is making it difficult to steer the teaching of reading back onto the right track.
Mr. Rynders's kind of phonics is the same kind that 95 percent of public-school teachers are teaching today: just enough superficial phonics presented in a garbled manner to confuse children and do them more harm than good; just enough phonics to brag about to parents, but not enough to constitute a genuine, intensive, well-organized program that allows the average child to read good literature involving thousands of words before he finishes the 1st grade.
Mr. Rynders puts words in Mr. Flesch's mouth that Mr. Flesch never wrote, said, or implied: that, with phonics, "all words are learned with equal amounts of effort." Mr. Rynders writes that if there were any truth in Mr. Flesch's "gross oversimplification" about the effectiveness of phonics, "illiteracy would disappear in a short time." He implies here that our public schools are teaching phonics--real phonics--which, of course, they are not.
According to Mr. Rynders, "Phonics must cease to be the province of 1st- and 2nd-grade teachers, and it must cease to be treated as the backbone of the reading programs in those grades." Totally wrong! Phonics must be treated as the backbone and the guts of all 1st-grade reading programs if kids are ever again going to be able to read at first glance the word "alligator" without a picture to go with it.
Further proof that Mr. Rynders misunderstands what really constitutes phonics teaching is his example that hippopotamus is easier to read than went and the. If two children were confronted with the written word hippopotamus for the first time with no accompanying illustration, which of the two would be more likely to read and understand it: the one who had learned the sounds of letters, the blends, and syllabication, or the one schooled in Mr. Rynders's method? If the "look-guesser" responded at all, he would probably say, "We haven't had that word yet."
Mr. Rynders advises us that the consonant digraphs (ck, sh, ch, ng, wh, th, ph) are more difficult to teach than ordinary blends. Any teacher who knows how to teach phonics knows that the consonant digraphs are among the easiest phonetic elements for children to learn.
And Mr. Rynders also emphasizes that "teaching children to read involves meaning." What other kind of reading is there?
The great tragedy is that Mr. Rynders and thousands of others like him are entrusted with the teaching of reading methods--look-say methods that are digging us deeper into the quagmire of illiteracy.
John V. Gordon Redgranite, Wis. Run with Gordon
Peter Rynders's attack on the extensive teaching of phonics is not a respectable critique of this instruction. His negative criticism of phonics fails for three reasons.
First, Mr. Rynders appears not to understand the distinction between learning to read written words (learning to say their names) and reading to learn. Learning to read written words is best achieved by learning to apply phonics, i.e., to apply the code we use to write oral language. There are scores of reviews of the research that have come to this conclusion. Because one sees reading comprehension as important, it does not follow that phonics must be downgraded, as Mr. Rynders contends.
Second, phonics is not a "strategy for bringing meaning to graphic symbols," as Mr. Rynders erroneously believes. Instead, the value of phonics lies in its use in converting written words into approximate pronunciations of their names. Rarely does the application of phonics result in the pronunciation of a word as it is actually said in a sentence.
I recently studied this relationship and published an article on it (Reading Psychology, July 1983). I found that if beginning readers could learn the approximate pronunciation of a word, they then could readily infer and produce its correct pronunciation. It is with this approximate pronunciation of a word, heard in its sentence context, that young children can then decide on its meaning.
Finally, Rynders's citation of the unpredictable spelling of some words, such as have and some, as evidence against teaching phonics has little merit. In my research, I found beginning readers had very little difficulty inferring the correct pronunciation of these words after hearing them pronounced as /hav/ and /som/. Thus, the fact that not all words are spelled to conform with phonics rules seems of small importance.
There are maximal opportunities to apply phonics rules, not minimal ones, as Mr. Rynders wrongly insists. It is painful to contemplate the damage that Mr. Rynders does in advising teachers in the 16 school districts he supervises that phonics has little usefulness.
Professor School of Teacher Education College of Education San Diego State University San Diego, Calif.
The article "New Regulations for Impact Aid" (Education Week, Sept. 4, 1985) was in part incomplete and in part erroneous. The Lackland Independent School District is one of the "heavily impacted" districts the article referred to. All of the district's students qualify for impact aid, and 100 percent of the parents live and work on federal property.
The first sentence of the article stated: "School districts with large numbers of students whose parents work and live on federal property could receive additional federal funding this fall because of new regulations from the Education Department that will change the way such districts can calculate per-pupil expenditures." In fact, if applied to this district and to two others here in the San Antonio area, the new regulations as proposed would reduce federal funding, because of changes in the way per-pupil expenditures are calculated.
Another sentence said: "Under current law, the government contributes funds to impact-aid districts on a per-pupil basis equal to half of the national average for per-pupil spending or half the state average, whichever is higher." This statement implies there is only one way for a district to receive the government impact-aid funds; in reality, there are four options.
Finally, though I cannot prove it, I doubt that the new regulations became necessary for the reason stated--"due to impact-aid amendments that the Congress approved last year." The Education Department would be hard-pressed to document that statement.
Bob Chambers Superintendent Lackland Independent School District San Antonio, Tex.
Editor's note: Neither impact-aid lobbyists nor Education Department officials noted the possibility that some districts could lose funds under the proposed regulations. Mr. Chambers is correct on the latter two points; we regret that ambiguity was introduced through editing.
Robert S. Marlowe, in a letter to the editor ("Teachers and Parents, Not Courts, Should Set School Goals and Methods," Education Week, Sept. 11, 1985), erroneously asserted that the U.S. Supreme Court "came up with the wild notion that the schools would be value-neutral." Not so.
The Court has held that the schools must be religiously neutral. This does not preclude reinforcing or teaching common values--such as, but not limited to, those expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights--or teaching about religion in an objective, neutral manner.
Mr. Marlowe said that government "must be neutral with respect to religious institutions," then contradicted himself by advocating, in a curiously indirect way, that government should tax everyone for the support of a plethora of selective sectarian schools, presumably through vouchers or tuition tax credits.
Mr. Marlowe called this "freedom." But this is the freedom of religious groups--from the Vatican to Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority to Jim Jones's People's Temple--to carefully select teachers who would impose a carefully selected set of sectarian values on a carefully selected student body.
All citizens under Mr. Marlowe's plan would, alas, lose their freedom to support only the religious institutions they freely choose and, collectively, would lose their right to have a democratic, pluralistic public-school system.
Edd Doerr Executive Director Americans for Religious Liberty Silver Spring, Md.
The Sept. 11, 1985, issue of Education Week had two articles that seem unrelated, but that in fact may be connected, in an oblique way. I refer to the article on the "Investing in Our Children" report produced by the Committee for Economic Development ("Business Speaks: A Call for Reform From 'Bottom Up"') and to the article about several studies on the educational plight of the nation's Hispanics ("Regional Studies Document Educational Plight of Nation's Hispanics").
In the business-community report, the need for students to have English-language mastery is cited as a requirement for finding success in future workplaces or in future education. In the article on the three recent studies that have shown that Hispanics as a group are the most undereducated segment of the American population, no reference is made to the possibility that the primary cause for this undereducation is the low mastery of English by Hispanics.
As a Hispanic, an educator, a school superintendent, and chairman of the National Advisory and Coordinating Council on Bilingual Education, I am of the opinion that students with limited English proficiency, regardless of ethnic or racial group, will never find success in either their educational experience or in the workplace, if they do not have a mastery of English. With this in mind, I agreed to chair the council, because I see little evidence that the bilingual transitional programs--which have been operational now for many years in the public schools of the country at very high costs--have been producing in significant numbers limited-English-proficient students who have a mastery of English. This seems especially true among Hispanics, I am sorry to say.
After all these years of having Hispanic young people enrolled in bilingual education, the high-school dropout rate has gone up, not down, while the proportion of Hispanics enrolled in higher education has gone down. In addition, the unemployment rate of Hispanic youths has gone up, while their rate of representation in high-skill employment has gone down.
This picture contrasts with the performance of such recent arrivals to America as the Asians, those from the Mid-East, and those from India or Pakistan. Students from these groups come to this country, in most cases, poor and with limited English proficiency; yet, in just a few years they not only master English but also graduate at the head of their classes. In addition, they and their families are in business or are employed in well-paying jobs.
In the majority of cases, these students have succeeded in public schools by avoiding being placed in bilingual programs. This has not escaped the notice of many Hispanic parents; more and more of them are refusing to have their children placed in such programs.
I am bilingual, as English was not my first language. I think it is wonderful to be bilingual, and I wish I were trilingual. I wish everyone were. America, however, is an English-speaking society, and it always will be. Therefore, it is the duty of the American public schools to teach English to those students who are not proficient in it. Local school districts should nevertheless have the right to choose the language-instruction program they think is best for their students and not be locked into a methodology dictated by the federal government or some lobbying group.
Anthony Torres Superintendent Community Consolidated Schools District 168 Sauk Village, Ill.
I am not surprised at the conclusions drawn by a study of Head Start on which you recently reported ("Head Start's Benefits Are Short-Lived, a Three-Year Federal Study Concludes," Education Week, Sept. 11, 1985). The study states that Head Start has a strong immediate impact on children's development, but that its benefits tend to diminish over time.
We in Red Bank, N.J., have programs for 3- and 4-year-olds, as well as an all-day kindergarten and a bridge program between kindergarten and 1st grade. We know that regardless of the fine start these programs afford our educationally disadvantaged children, our best efforts would come to little or naught were we not to continue the youngsters in a carefully planned program as they move through the grades.
After students finish our very-early-childhood program, they move on to a logically sequenced and structured mastery-learning program, which was developed by our teaching staff in all subject areas. Having been rigorously prepared by the very-early-childhood program, the students are able to continue their successes through mastery learning in grades 1-8.
It has been our experience that neither the very-early-childhood program nor mastery learning would be effective without the other.
The problem with most Head Start programs is that once children finish them, they are "thrown to the wolves" in programs that are not designed to meet the needs of the educationally disadvantaged. Given a sequence of instruction such as the one I have described, however, children do very well indeed.
Joan D. Abrams Superintendent of Schools Red Bank, N.J.
In 1953, as a rookie English and social-studies teacher, I was insisting that my students speak and write standard English in class. My constituency was 99 percent black; the school was the Sherwin School in Roxbury, Mass. My greatest supporters in this language crusade were the parents of these black children.
As a white from an underprivileged section of Boston, I knew that one could never play the doctor-lawyer-businessman game with anything less than a solid command of standard English.
Your article "California Measures Promote Teaching of 'Standard English"' (Education Week, Sept. 18, 1985) reminded me how late some have come to realize that no minority dialect in any country has achieved the prestige the standard dialect has. More to the point, those who communicate solely in minority dialects will have great difficulty attaining desirable social and occupational lifestyles. Teachers who fail to impress this fact on their minority students and demand less than those students' maximum effort toward achieving mastery of at least general English are doing their students a gross disservice.
All English-language teachers, however, should take care to stress that there is nothing inherently "wrong" with any dialect. What is wrong is knowing neither when nor how to use various levels of a language appropriately.
Joseph P. Fotos Superintendent of Schools Clarion Area School District Clarion, Pa.