Letters to the Editor
To the Editor:
The Oct. 2 issue of Education Week ran two articles on the problems of funding special-education programs ("ed Enforces Handicapped-Aid Ceiling; Cuts Massachusetts Grant, Asks Refund" and "Classifications at Heart of Debate Over Funding"). The first was on Massachusetts, which received aid for more than an allowable number of students.
In the second article, Frederick J. Weintraub of the Council for Exceptional Children was quoted as saying: "Obviously there are children who will not clinically meet the definition of handicapped, but who still need the assistance provided by special education. We think there needs to be a careful examination of the appropriate ways of extending special-education services--and perhaps a look at alternative sources of funding."
While observing, as a school-board member, the development and application of P.L. 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, I have noted that many students are identified as handicapped because school districts have abandoned homogeneously grouping their students.
With class sizes now down to 15, it is probable that a child now classified as "learning disabled" could be aptly served in a class of 15 homogeneously grouped learning-disabled students. This class may have to be taught by a teacher capable of teaching this population, without having to classify those students.
Norman A. Bleshman Bergenfield, N.J.
To the Editor:
As reported in Education Week ("Education Lobbies Shift Focus to States," Oct. 2, 1985), the National School Boards Association as part of its new initiatives has created the Center for State Legislation, School Law, and Public Policy to deal with the expanding need for an active force on educational developments in the courts and state legislatures. The nsba, however, does not want to give the impression that our increased legal and state involvement substitutes for a strong presence in Washington, D.C.
The federal government provides nearly $12 billion to school districts through its departments of education and agriculture and other agencies. Additionally, our Congressional lawmakers are asked to vote on a broad range of issues--beyond funding--that touch such crucial areas of American education and local governance as religion in the schools, access and quality, tax-exempt bonding, and the Fair Labor Standards Act.
In response to an obvious need, and contrary to the slant of your Oct. 2 article, the nsba has substantially raised its federal priority. Through a recent reorganization and a special federal-relations initiative adopted by the the board of directors, the local-school-board presence--as well as the presence of the nsba itself--will be enhanced in the halls of Congress.
Thomas A. Shannon Executive Director National School Boards Association Alexandria, Va.
To the Editor:
One has to wonder what Secretary of Education William J. Bennett's real agenda is with his new study of elementary schools ("Bennett Launches Major New Study of Early Grades," Education Week, Oct. 9, 1985). Of course, we all see the necessity of paying as close attention to primary education as we do to secondary education. But the action that speaks louder than words in this case is the actual makeup of the study committee.
First, it is important to note that the 21-member committee includes one, repeat one, elementary-school teacher. The reports on secondary education consistently point out that teachers feel alienated from their work. This is because no one seems concerned about the autonomy of teachers or their input into the system. Nothing could make this trend clearer than the makeup of Mr. Bennett's committee. There is room for the president of Pizza Hut, but not for classroom teachers. But then again, if the object of schooling is just to shape good pizza-makers, such appointments make great sense.
Second, the conservative political bias of the committee is stunning. Rita Kramer and Diane Ravitch, stalwarts of conservative academia, are to be found on the panel. The head of the conservative John M. Olin Foundation is there, too, along with a sprinkling of Republican politicians. We will not be surprised when the final report calls for more drill, discipline, family values, and top-down control of elementary schools.
There is more to be found here. For instance, compared with one teacher, there are six school administrators. And, once again, fiats will come from on high, as five panel members are university faculty members or administrators. But where else to look for advice if not from those farthest from the school classroom?
All of this would lead us to despair if we did not know so many good elementary-school teachers. Teachers who ignore, as best they can, the current fad of trivializing education into test scores. And teachers who will continue to open up the minds of youngsters to reading by reading, writing by writing, and thinking by thinking.
Mr. Bennett and company, give us a call. We know some places where the real action is going on. And it isn't in committee meetings in Washington.
Marcia Burchby Teacher Amesville Elementary School Amesville, Ohio
George Wood Assistant Professor of Education Ohio University Athens, Ohio
To the Editor:
We were delighted with your extensive coverage of the recent meeting of the Council of Chief State School Officers' study commission in New York City ("Chiefs Weighing Use of naep for Pupil Comparisons" and "Plan Would Place More Emphasis on International Issues," Education Week, Oct. 9, 1985). Your article about the multiple sessions on international education and your review of the council's plans for its assessment and evaluation center were well written and, for the most part, accurate.
We would like to clarify, however, one or two points in each of the articles that could confuse the casual reader.
Concerning the article on international education, it should be emphasized that the study commission cannot require the states to do anything. It is, as its name implies, a study commission. It makes recommendations to the chief state school officers for consideration at their annual meeting in November. If the chiefs adopt the recommendations, they will be implemented.
In the article on assessment, there is a serious implication regarding the awarding of the National Assessment of Educational Progress contract. The federal government awards the naep contract in what we assume to be a fair and proper way, impervious to outside influence. The ccsso would not want to or seek to influence such an award. We would like, however, to provide ideas and suggestions about the scope of work for this contract, which the National Institute of Education (the awarding organization) can use as it sees fit. We strongly believe that representatives of various states should be involved in reviewing proposals before this contract is awarded.
Judith Chayes Neiman Director Public Relations and Development Council of Chief State School Officers Washington, D.C.
To the Editor:
Dan Weiner's scheme ("A Modest Proposal: Make Principalships Elective, Highly Paid," Education Week, Sept. 25, 1985) to pay principals $100,000 per year and "have all the principals of a school district form the school board" must have come from the bottom of the editorial-section barrel.
The high salary would probably attract the would-be lawyers, as well as the would-be and has-been politicians. Swell. The public schools don't have enough to worry about; now they should purposefully recruit the Richard Nixons and Jimmy Carters of the country.
One cannot seriously propose, as Mr. Weiner does, that "an attractive market for principals for the country's 83,000 public schools might offer a socially useful way to cure the present 'lawyer glut."' The last thing the public schools need is to be thrown into the chaos currently enjoyed by the legal and legislative systems. Socially useful, indeed!
Craig Brewington Principal Fort Benton Schools Fort Benton, Mont.
To the Editor:
Efforts in some states to deny accreditation to the innovative doctoral program in education created by Nova University of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., are as pernicious as they are self-serving ("North Carolina Cracks Down on Out-of-State Colleges," Education Week, Sept. 25, 1985). As one who received an Ed.D. from Nova in 1979, I believe it is no accident that certain purveyors of traditional doctoral programs in educational administration are uniting to give the new boy on the block his comeuppance.
Authorities in North Carolina are more forthright than others in their purge. At least their opposition is centered directly and uniquely in the state-university system itself. In other states, some professors of educational administration at traditional graduate institutions load the guns for either state legislators or state education officials to fire.
And what is the fuss about? These professors maintain that the route to a doctorate in educational administration must be taken as they dictate. They insist that "serious" doctoral programs are ones that contain time-honored, sanctified procedures and practices that distinguish them from the pretensions of less worthy programs. The fact that such a process generally leads to a body of largely undistinguished, irrelevant trivia doesn't disturb these gatekeepers in the least.
If one examines doctoral theses emanating from some traditional temples of educational administration, he will find the stuff that pipe dreams are made of. Surveys based on ill-devised questionnaires, shallow studies of state and federal programs, flawed histories of teacher-union practices--these, and more, generate questionable data for too many theses parading as substantive research.
Moreover, in such programs it is not the product but the process that dominates. Many doctoral candidates must labor and survive in the less-than-professional environment that is a common characteristic of too many traditional doctoral programs: courses with different titles but duplicative subject matter, mandated residencies for all doctoral candidates irrespective of individual student's abilities and needs, the degradation of doing research for professors sans recognition or remuneration for the researcher, the teaching of graduate classes sans adequate financial compensation. Ergo, Nova's program.
Nova's National Ed.D. Program for Educational Leaders is straightforward. It does not pretend to be anything but a professional program of relevant studies specifically designed to benefit practicing school administrators. Indeed, if one is not a practicing administrator, he is not eligible for the program.
Nova insists that its candidates complete all doctoral requirements within four years. It insists that each field study, or practicum, be carefully designed and effected to benefit the administrator's school district. It also requires the satisfactory completion of three practicums. As most Nova Ed.D. graduates and dropouts will attest, Nova practicum reviewers are tough, competent, demanding evaluators. One may not initiate a practicum unless he has formulated a satisfactory written proposal consonant with precise, exacting, established criteria.
Each Nova "learning module" is devised and supervised by a nationally distinguished professor. The work for which these professors assume full responsibility runs the gamut of traditional graduate-student requirements and includes reading, research papers, and comprehensive examinations. Each module is unique; subject material overlaps only when necessary. It was my privilege to share my ideas on school administration with Michael Scriven, Morris Cogan, Laurence Iannaccone, Mario Fantini, Harvey Scribner, and Louis Rubin, among others.
To understand why the Nova program is excoriated by some professors of educational administration, one only has to look at the origin of the calumnies and the cumulative effect of the numbers of Nova doctoral candidacies on the turf of these educators. Such pedagogues cannot be seriously concerned about the reputation of their educational-administration programs. Were this so, they would be devising ways to reverse the relatively low esteem in which such programs are held, especially by their liberal-arts colleagues.
The issues, pure and simple, are related to economics and power. Strip away the varnish and one finds that certain graduate departments of education--the ones that have traditionally feasted on local citizenry and foisted a plethora of irrelevant criteria for the attainment of doctoral degrees on optionless candidates--are hit in the pocketbook by Nova's no-nonsense approach. The success of the nascent Nova program deprives these priests of purse and parishioners.
The real test of any program is its product. The product of an educational-administration program should be a superior school administrator. Let these professors prove that their programs make for such superiority vis-a-vis Nova's program.
It is interesting to note that the last time traditional programs entered the lists alongside Nova was during competition for the 1982 American Association of School Administrators' "Outstanding Preparation Program Award." To whom did the award go? Why, Nova's National Ed.D. Program for Educational Leaders, of course.
Joseph P. Fotos Superintendent Clarion Area School District Clarion, Pa.