Letters To the Editor:
I read with great interest "Schools Rated a Key Factor in Business-Site Decisions" (Sept. 30, 1987). I agree that good schools are important in attracting industry to any area or community. I find very suspect, however, the rankings of the public-school systems in the various states.
Familiar with the per-pupil expenditures, graduation requirements, and standards of many states, I question the ranking of Arkansas, Louisiana, Georgia, Mississippi, and Tennessee above New York, California, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. I would be very interested in knowing more about how you arrived at the ratings you listed in the article.
William H. Young Superintendent Union City Area School District Union City, Pa.
Editor's note: The writer's point is well taken. Due to an editing error, the national rankings in the survey on page 14 of the Sept. 30 issue were incorrectly characterized. Tennessee--number 48--was the lowest-ranked state; Wyoming--number 1--was the highest-ranked.
I was distressed by Patrick Groff's Commentary, "Colleges Fail in Training of Reading Teachers" (Oct. 14, 1987).
Having spent a number of years teaching reading methods to preservice teachers, I would question any education department or endorsed text that advocated only one approach to teaching children to read.
A knowledge of children's learning styles and an awareness of very young learners' needs for tactual and kinesthetic learning experiences suggest that no one best method exists--least of all a strong auditory-decoding one--to accommodate the needs of all learners. Numerous studies have countered Jeanne Chall's findings and supported other approaches.
I would urge Mr. Groff to familiarize himself with the research of others, most notably Marie Carbo, whose recent book Teaching Students To Read Through Their Individualized Learning Styles (Prentice Hall, 1986), coauthored with Rita and Ken Dunn, addresses the need for a variety of methods, materials, and strategies in the teaching of reading.
I would also encourage Mr. Groff to acquaint himself with graduates of teacher-preparation programs who feel they were admirably prepared to teach before he makes gross generalizations concerning the quality of teacher-education courses.
Mary Ellen Freeley Principal Maurice W. Downing School Malverne, N.Y.
The idea conveyed in "A Voucher Plan For Workers" (Commentary, Oct. 7, 1987) is fundamentally flawed from both a policy and an implementation perspective.
The prospect of another bureaucracy invading the country's business would be sufficient to kill the proposition in its inception. Unions would disdain the idea as an impractical response from unrealistic academics.
Other flaws would become apparent in the implementation phase. Under the plan outlined by Mark S. Tucker and David R. Mandel, each state would define an educational standard for entry-level work in modern business and industry. The "standard" is left so esoteric that one must doubt whether any but subjective measures could be applied to ascertain skill levels for prospective employees.
The "standards" suggested by the authors--that employees "can think on their feet, speak and write well, exercise sound judgment in complicated situations, and draw on a thorough understanding of mathematics, science, and other subjects to find a path through a tough problem when there is no single right solution"--would in one fell swoop eliminate from employment a vast number of prospective entry-level workers, particularly those who are lacking in educational backgrounds.
Casually tossing off the need to master the fundamentals of literacy, the authors emphasize instead the need to vie with our competitors. In view of the failure rate of our teachers on competency tests and the fact that between 20 million and 30 million of our citizens are illiterate, the mastery of basics looms as more significant a problem than the need "to go beyond being able to read and write a simple sentence and do arithmetic."
Even so, the "standards" proposed need some substantiation. What does it mean "to think on one's feet"? Common sense or the wisdom of justices of the Supreme Court? What does it mean to "draw on" and have a "thorough understanding" when there is a "tough problem"?
A bureaucracy at the state level trying to define these standards would bog down in uncertainty and delay. Ultimately they would be discarded in utter frustration.
In this plan, a state bureaucracy would develop the tests to be used. The provider of educational services would not be fully paid for those services, however, unless the students were able to pass a test administered by the state. Does anyone think that businessmen would submit to this procedure for their entry-level workers?
In order to formulate a set of "standards," one must understand some basic facts concerning entry-level workers:
Even though 60 percent of all high-school graduates contact agencies designed to help in the employment process, many entry-level applicants find jobs through a network of contacts with employers.
Personnel officers show little concern about the vocational-education backgrounds of their applicants, especially when the companies provide their own training. To them, vocational-school graduation is valuable only because it serves as evidence of perseverance, which in the workplace translates into stability of the workforce.
Sex and race play prominent roles in entry-level aspiration. White males are more likely to be employed than any other group in our society.
Employment prospects are brightest for those who are most successful in the educational system. For instance, high-school graduates are more likely to seek entry to the work force than are school leavers.
The proponents of this proposal are apparently referring to entry-level applicants possessing high-school or college backgrounds and saleable skills. Certainly the authors do not refer to those on the lower rungs of the prospective-employee ladder: minorities, the educationally deprived, the illiterate, and many of the disabled. To ignore these millions and concentrate on those who are "well beyond that level of basic skills" is to espouse elitism as the American way.
Melville J. Appell Reston, Va.
Edd Doerr, executive director of Americans for Religious Liberty, believes that "our country's pluralism and the federal and state constitutions do require ... that the schools be 'secular,' which is to say religiously neutral" ("The Need for Clear Terms: 'Secular' vs. 'Secularism'," Letters, Sept. 23, 1987).
The problem with this position is that it is not possible for schools to be "religiously neutral." If it is a religious position to teach that God created the world, is it not also a religious position to teach that God did not create the world? By never mentioning creation in the classroom, a teacher communicates the idea that creation is a myth.
If it is a religious position to teach that the Bible is a divinely given moral standard for man, is it not also a religious position to teach that morality is a matter of "social consensus," to be personally affirmed or denied as one chooses? If one teaches something like the latter position, is he not implying that the Bible is not man's ultimate standard of morality?
John Dewey recognized that man is a creature of faith. Placing his faith in man, Dewey rejected the God of the Bible. But at least he understood that his position on the matter was one of faith, as evidenced by his writing that "the ideal ends to which we attach our faith [have] all the elements for a religious faith that shall not be confined to sect, class, or race. Such a faith has always been implicitly the common faith of mankind."
The issue concerns not the question of whether religion should be mixed with education, but rather the determination of the religious positions that will be allowed to mix and of the faith that will be the accepted basis of learning.
Christian Overman Principal Christ Church Schools Seattle, Wash.