Letters To the Editor:
Thank you for continuing to call our attention to early-childhood issues, most recently in the thoughtful and disturbing excerpts from David Elkind's new book ("The 'Miseducation' of Young Children," Commentary, Feb. 3, 1988).
As a public-school kindergarten teacher, I am a part of the problem Mr. Elkind explores. However, I am not a willing participant in "miseducating" my youngsters.
While I realize what I'm doing and openly say I don't approve of some parts of the program, the pressures to conform to the "societal norms" Mr. Elkind describes are intense. "Pushy parents" are certainly a part of the problem, but 1st-grade teachers--colleagues I see and interact with daily--have their expectations, too.
In addition, the school system issues pages of educational objectives and sets time requirements for each subject area.
Beyond these pressures are the test scores (in my case, Stanford Achievement Test scores), which are scrutinized even at the kindergarten level. Low reading and math scores in kindergarten can easily lead to the conclusion that pre-kindergarten classes in the school system are not just a good idea, but a necessity.
It's one thing to say that I support the statements of groups like the Association of Childhood Education International and the National Association for the Education of Young Children, but it's quite another to translate that support into action in my classroom. The kindergarten-level team with whom I must work doesn't always share my developmental approach.
My school is overcrowded--we hold three classes in a space designed for two. Although I support "hands on" learning, limitations of space preclude large blocks, for instance.
In a room filled with desks and children, formalized instruction is an easy "out"; it keeps boys and girls in their seats, quietly engaged in paper-and-pencil activities. Coping with a given situation makes compromise necessary--not right.
If the research is clear and the experts on early childhood agree on how young children learn best, then I await the changes that will support a nonpressured learning environment.
I hope Mr. Elkind will bang his drum loudly, so that we can all march together away from "the miseducation of young children."
Nancy K. Webster Miami, Fla.
Your excerpt from David Elkind's Miseducation: Preschoolers at Risk concludes that "early instruction miseducates, not because it attempts to teach, but because it attempts to teach the wrong things at the wrong time."
I appreciate Mr. Elkind's point of not discrediting the significance of early-childhood education intended to expose the world of interests to a child at an early age.
It is true that young children do not sit around and wait for parents to teach them; they "explore and understand their immediate world." Wouldn't you think it would be beneficial to them to give them a little encouragement and, perhaps, to help them extend the horizon of their immediate world?
As Mr. Elkind suggests, many early-education programs do not base their approach on an understanding of the developmental stages of young children. Any early-education program detrimental to learning motivation, for example, is not to be tolerated.
However, I also believe that an early-childhood-education program could be designed to support children's learning by inspiring their interest and positively reinforcing their desirable behavior.
Early-childhood learning does not necessarily have to be formally rigid or high-pressured. If a young child willingly learns with fun and interest, what's wrong with allowing him to have an early start?
T.C. Chan Educational Planner Cobb County School District Marietta, Ga.
The recent hand-wringing over the contract and grant process ("Ohio State Suing Over Tainted Grant Process," Jan. 20, 1988) serves only to point up a truism: Winners exult and losers sulk.
Called into question in this instance is the peer-review process through which grants and contracts in the federal sector are awarded. One gets the impression from reading the comments of the sources quoted in the article that skulduggery has overtaken the integrity of the system--that awards are made in a highly subjective manner, with the process being used as a kind of shield to hide the deviousness of the system.
My long experience in government contradicts this view. Rather, the process is generally rigorous and fair.
A computer provides a listing of candidates, entered by the appropriate criteria. To back up the computer printout, vitae are made available for perusal by the competition manager.
Files are reviewed for conflict of interest, availability, and expertise. Panelists make ratings, rankings, and recommendations. The staff then determines final recommendations and rankings.
Questioning the qualifications of the panelists who reviewed the applications in this case, Ohio State University has filed suit "to block the launch of the Berkeley center until a review of the grant applications by a new panel is conducted."
The information provided in the article does not allow for a definitive response to the question of qualifications. Two of the panelists were selected from a list prepared by the Education Department's office of vocational and adult education; one can assume they passed the test for expertise. Qualifications of the other three members of the panel were viewed "skeptically" by the General Accounting Office's investigators of the process.
An anonymous gao official suggested that these three panelists should not be considered expert because national leaders were not acquainted with them. Should they have known them? Perhaps. But if a computer was used to compile the candidate pool, a number of candidates might well have not been widely known, even though they might have met all the selection criteria.
Panelists were alleged to have said that they were not aware of the reasons for their selection and that they were not acquainted with each other. That they didn't know each other would be quite normal in a large universe of potential candidates unless, as is seldom the case, only highly publicized professionals made up the pool of candidates.
In the final analysis, Ohio State, the incumbent, lost out to a consortium headed by the University of California by a total of 16 discrete points and an average of three points. Contrary to the suggestion of Senator Metzenbaum's office that this was a "narrow margin," three average points could be substantial when separating two applicants rated and ranked higher than all the others.
In a recent competition (January 1988), for example, in which 15 panels (45 experts) rated and ranked 158 proposals, only four average standard points separated the top proposal from the fifth and only nine average points separated the top proposal from the 10th. At the top, it would be expected that scores would be close in most competitions.
This criticism of the peer-review process by those with vested interests should be viewed with concern. It is offensive in the extreme to those whose working life is dedicated to the government to have calumny of this sort heaped on their heads.
When warranted, criticism of the peer-review process ought to be conducted with the facts in mind and with the goal of improving the system. While assuredly not perfect, it has in my experience proved to be fair.
Melville J. Appell Herndon, Va.
I have read with interest your stories in the Feb. 10 issue about the choice of two well-established, formerly all-boys private schools to go coeducational ("From 'Relic' to Real World," "Deerfield's Choice Was 'Educational and Practical"').
As the stories indicated, the choice to become coeducational is based on financial rather than academic factors. For all private schools, a high level of enrollment, particularly of good students, is crucial for survival.
However, research shows that academic concerns may be ignored in the decisions of single-sex schools to become coeducational. In a 1986 study that compared single-sex and coeducation in 75 Catholic high schools in the United States (a random sample, which St. Stephen's and Deerfield do not represent), Anthony S. Bryk and I found positive effects of single-sex grouping for girls in a number of domains, academic as well as affective.
In a similar study of secondary schools that belong to the National Association of Independent Schools, we hope to scientifically investigate this issue in the only other group of schools besides the Catholic sector that still includes substantial numbers of single-sex institutions.
I appreciate your coverage of this issue, which I believe is an important one. However, it should not be inferred from your sample of two schools that coeducation is superior.
Although some people consider single-sex schooling an anachronism, its academic advantages should not be overlooked. Your portrayal of St. Agnes school in the St. Stephen's story makes it sound very recalcitrant and old-fashioned.
Valerie Lee Assistant Professor, School of Education University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Mich.
Congratulations on your extended coverage of the vocational-education program and the elimination of the general-education track in Pittsburgh ("Pittsburgh Burnishes New Vocational Image," Feb. 3, 1988).
You gave due credit to Fred Monaco, Pittsburgh's competent, creative, and tough director of occupational, vocational, and technical education
Unfortunately, the article notes only in passing the importance of "extensive tutoring, mentoring, and cooperative work experiences." These elements are crucial for successful programs such as those administered by Mr. Monaco, who also designed and for many years administered Pittsburgh's cooperative-education program.
The key element, cooperative work-experience education, affords students the opportunity to acquire occupational competence, documented employability, and entry into the labor market. It also provides motivation to stay in school and assessment to determine the need for remedial education and support services.
One hopes that your article will slow the race to economic and social discord sparked by unthinking, unabashed acceptance of the current academic elitism. Apparently willing to tolerate a second-class economy and an unprepared workforce, those who share this destructive outlook condemn a large portion of our population to underclass status.
Solomon Hoberman Director, Consortium for Experiential Cooperative Education New York, N.Y.