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To the Editor:

In your article "NAEP Releases Delayed Report on Reading Test'' (March 2, 1988), a statement that "the problem was most likely in the statistical technique used to compare the results'' was attributed to me.

This statement does not accurately reflect what we have learned in our analyses of the problem to date.

The results for reading items that were administered in both the 1984 and 1986 assessments showed a substantial, inexplicable drop in the reading performance of 9- and 17-year-olds and no decline in the reading performance of 13-year-olds.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress has examined a number of hypotheses about what might have caused such anomalous results, and no clear reason for the estimated decline has emerged.

The studies of these data are described in a recently issued technical report. Among other findings, that report concludes: "Some hypotheses, such as inaccuracies in sampling, scaling, and quality control, can be ruled out beyond any reasonable doubt.''

We are now gathering more data to elucidate the results and to decide whether the estimated decline is credible or not. The 1986 reading-trend results will be published when the new data are analyzed.

Archie E. Lapointe
Executive Director
National Assessment
of Educational Progress
Princeton, N.J.

To the Editor:

Craig M. Bowman's approach to student failure and school improvement repeats an old formula offering a quick fix for a complex problem ("Adults Must Say 'No'--To Save Children,'' Commentary, Feb. 24, 1988).

Want to save Johnny from a future in penal institutions? Get tough! Purge the school of "indolent'' counselors, administrators who are "moral cowards,'' and "lazy, gutless'' parents.

This formula attempts to sanction the feelings of those teachers angered by moves toward teacher accountability, with its implicit relationship to student failure.

Mr. Bowman contends that teachers are not responsible for student failure; parents are. And administrators. And counselors. And students.

In reality, the rallying cry "Just tell our kids 'no''' offers few answers to a needy educational community.

The pendular swing from permissiveness to toughness in child rearing wearies the best of us. No one method is totally effective.

Because they dislike work or fear failure, Mr. Bowman claims, many students avoid the classes of "tough'' teachers. As director of guidance, I can easily list the "tough'' teachers in our school, as can students and other teachers.

Rarely have students asked for transfers from the classes of exacting instructors who are known to care about their students.

On the other hand, students flock to the office to avoid teachers who, while demanding a serious effort, demonstrate an antagonistic attitude toward children.

The explanation for such behavior is much more complicated than Mr. Bowman suggests in his description of lazy kids seeking easy ways out.

Research into effective schools and teacher behaviors helps add some "science'' to our art. To deny the contribution of this research while espousing one's subjective experiences appears increasingly naÃive.

If we "really love our children,'' we will reject predictable panaceas in our efforts to reduce student failure.

We should "just say 'no''' to those who would have us ignore current research and deny the shared responsibility inherent in the teaching-learning relationship.

Jean Rutherford
Director of Guidance
Plainfield High School
Plainfield, Ill.

To the Editor:

I was grateful for Craig M. Bowman's Commentary.

The problem is that the essay will reach only a specialized audience, not those who need it most.

Schools reflect the society they serve. Try as they may, educators cannot construct educational policies.

Rather, they are established by boards of education representing the public, to whom the schools belong.

Within our society I see an increasing abandonment of responsibility. With a gross lack of commitment to family comes a turning away from active parenting.

It is almost as though children are seen as toys to be enjoyed at will and protected. The schools are to be staffed with good maintenance people who will keep these toys well polished and programmed with the latest tricks.

Few expectations are set forth for most children. The fault for this lies with their irresponsible parents.

To be sure, some among our professional ranks lack courage; some lack ability or knowledge.

Others--the majority--continue to fight for a strong, responsible educational program and to encourage effective parenting.

Robert E. Bliss
Principal
Spring Hill Middle School
Spring Hill, Kan.

To the Editor:

Sol Cohen's Commentary on "therapeutic'' schooling is a perniciously silly piece of writing ("'Therapeutic' Schooling Endangers Reform,'' March 2, 1988).

This essay documents the extent to which academic educators have become removed from the realities of public schools, the majority of which remain unaltered by a century of reform movements and oblivious to our cumulative stock of wisdom about the developmental and emotional needs of children.

Mr. Cohen's Commentary made me think of my own students--poor, black, bright, and full of vitality--who have been pushed out or have dropped out of "therapeutic'' high schools.

Along with the teachers who tried to minister to them, these students might wonder if Mr. Cohen has confused psychological welfare with psychological warfare. For the only "adjustment'' promoted in schools is mute acceptance of a system that cannot perform the fundamental work of caring.

An excellence movement, under these conditions, would teach our children how to fight back--intellectually, politically, and psychologically.

I hope that someday we will recast schools from the ground up, fashioning humane forms out of a shapeless mass. Until then, we have no time for critics conjuring up paper-tiger fantasies.

Mary Kathleen Irwin
Chicago, Ill.

To the Editor:

Sol Cohen's Commentary sheds little light on the plight of public education.

Mr. Cohen simply chooses to rephrase tensions that have always existed between the socializing and academic purposes of public schools.

His substitution of "therapeutic'' for socializing goals and subsequent vilification of the National Committee for Mental Hygiene are absurd.

Any casual reading of educational history in the United States reveals that many disparate "lobbies'' have attempted to influence the purposes of public schooling.

Schools can both socialize and educate. Or, to use Mr. Cohen's label, they can nurture "therapeutically'' while still assuring academic excellence.

Education Week has done a disservice to its readers by trivializing this issue through the publication of Mr. Cohen's shallow interpretation.

Jeffrey Benay
Director of Indian Education
Franklin Northwest Supervisory Union
Swanton, Vt.

To the Editor:

Your report that the number of special-education students is increasing comes as no surprise ("Study Documents Jump in Special-Education Enrollments,'' March 2, 1988).

What is surprising is that students classified as learning-disabled account for only 43.7 percent of the total special-education population.

I would take a step further each of the reasons cited to explain the increase in the number of children in this category.

First, the L.D. classification is said by an expert to be "subject to variable interpretation.'' In fact, nearly anyone can be identified as learning-disabled if the "right'' assessment battery is used.

Second, this label is not simply "less stigmatizing''; in the view of some, it actually confers status.

Third, you report decreases in the number of students being classified as mentally retarded. Indeed, in California, we no longer label students "mentally retarded.'' Those who might once have been thus classified are now described as "significantly below general intellectual functioning ... and adaptive behavior.''

Fourth, you mention increased academic requirements. At the high-school level, many pupils classified as L.D. are no longer L.D. as soon as their proficiency level or credit requirement has been met.

Wayne Shatswell
Director of Pupil Services
Marysville Joint Unified School District
Marysville, Calif.

To the Editor:

Missing in the Commentary by Gerald Skoog was the admission that neither creationism nor evolution is a testable scientific theory ("'Pressures' for Creationism To Be Resisted,'' Feb. 10, 1988).

Because neither can be tested, much less proven, neither theory should be taught as fact. Indeed, it is legitimate to ask whether they should be taught in science classes at all.

If evolution were factual, we should be able to trace in fossils a continuous record of transitions from the simpler forms of life to the more complex.

Yet what we find is just the opposite. With the discovery of new evidence, even the few forms supposed to be transitional, such as the archaeopteryx, have had to be disregarded.

A study of elementary reaction-rate chemistry reveals that radiometric dating procedures are invalid. As most high-school students know, an equation with two unknowns cannot be solved. But that's what you have to do when you use the so-called atomic clocks.

An honest scientist lets his theory stand on the evidence available. If the evidence is lacking, he admits it.

Darwin himself wrote: "There is another and allied difficulty which is much more serious. I allude to the manner in which species belonging to the main divisions of the animal kingdom suddenly appear in the lowest known fossiliferous rocks. ...''

More recently, Stephen Jay Gould has noted, "The fossil record with its abrupt transitions offers no support for gradual change ...''

No evidence has been presented for the formation of the first enzyme or the first cell; for the transition from invertebrate to vertebrate, from reptile to amphibian, or from reptile to bird.

It is no accident that one of the most prominent defenders of evolution and one of the strongest opponents of creationism is not a scientific organization but the American Humanist Association, a group registered with the U.S. government as a "tax-exempt religious organization.'' The first two tenets of the AHA's credo deal with a belief in evolution.

Mr. Skoog has done a disservice to educators by implying that the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Louisiana Balanced Treatment Act somehow makes the presentation of the creation theory illegal or undesirable.

One of the prime reasons stated in the majority decision for striking down the act was a reluctance on the part of the Justices to dictate what should or shouldn't be taught in public schools.

Our students have a right to know the truth. If the truth is that scientists disagree on a particular theory, they have a right to know that also--and should not have a one-sided view forced down their throats.

Tim Morrill
Teacher
Sandown, N.H.

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