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To the Editor:

Your recent article about Jonathan P. Sher's report on school-consolidation issues in Nebraska was well done ("Nebraska Study Faults Push for Consolidation,'' April 6, 1988).

As you pointed out, Mr. Sher's position is one of advocacy for small, rural school districts.

In Nebraska, these districts--which serve students in kindergarten through 8th grade--are referred to as "Class I'' (of six classifications) districts.

There are approximately 650 Class I districts, of some 975 total districts. Class I residents pay tuition to Class II-IV districts for education of their high-school students.

Those who favor the existence of Class I districts frequently cite "geographic isolation'' and "local control'' as major considerations.

But schools in adjacent states with geographic characteristics similar to--or more severe than--Nebraska's underwent consolidation decades ago.

An important underlying issue in the school-consolidation scenario is the tax advantage provided by residence in one type of district as opposed to another.

Only one state relies more heavily than Nebraska on the property tax to support its public schools. Motor vehicles, along with real estate, are taxed as "property'' in this state.

From the taxpayer's point of view, it is generally advantageous to reside in a Class I school district.

A study considering all perspectives on the topic of school consolidation in Nebraska certainly would make interesting reading.

Irving C. Young
Coordinator of Research
Omaha Public Schools
Omaha, Neb.

To the Editor:

In "Class Size No Panacea, Says Study'' (April 6, 1988), you cite a U.S. Education Department report by Tommy M. Tomlinson stating that "average class size was larger when test scores were highest than it was when test scores were lowest.''

This coincidence, according to Mr. Tomlinson, a researcher in the department's office of programs for the improvement of practice, "provides little reassurance to states now proposing to raise student achievement (test scores) through similar reductions'' in class size.

Whether or not smaller class sizes promote achievement, the research design on which this conclusion is based should be examined.

In its methodology, the study attempts to explain a difference--in this case, decline in achievement--by a variable--decrease in class size--with no control group.

Such a design is compromised by its inability to rule out what researchers call "uncontrolled rival hypotheses.''

The major confounding variable in the example cited by Mr. Tomlinson is history: Between 1961 and 1986, many events occurred that could have contributed to decreased achievement.

To suggest, as Mr. Tomlinson does, that reducing class size does not promote achievement effectively and economically is to go way beyond the data his study provides.

Coincidences do not prove correlations; correlations do not prove causation.

Dorothy B. Rosenthal
Pacific Palisades, Calif.

To the Editor:

As you've reported, the Indiana State Teachers Association opposes the Indiana Statewide Test for Educational Progress ("Extensive Tests in Indiana Make Teachers Uneasy,'' April 13, 1988).

However, the fact that 1,000 out of 40,000 ISTA members have indicated on survey forms that ISTEP is wrong hardly convinces one that Indiana teachers as a group object strenuously to the test.

ISTEP is a reasonable and long-overdue reaction to 20 years of social promotion. During that time, educators repeatedly taught students that academic achievement was not necessary for promotion, or even graduation.

The state teachers' association favors social promotion because it removes accountability for performance. But not all teachers are so frightened of competition.

Yes, some did overreact to signs of student stress by crying for an end to the test. As any coach can tell you, however, the body--or mind--gets stronger only when placed under appropriate levels of stress.

Instead of hollering for a return to no standards, teachers should encourage their students to rise to the challenge.

Shrewd teachers had their students approach the test as a team would approach its championship game. Test day presented students an opportunity to prove they had what it takes to succeed.

And if some fail? They should demand a rematch, following further training. ISTEP provides that.

Indiana's testing program is not an evil, bureaucratic concoction, but a means for insisting that each student demonstrate mastery before going on.

T.R. Ellis
Curriculum Coordinator
Lawrenceburg Community
School Corporation
Lawrenceburg, Ind.

U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett thinks Roman Catholic schools should educate disadvantaged inner-city children, then ask the taxpayers to foot the bill ("Catholic Schools Challenged To Educate the 'Worst','' April 13, 1988).

Mr. Bennett blithely ignores the chief problem with his proposal: It's patently unconstitutional. Because the First Amendment provides for the separation of church and state, no citizen may be forced to pay taxes to support any church or parochial school.

Mr. Bennett knows this. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled time and time again that government funds may not be used to subsidize religious education--either directly or indirectly.

The Secretary denounced the Court's 1985 decision in Aguilar v. Felton--which struck down the prevailing method of providing Chapter 1 services to religious-school students--as "crazy,'' "terrible,'' and "badly reasoned,'' and he vowed to find a way around it.

In his latest proposal, he is using disadvantaged urban children as pawns in a callous political maneuver to win tax subsidies for parochial schools.

Ironically, the move comes at a time when the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching has issued an urgent plea for the federal government to establish a major new effort to rescue troubled public schools in some of our nation's cities.

Shouldn't Mr. Bennett be working to improve public schools that serve all of our children, not trying to find new ways to circumvent the Supreme Court and help private schools that serve only a select few?

Robert L. Maddox
Executive Director, Americans United
for Separation of Church and State
Silver Spring, Md.

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