Letters to the Editor
I should like to clarify my position with regard to the "anomalous'' results of the 1986 National Assessment of Educational Progress reading assessment ("NAEP's 'Anomaly' Blamed on Changes in Test's Design,'' June 22, 1988).
I agreed with the review panel that some part of the decline resulted from changes in the design and administration of the test.
But I could not agree that the declines did not reflect--at least in part--the probability of real changes in reading achievement.
Indeed, I found that the 1986 scores on the whole fit my earlier studies of the gains and declines in NAEP reading scores that could be related to the ways students were taught--particularly when they were in the early grades--and the supports they received from the school, the home, and the community.
Like my study of the 1986 scores, my analyses of the results for 1971, 1980, and 1984 related changes in instructional programs and resources to NAEP scores. I found higher scores following strong beginning programs (those based on research evidence) and stronger supports, and lower scores following weaker instruction and supports.
Programs resulting in higher scores for reading comprehension among 9-year-olds (in turn tending to produce higher scores when the cohort was 13 and 17 years old) started instruction in kindergarten, taught word recognition and connected reading, taught phonics early and systematically, and provided much time for reading. Such emphases characterized most programs and basal readers in the 1970's.
The kinds of programs resulting in lower comprehension scores were those marked by a greater emphasis in the early grades on comprehension and higher-thought processes, and on the multiple meanings of common words.
These procedures--often leaving less time for reading--characterized most of the programs and readers of the 1980's, as well as those in wide use before the late 1960's.
That this hypothesis also fits the 1986 scores can be seen in the 1986 score distribution as compared with that of 1984.
The 1986 distribution had a higher proportion of very low scores, suggesting that the instructional shift of the 1980's, with its stronger emphasis on higher-level comprehension skills, was not simply less successful over all than other methods, but also was even less effective for readers at the lower end of the distribution than for higher achievers.
This finding confirms the view suggested by various analyses of beginning reading that other researchers and I have conducted over a 70-year period: Programs emphasizing word recognition and decoding tend to produce better results among all children--and especially among lower achievers--than programs stressing comprehension and word-meaning skills.
Out-of-school influences also seem to have contributed to the 1986 drop. These factors include a decline in support of libraries, an increase in the time children--especially poorer readers--spent viewing television, and a decline in funds for remedial reading.
Thus, while agreeing that the 1986 results stem in part from technical changes in the test, I think the lower scores may also derive partly from actual declines in achievement.
And since the lower scores of 9-year-olds are highly predictive of scores at 13 and 17, we need to ask what we might do to turn these results around.
Jeanne S. Chall
Professor of Education
Director, Reading Laboratory
Your article "School Choice: New, More Efficient 'Sorting Machine'?'' (May 18, 1988) did a disservice to the desegregation program in the San Jose Unified School District.
Inaccuracies and omissions gave a distorted impression of the program's success.
In its opening paragraphs, the story mentions a "study conducted in connection with an ongoing desegregation suit against the San Jose, Calif., public schools.'' The district has no knowledge of any such study conducted in its schools.
The only information we have is a statement of allegations submitted for a court hearing by the plaintiffs' attorneys, with attachments from Michael Alves, a paid consultant for the plaintiffs. The court found the allegations to be unsubstantiated and unwarranted.
Mr. Alves's contention that the district's plan "does little or nothing to improve racial balance in the schools'' is blatantly false.
Before the court-ordered plan went into effect, approximately 45 percent of the district's students attended desegregated schools.
The court ordered that 60 percent of the students be enrolled in desegregated schools the first year of the plan. The district achieved 86 percent.
The court-ordered goal for the second year was 70 percent. Currently, 88 percent of the students attend desegregated schools.
Such a record can scarcely be construed as "little or nothing'' in improved racial balance.
Students of all ethnic backgrounds who enter the system late have fewer choices as schools fill up. Spaces are reserved at each school for late comers, but as the schools reach their capacities throughout the year, the openings are filled.
Two significant facts concerning late comers were omitted:
- Fifty-six percent of the minorities and 53 percent of the majorities who arrived late have received their first choices, and
- Students who do not get their first choice are placed on a waiting list. As space becomes available, they can transfer to their first choice if they desire.
Although more minorities arrive later in the year, the percentage that receives its first choice is greater than that for majority late arrivals.
The article inaccurately states that students arriving late move into the district "after the choice process is completed.'' In fact, the choice process is never completed: There are fewer choices after the initial sign-up phase for reasons explained above, but the process is never closed.
Another quotation from Mr. Alves indicates that minorities are not adequately encouraged to take advantage of the options. No evidence was submitted to the court to support this allegation, even though the court requested it.
The district submitted voluminous documentation to the contrary. The overall rate of first-choice placement is 95 percent (93 percent for minorities and 98 percent for majorities).
The somewhat lower percentage for minorities is attributable to the demographics of San Jose. The preponderance of the growing minority population resides in a proportionately smaller section of the city with fewer and smaller schools.
Therefore, to the degree that minorities choose neighborhood schools, fewer first choices can be granted. The plaintiffs acknowledged in the desegregation trial that such movement of minorities from their neighborhood schools was a necessary consequence of desegregation.
In relation to criticisms made in the article of other choice plans across the nation, San Jose uses no selection criteria--such as academic, attendance, or behavior standards--to "sort'' students.
The only preference exercised, when space is limited, is given to siblings of attendees, to keep families together and neighborhood residents within ethnic caps.
I am sorry that you saw fit to print such a negative view of the choice system in San Jose. This highly successful plan has been acclaimed as one of the best desegregation systems in the country.
The article's biased presentation--based on the report of a disgruntled witness for the plaintiffs--undermines the high credibility I had heretofore attributed to Education Week.
Superintendent of Schools
San Jose Unified School District
San Jose, Calif.
Editor's Note: We regret conveying the impression that San Jose's desegregation plan has not succeeded in integrating some of the district's schools. The criticisms cited in the article were leveled at Phase I of the district's student-assignment process, not the entire plan.
The critical report to the court by Charles Willie and Michael Alves--both regarded as experts in the use of choice to address equity issues--was cited because it is relevant to the article's focus: the national debate on choice. The writer's response to their criticisms was also cited.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has scheduled a hearing on the issues raised by the plaintiffs.
Your headline nicely summarized the RAND Corporation's recent study of unions and education reform: "Teacher Unions Not an Obstacle to Reform, Analysis Finds'' (May 25, 1988).
This conclusion may be correct for those who accept as legitimate the basic structure of our present system of government schools--majoritarian in governance and monopolistic in finance.
But for those interested in greater parental choice in education, the teacher unions--especially the National Education Association--are a powerful obstacle to reform, perhaps the most reactionary players in the whole drama.
The NEA has consistently opposed any widespread experiments with tuition vouchers or tax credits.
The union has also pushed for curriculum changes that are anti-family in their orientation.
And it has all too freely given its support to educational fads, such as courses in values clarification, while labeling as "extremist'' those parents who opposed its views.
At the very time that research shows the critical importance of parental involvement in children's education, this organization continues to align itself with statist, monopolistic views that at best tolerate parents and various cognitive minorities, and at worst hold them in contempt.
It would be a nice idea for the RAND Corporation to attempt a second study that would focus on the views of those who believe our system of government schools is unjust as well as inefficient.
Richard A. Baer Jr.
Graduate Field of Education
It was with sadness that I read Geraldine Joncich Clifford's and James W. Guthrie's recommendation to reject the Doctor of Philosophy as a degree in education ("Strategies for Reforming Schools of Education,'' Commentary, June 8, 1988).
By stimulating thought, the pursuit of academic inquiry is the very ingredient that nourishes any discipline.
Such an orientation is particularly important to education in its current struggle with reform. The skills of independent study, original thinking, and methodological inquiry--provided by sound Ph.D. programs--are useful tools for developing and assessing plans for change.
And education is trying to raise professional standards and improve its image as a viable discipline--one that will attract intelligent and committed young people.
It seems vital, then, to encourage the highest of intellectual standards, such as those established by a rigorous Ph.D., as part of a career plan.
Schools of education should encourage student-teachers to think analytically about what they are asked to teach.
Modest research projects could provide a foundation for future inquiry. When possible, these should be based on the research needs of local school districts.
While I acknowledge the need for schools of education to be aligned with practitioners, I do not subscribe to rejecting the Ph.D. degree as a way to accomplish this aim.
Notre Dame College
I wish to correct some misinformation contained in your recent story on corporal punishment ("Corporal-Punishment Foes Gain Victories, See 'Best Year Ever','' June 22, 1988).
The article correctly stated that the National School Boards Association does not have a policy on the issue: We have not supported or opposed the backers of either position. We believe that this is a matter for each state and locality to determine.
However, we do find fault in your factual presentation, with respect both to the Miera v. Garcia case and the status of the law on corporal punishment absent any state statutes.
In the Miera case, there was no testimony or evidence presented in court; indeed, there was no trial on the facts.
All that legally exists is the plaintiffs' assertion that excessive corporal punishment was meted out by a female principal against a female student and a denial by the defendants.
The descriptions you cited of Teresa Garcia's injuries--in the first instance of paddling, that they were "excessive'' and her leg was bleeding; in the second, that the bruises amounted to child abuse--may be dramatic allegations, but they are not judicially determined facts.
What you missed in your reporting is the fact that the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court on procedural motions; it did not reach the Court after a trial on the merits.
The case was remanded for a trial.
Unfortunately, since the case has been settled out of court, we will never know the facts.
A second misconception permeates the article: the notion that when corporal punishment is permissible under state law, an aggrieved person has no legal recourse if punishment is excessive.
Dating back to 1837, American courts have ruled that excessive corporal punishment may give rise to either civil or criminal action against the individual inflicting the punishment.
The decision as to what is "excessive'' is made by the jury. Over the years, teachers have been convicted in criminal court for assault and battery as a result of excessive punishment, and in civil actions they have been deemed liable for the injuries they caused.
The Miera case raises a new question: whether corporal punishment can give rise to a constitutional issue for the federal courts to decide.
It has always been an issue for state courts.
August W. Steinhilber
National School Boards Association
Editor's note: The writer's points are well taken, even though the nature of the Miera decision had been reported (Education Week, March 30, 1988).
The corporal-punishment article, primarily about viewpoints, did not address the distinctions in law that Mr. Steinhilber cites.
We appreciate the clarifications.
In "The Schooling of Incarcerated Young People'' (Commentary, June 15, 1988), Ted Price and Richard Vitolo commented on a frequently neglected segment of the school population.
At the Juvenile Justice Center School in Miami, we have attempted to redesign the detention center's educational programs.
We started with a research study of our population in 1986. With the data obtained, we sought and received a Chapter 2 grant to establish an assessment counseling center.
Working with 15 to 20 students a week, the center produces comprehensive reports sent as a follow-up to home schools, the courts, and the state's rehabilitative services.
As a step toward creating more effective educational programs, the center also hopes to use the research it gathers in developing a profile of the juveniles it serves.
And to reduce the 50-percent recidivist rate, the school's advisory committee is advocating more services for these young people once they leave the center.
A second study recently found that 92 percent of the 184 students in the original research had dropped out of school.
Such data imply that better programs must be designed to meet the interests and learning styles of incarcerated young people.
I applaud Mr. Price and Mr. Vitolo for bringing this issue to the attention of your readers.
Juvenile Justice Center School
Contrary to Terrance L. Ische's letter ("Minnesota 'Choice' Plan Is 'Dangerous Experiment','' June 8, 1988), many people--particularly parents--in Minnesota are pleased with and proud of the recent changes in the state's education policy.
Open enrollment, options for juniors and seniors to pursue higher education while completing high school, and opportunities for students who are not succeeding to change schools are seen as remarkable and progressive developments.
These new laws did not come easily; many in the education profession actively opposed them.
I salute the parents, educators, and policymakers who shaped these initiatives for their courage and perseverance.
Wayne B. Jennings
President, Designs For Change
St. Paul, Minn.
It was with some bemusement--and amusement--that I read Wendell L. Willkie 2nd's Commentary ("The 'Overregulation' of Schooling,'' May 25, 1988).
I was one of Mr. Willkie's high-school teachers nearly 20 years ago at the Blake School, a private, college-preparatory school in Minneapolis.
We who knew him then would never have predicted that he would one day decry court involvement on behalf of student and teacher rights.
In those days, Wendell Willkie was the intellectual leader of the school's student activists.
Challenging administrative authority, questioning regulations, and espousing the cause of student rights, he succeeded--to his credit--in bringing about considerable change in a conservative school.
One of the targets of his attacks was the student dress code.
In the 1969 yearbook, he was quoted concerning a hair-length incident on campus: "The issue was whether the school had the right to govern an area of a person's life totally unrelated to his performance at the school or to his safety. The basis for the code is to present a good image of one's self. The Dean of Students has acknowledged that this is a shallow means of evaluation. Thus we are not being taught to change society, but rather, how to fit into it.''
His views are now different. In his Commentary, he brands court decisions against dress codes as examples of excessive judicial interference with the day-to-day management of schools.
He also states his opposition to U.S. Supreme Court rulings preventing funding of private religious schools, upholding busing as one means to end school segregation, and imposing restrictions on the dismissal of teachers.
He does not indicate whether he supports the landmark Tinker v. Des Moines School District decision giving students in public schools the right to communicate their views in and out of the classroom on controversial matters.
I would hope that his conversion to the conservative cause has not emasculated his belief in freedom of speech for students or teachers.
I find disturbing his endorsement of two recent Supreme Court rulings against student rights.
In Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, the Court sanctioned broad censorship powers by administrators over school-sponsored student newspapers and other channels of communication maintained by the school.
And in Bethel School District v. Fraser, the Court upheld the suspension of a high-school student who used sexual innuendo as a clever speech technique to gain the attention of his audience in a voluntarily attended school assembly.
I disagree with my former student about these decisions because both give power to the school to impose an officially approved value system on young minds struggling to come to terms with the world around them.
How sterile is an educational environment where students feel comfortable saying or writing only what the school officially sanctions, leaving their true feelings to be expressed elsewhere or not at all.
Only when expression creates material disruption or substantially interferes with the rights of others should it be grounds for sanctions.
I do not accept the proposition that high-school students lack sufficient intellectual and emotional stability to discuss such controversial issues as pregnancy and divorce, the focus of the censorship in Hazelwood. Statistics regarding teen-age pregnancy and divorce suggest otherwise.
So, too, do the findings of early-childhood researchers. According to Jean Piaget, most people reach their highest level of moral development in early adolescence.
Between the ages of 11 and 14, young people develop the capacity for adult thinking: They can reason in abstract terms, form hypotheses, and imagine the possible consequences of an act.
The adolescent years, then, are precisely the time when students ought to have the greatest opportunity to explore the complex and sensitive topics of the type banned by the principal in the Hazelwood case.
Since the late 1960's, the courts have brought the rule of law to public schools. Thanks to the courts, officials now must accord students a due-process hearing before suspending or expelling them from school.
Likewise, teachers threatened with dismissal have due-process rights.
Certainly there is the danger, as Mr. Willkie points out, that too much legal involvement will stifle effective decisionmaking in schools.
But most of the red tape turning schools and colleges into muscle-bound institutions comes from state regulatory agencies, not from courts.
From his earliest school days, Wendell Willkie has been free to espouse unpopular ideas and be an agent for change.
I would hope that all students could be free to do so.
An educational environment open to the free exchange of ideas--even those that are controversial--and affording due process to those who are accused of breaking the rules provides the best preparation for life in a free society.
Frank R. Kemerer
Professor of Education Law
North Texas State University