Letters to the Editor
Vincent Rogers University of Connecticut Storrs, Conn.
Harriet Tyson-Bernstein clearly does not want to hear that some teachers don't think textbooks are all that bad ("Questioning Teachers' Outlook on Texts," Commentary, Sept. 21, 1988).
I'm sorry she doesn't want to hear this, but that's what these teachers said.
Would all or most teachers say the same thing? I have no idea. I was simply curious about what teachers in our area thought about current criticism of textbooks, so I decided to ask them.
I tried very hard to preserve the exact language of the critics; if a given critic stated that the "content of textbooks has been declining dramatically over the years," then my colleagues and I asked teachers what they thought of that statement--nothing more, nothing less.
I didn't "set out to prove the critics wrong," or to "champion the humble teacher." For all I know, the critics are right on the money, while the teachers--poor souls--are wallowing in ignorance.
I think most teachers choose books they believe will work for them and for their kids--rather than texts that will somehow make teachers' lives easier while kids continue to struggle with poorly written material.
It doesn't make a lot of sense to do the latter, even though Ms. Tyson-Bernstein suggests that teachers are more interested in "what's good for teachers" than they are in "what's good for students."
Ms. Tyson-Bernstein has her own ax to grind, and she's busily grinding it.
I'd suggest that Ms. Tyson-Bernstein pay a little more attention to her "consumers"--kids and teachers. It's just possible they, too, may have something important to say.
Bruce Noble Director Center for Better Parenting Inc. Emerson, N.J.
Your article, "States and the 'At Risk' Issues: Said Aware but Still 'Failing"' (Sept. 21, 1988), was illustrated with a photograph from Missouri's "Parents as Teachers" program.
But nowhere in the report was "Parents as Teachers" mentioned.
Your readers may have mistakenly inferred that the program was designed for, or serves primarily, families deemed at risk.
The Missouri program is in fact not categorical, and is open to all families with children under the age of five.
The initial research on the pilot project, published in October 1985, demonstrated positive results "regardless of socioeconomic disadvantages and other traditional risk factors."
Research that will evaluate the effectiveness of statewide implementation is continuing.
This inexpensive program holds promise for improving the social, intellectual, and linguistic competence of all children.
Samuel L. Blumenfeld Boston, Mass.
I was shocked to read in "California Panel Urges State Board To Pick Reading Textbooks With 'Real Literature"' (Sept. 14, 1988) that the "adoption process has sharpened the debate in the reading field between advocates of phonics ... and adherents of the 'whole language' method."
The California framework appears to favor the whole-language approach.
Why, with the horrendous problem of illiteracy we now have, are educators still debating?
In Learning to Read: The Great Debate (1967), Jeanne Chall examined the existing research on beginning reading and proved that a phonics emphasis in the 1st grade produced better readers than a whole-word or sight method.
Her findings lent support to what Rudolf Flesch had said in Why Johnny Can't Read (1955): He explained that when you impose an ideographic teaching method on an alphabetic writing system, you get reading disability.
Of course, professors and teachers of reading will insist that they do teach phonics and that the teaching-methods controversy is history.
But those of us in the field who have been teaching functional illiterates for years know that the professors and their colleagues are misleading the public. They teach phonetic clues and incidental phonics in the context of a sight-basal program--not intensive, systematic phonics.
They rely on sight vocabularies, picture clues, configuration clues, and context clues--all part and parcel of the sight method.
And now comes along "whole language," another fad in the annals of educational quackery.
The proponents of whole language are so vague in their theories that it boggles the mind to believe that California's educational leaders are seriously thinking of inflicting it on the children of that state.
But I am willing to give the California panel the benefit of the doubt.
Why not set up an experiment to see which teaching method produces the best results?
Officials might designate 10 primary schools to teach intensive, systematic phonics, 10 schools to teach "whole language," and 10 schools to use one of the well-known basal reading programs.
I urge the educational leaders of California to accept this challenge.
By determining once and for all the most effective way to teach children to read, they may spare millions of California children the misery of becoming functional illiterates.
Daniel J. Michael Principal East Granby Middle and High School East Granby, Conn.
I am disheartened by the new standards developed in New Jersey for administrative certification ("New Jersey Plan Widens Access To Principalship," Sept. 14, 1988).
School leadership is broadly based on interaction with students, parents, and staff members.
The New Jersey decision actually dismisses knowledge of effective teaching as essential to the principalship.
The characteristics of outstanding administrators have been identified and are learnable.
However, these skills are greatly enhanced by daily experience of education.
Tedd Levy Nathan Hale Middle School Norwalk, Conn.
U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett has now presented two reports on a model curriculum for American students: James Madison High School and James Madison Elementary School ("Bennett Presents Model Plan For K-8 Curriculum," Sept. 7, 1988).
Too bad his view of the school system fails to recognize the existence of some 12,000 intermediate schools enrolling over 8 million students.
By ignoring middle and junior high schools, Mr. Bennett perpetuates an outdated, stereotyped view of a two-level school system--and thereby contributes to the continuing neglect of early adolescence as a crucial turning point in human development.
Robert P. Stenzhorn Assistant Superintendent for Support Services Virginia Beach City Public Schools Virginia Beach, Va.
In "'Zero Tolerance' Drug Policy Adopted by Philadelphia Schools" (Sept. 21, 1988), you quoted a source as saying, "Philadelphia may be the first to have instituted the policy."
Please be advised that the Virginia Beach (Va.) City School Board, on Aug. 19, 1986, adopted a substance-abuse policy under which students in the district who are caught selling or possessing drugs with the intent to sell must be recommended by our principals to the school board for expulsion.
We have found this policy to be very effective with students in our war against drugs in the schools.