Letters to the Editor
To the Editor:
At the end of his tenure as U.S. Secretary of Education, William J. Bennett blasted Gov. Michael S. Dukakis's record in education--suggesting that Massachusetts does not have a "tradition of local control" and that too much of the cost of education there is paid by the state ("On Last Day, His Favorite Mix--Some Pedagogy, Much Politicking," Sept. 28, 1988).
Mr. Bennett felt such policies were bad because they violated the principle of local control of schools.
While I agree that heavy-handed state control is not good, I question the intent of these remarks, which was clearly partisan.
As your report indicated, Massachusetts has a long and ongoing history of local control.
If Mr. Bennett really wants to lambaste a state for exercising too much control over education, he should select Texas.
But Texas has a Republican governor--and it is the "home" state of Vice President George Bush.
Mr. Bennett chooses to overlook the reality of education policy in Texas:
The legislature has created a mandatory curriculum for the state's public schools.
Specific objectives have been set by the state for each course.
The exact number of minutes allowed per week in each elementary subject is specified.
Only a few textbooks in each subject are selected by the state, and those alone may be purchased with state aid.
All schools must begin on the same date in the fall.
A uniform salary scale exists.
The evaluation system for teachers requires adherence to one view of teaching for all subjects and grade levels.
The only other state with such a high level of state control is California--which also has a Republican governor.
In fact, many of the "reforms" recommended recently have come from Republicans and involve increased control at the state level.
Where do we get the illusion that Republicans believe in local control? From Mr. Bennett's fantasies?
Terry Northup Abilene, Tex. To the Editor:
I write to make two points regarding your article, "In Teacher Poll, Minorities Show Signs of Distress" (Oct. 5, 1988).
My concerns stem from the methodology used by the Louis Harris researchers and the responsible--or irresponsible--way in which you reported the survey's findings.
First, only 9 percent of the "nonminority" teachers in the sample worked in inner-city schools, compared with 30 percent of the "minority" teachers.
I do not see any evidence of control for this critical variable. The bias, then, is very likely to be inner-city versus not inner-city rather than minority versus nonminority.
Second, while I found the important information described above in the 14th paragraph of your article, I discovered in the fifth paragraph that you were not really writing about "minority teachers" but about blacks and Hispanics.
I do not need to remind you that Asians, American Indians, Jews, and--by most commonly used definitions--women are also classified as "minorities." Were they included in the sample?
It might well be that Louis Harris is justified in being alarmed by the findings, but I do not see him reaching the precise conclusions ascribed to him in the article.
Boyd D. Odom Executive Director Atlanta Partnership of Business and Education Inc. Atlanta, Ga.
Editor's note: The writer appears to have misinterpreted the findings of the survey, conducted by Louis Harris and Associates for Metropolitan Life. The findings were based, as the article clearly stated, on a "nationally representative" sample of all U.S. teachers. And the annual survey sought for the first time this year to compare, as the article also stated, the views of the approximately 11 percent of all teachers nationwide who are black or Hispanic with those of "nonminority teachers"--including women, who constitute a majority of all precollegiate teachers.
What the writer terms a bias in the study is simply a demographic fact: 30 percent of all black and Hispanic teachers work in inner-city schools, compared with 9 percent of all nonminority teachers.
To the Editor:
Peter Loehr's Commentary ("The 'Urgent Need' for Minority Teachers,'' Oct. 5, 1988) is correct: Much more must be done to attract, train, and retain minority teachers, for the sake of our whole society.
But his analysis ignores a key factor in the exclusion of minorities from the education profession: teacher tests.
In most states, prospective teachers must take exams to enter teacher-training programs, obtain licenses, or both. Such exams typically flunk half of all black and Hispanic applicants.
No one wants unqualified teachers--minority or majority. If the exams really did bar incompetents from the classroom, they would be useful devices.
But not one of these tests has ever demonstrated any predictive validity. There is no evidence to prove that failing the test means one cannot be an effective teacher. Nor does passing indicate that the prospective teacher will be successful in the classroom.
Minorities would have to be oblivious to the world around them not to perceive that an unfair hurdle stands between them and a teaching job.
How can we expect to increase the enrollment of blacks and Latinos in teacher-training programs when they know that half of the teacher candidates from those groups will fail racially biased and educationally irrelevant tests?
One part of addressing the minority-teacher shortage should be obvious: Stop using the tests.
Unfortunately, states have preferred to retain the exams' illusion of accountability--at the expense of minority teachers and children.
Monty Neill Managing Director National Center for Fair and Open Testing Cambridge, Mass.