Letters to the Editor
Your article, "Private Schools and Reform: ed Conferees Urge a Collaboration" (Nov. 2, 1988), makes a number of interesting points comparing private and public education.
I could not go along with Mark E. Weston's suggestion that only through collaboration between the two sectors could private schools speed their own reform efforts.
As an alternative to public education, private schools often provide exactly what the public schools lack: personal attention, caring teachers, nurturing environments, and classrooms that are not overrun with young people who do not want to be there.
And through their religious affiliations, many private schools offer students moral guidance and education--a dynamic that public schools have chosen to give up.
With Rabbi Josef Fisher, I have to wonder how the missions of religious-affiliated schools would suffer if collaboration between the public and private sector increased.
The article points out the difference in test scores between the public and private schools. Yet Chester E. Finn Jr. feels that "private-school kids today aren't learning enough, aren't being required to learn enough, and are not being taught enough."
How big a difference is enough? Children, whether in public or private schools, are still children, not machines to be pushed until they burn, and they need to have a childhood.
Parents with children in private schools--including Mr. Finn--should be satisfied with the fact that those institutions are producing, for the most part, students who are superior to those educated in public schools.
All in all, I think it's a good idea to work towards collaboration between the public and private sectors, though there are any number of points that need to be ironed out and some that may yet need to be raised.
Michael L. Waller Assistant Headmaster Cathedral School for Boys San Francisco, Calif.
To the Editor:
I found the article "Private Schools and Reform: ed Conferees Urge a Collaboration" interesting but also disturbing.
The disturbing element was the emphasis on private schools being in ''competition" with public schools.
I have worked within the private-school system--in Catholic schools--for 23 years and have not considered myself or the system in competition with anyone. Rather, I have seen the system as an alternative to public schools.
The key is "choice," not "competition."
Chester E. Finn Jr.'s comment that "leaders of the private sector may one day wake up to find their lead has eroded to practically nothing" is insulting, to say the least.
He implies that these leaders are interested primarily in competing with the public-school system, not in focusing attention on high-quality education--that they are more concerned with taking the lead than they are with "leadership."
Educators are all working for the same purpose: educating children so that they will be good, capable, and productive citizens.
Let us work together for our children, and let us also recognize that "choice" is an integral part of democracy.
Maryjane Knoll San Francisco, Calif. To the Editor:
Randy Schenkat's pertinent observations ("The Promise of Restructuring for Special Ed.," Commentary, Nov. 16, 1988) lend hope to those of us who sometimes think we are alone in the wilderness.
After 20 years of teaching and administering in special education, I heartily agree that both special and regular educators must work toward solutions for children who are less able to progress normally.
The solutions lie in our not blaming children for their weaknesses; attending to time on task; and forgetting about etiology.
Learning theory gave us the tools quite awhile ago. What we have to do is put them to work.
Cheers to Mr. Schenkat for pointing it out.
Christopher B. Kendall Administrator of Special Education Carver Public Schools Carver, Mass.
To the Editor:
The statement of Paul L. Williams, director of research and measurement for ctb/McGraw-Hill, that "if children don't have basic skills, there is no way that children can do higher-order skills" is utter nonsense ("Pupil Gains Not Just Mythical, Test Publisher Says Study Shows," Nov. 16, 1988).
The comment is also totally irresponsible, at least in the given context--in reference to scores on the California Achievement Test.
Far more accurate is this quote from the National Assessment of Educational Progress: "Children can and do learn large chunks of very difficult material very early. Lower order, so-called basic skills are not necessarily the 'building blocks' essential to acquiring higher order, cognitive skills such as problem solving, analyzing, synthesizing ... Learning is not the linear process as popularly perceived by the public."
And as apparently perceived by some test publishers' administrators.
Happily, if ironically, Pittsburgh's director of testing and evaluation, Paul G. LeMahieu, is quoted in the same issue as saying that the information provided by standardized tests "turns out to be the wrong stuff" ("In Pittsburgh: New Approaches to Testing Track Arts 'Footprints"').
Just so. We continue to use it only because it is so ingrained and because there are, as yet, few alternatives.
I believe that eventually we will conclude that scores on these so-called basic-skills tests are rising while scores for higher-order skills are falling precisely because we have been teaching low-order skills at the expense of higher-order skills.
Mr. Williams's comment is so at variance with what is known from cognitive and developmental psychology that perhaps we should take ctb/McGraw-Hill to court for educational malpractice for promulgating such rubbish.
Gerald W. Bracey Director of Research and Evaluation Cherry Creek Schools Englewood, Colo. To the Editor:
I am responding to your article "Suicide-Prevention Efforts Are Questioned" (Oct. 19, 1988), which quotes David Shaffer's address to the American Medical Association meeting in Chicago.
This is the second story I have seen in Education Week that cites the work of Dr. Shaffer without examining what he is researching.
There are several distinct types of suicide-prevention programs being conducted in schools; he has looked at only one type.
The exercise in question asks students to role-play talking with a suicidal friend, lists the so-called "warning signs," and presents a handful of places to go for "help."
Such programs, which tend to dramatize suicide and focus on the negative aspects of behavior rather than help with options, may indeed be harmful.
But our program in Fairfax County uses a completely different model--one that has been duplicated in many other communities.
Our goal is to educate the adults in the school system to identify those students who are troubled and to create a referral system that channels them and their families to the assistance they require in the community.
This cooperative school-community program brings mental-health expertise into the schools. It is far from "psychologically naive."
It does not concentrate on the discussion of suicide but rather on the social and emotional issues of adolescents. Dr. Shaffer has not evaluated such a program.
A third kind of effort seeks to identify students suffering from depression; recent studies indicate that depression is the most reliable indicator of suicide risk among adolescents. Dr. Shaffer has not evaluated this type of program either.
Many educators have worked hard to introduce the idea that schools have at least some limited responsibility to meet these needs of children.
It is not helpful when publications as influential as Education Week report a bias without clarifying that it is indeed a bias.
Myra R. Herbert Chief, Social Work Services Fairfax County Public Schools Fairfax, Va.
Editor's note: Over the past five years, Education Week has reported extensively on the issues raised for schools by teenage suicide, including the differences of opinion cited by the writer. The story in question simply reported what was said at a meeting convened by the American Medical Association.
To the Editor:
After only nine months in Kawaguchi, Japan, Peggy Lukens was able to penetrate, assimilate, and eviscerate a culture Japanese anthropologists find difficult to explain ("Probing 'Myths' About Japanese Education," Commentary, Nov. 9, 1988).
As the Zen master asked, "How can you expect to fill your cup with knowledge when it is already overflowing?"
Ms. Lukens needs to hara wo watte hanasu (cut open her stomach and talk) before complaining that after five years of English, Japanese students can read only on the level of our 6th-grade Weekly Reader. Five years of study produces a 6th-grade performance--not bad for a myth.
Is Japan's literacy rate of 99 percent or its high-school graduation rate of 95 percent also part of the myth?
Can anyone imagine American students memorizing 2,000 Chinese characters in order to master basic literacy? Would practicing the required art form of shuji (calligraphy) lower or raise our dropout rate?
The Japanese school system serves the country well. And we should learn more of its mythology, for one day some of us may be employees of a zaibatsu (giant corporation).
John Caruso Jr. Professor of Education Western Connecticut State University Danbury, Conn.
To the Editor:
I read with interest and some consternation about the recommendations of the curriculum group of the National Association of State Boards of Education ("Carnegie 'Units' Should Go, Says Study by Board," Nov. 2, 1988).
The group proposes to replace Carnegie units with a core curriculum to be taught in ways "that lead to an understanding of these subjects, rather than acquiring superficial knowledge in many broad areas."
While the goal of this proposal is understandable, it advocates state-mandated reforms that ignore the essential element of the educational process: the relationship of teacher and student.
Furthermore, the proposal flies in the face of both current research on motivation and the approach to reform outlined in another article in the same issue ("The 'Restructuring' Puzzle,"').
According to this view, "schools work best when teachers and principals learn how to become problem-solvers, work collaboratively, and accept greater accountability for results."
It is critical that restructuring come not from state boards but from environments in which teachers assume "new roles and responsibilities, opportunities for career advancement, ... and a greater say in such school policies as the allocation of staff and the selection of textbooks."
To that list I would add matters of budget and curriculum.
Merely exchanging one set of criteria for another will have little effect on education.
Abby Newton San Anselmo, Calif. To the Editor:
I disagree with the suggestion by Victor R. Fuchs that government should "transfer resources from households that do not have children to those that do" ("Allocating Resources for Children," Commentary, Nov. 16, 1988).
Although my family would benefit greatly from such a plan, I do not believe I have a claim against my neighbor because he has fewer children.
Certainly none of us would ever think of going to our neighbor's home, pointing a gun at his head, and demanding the fruits of his labor.
And I do not believe similar behavior is made moral by my sending my Congressman to my neighbor's house to do the dirty work for me through forced taxes.
Taking someone's property without first obtaining his consent is theft, whether it is done by gangs or by governments. Better to put down the guns and practice voluntary cooperation and freedom of choice.
I fully respect Mr. Fuchs's right to lead a voluntary drive to raise funds voluntarily given to subsidize families with children.
Al Blomquist Member, Illinois Libertarian Party Oglesby, Ill.
Education Week takes no editorial positions, but welcomes the opinions, comments and ideas of its readers. You are invited to submit commentary proposals, manuscripts, and letters. They should be addressed to: Commentary, Education Week, 4301 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., Suite 250, Washington, D.C. 20008.