Letters to the Editor
Colman Genn Community Superintendent District 27 Ozone Park, N.Y.
We were surprised by the assertion in your recent article on parental choice in schooling that "the choice movement has experienced its greatest successes to date in states that have relatively homogeneous student populations" ("Iowa, Arkansas Enact 'Choice'; Proposals Gain in Other States," March 15, 1989).
For the last 15 years, we helped develop and worked in a public-school choice program in New York's East Harlem, a racially and economically diverse area.
Teachers and administrators were allowed to create distinctive programs, from which families are permitted to select. There are no "neighborhood" junior high schools in the district--each is an option.
The results are encouraging. Ten years ago, about 15 percent of the students read at or above grade level; today, about 65 percent of them do so.
Vandalism is down; while other inner-city districts sometimes find it difficult to attract teachers, there is a waiting list of teachers who want to work in East Harlem.
We also helped establish a new high school in East Harlem, open to every student who wants to attend. It was not a well-financed "magnet" with extra money and the power to pick and choose among students.
This school replaced a program that had a graduation rate of 7 percent.
Recently, the reborn high school had its first graduation. One hundred percent of the youngsters graduated, and 100 percent of them went on to postsecondary institutions.
There are different kinds of public-school choice; not all of them are equally effective.
However, programs enabling teachers to carry out their visions and allowing families to select among schools offer promise for inner-city children.
Terrance L. Ische Burnsville, Minn.
Thank you for providing the only continuing forum on open enrollment ("In Nation's First Open-Enrollment State, the Action Begins," March 15, 1989).
It is ironic that the debate in Minnesota is just now starting--well after the program has been declared an unqualified success by our Governor.
One of the most revealing "stories" so far concerns a district that raised its graduation requirements, only to lose 14 students. Of this group, 10 report that they moved to a district requiring fewer credits for graduation.
Still no word on what happens to the children left behind in the slowly dying districts.
Most districts spend around $2,700 per student (state funds), while others spend up to $5,400 per student (half from local levies). Where would you choose to send your child?
Lose a local-levy vote and children flee; pass it and you may then spend extra tax dollars on another district's students.
Nobody wants to mention the athlete who changed districts and didn't make the team. Hard to go home after this kind of desertion. The results of this "choice" were no friends, depression, and a suicide attempt.
Transportation problems have not been addressed. How does the poor child get to that better school?
Parental choice is a misnomer; Kids can't choose their parents or their income level.
Ann Kahn, former president of the National pta, has commented, "If a parent doesn't get involved with a school four blocks away, what's to say they're going to in a school four miles away?"
If our students and parents were choosing the best direction for their lives, why did the state recently have to increase mandatory-attendance age from 16 to 18?
And why was a bill just introduced to stop students from working past 11 P.M. on school nights?
Shouldn't such decisions be their "choice"?
With almost a year of "unqualified success," it must be time for another "pilot program." Enter upon our legislative scene a bill proposing "charter schools." Remember the promise that choice was not a voucher plan?
Competition is equitable only when all districts begin as equals. We must continue to fight for equal opportunities for all students, then add a touch of choice.
Taking the magnet concept out of a large metropolitan district, where all the schools are somewhat equal, and transplanting it into a diverse state or national system is sheer folly.
Cooperation among schools, not uncontrolled competition, breeds educational excellence.
Ed Foglia President California Teachers Association Burlingame, Calif.
I am somewhat puzzled by James W. Guthrie's critique of Proposition 98, the school-funding initiative sponsored by the California Teachers Association and approved by the state's voters last November ("Proposition 98 May Be 'Bad for Education'," Commentary, March 22, 1989).
Mr. Guthrie does a fine job of describing the downward spiral of education funding in California--and the resulting decline in school programs--over the past two decades.
He errs when he assigns most of the blame to Propositions 13 (1978) and 9 (1979)--and, further, to the initiative process itself.
Those tax-cutting and spending-limit measures have done great damage to our public schools, community colleges, and university systems.
But most of the harm could have been avoided if public officials--Governors Ronald Reagan, Jerry Brown, and George Deukmejian, in particular--had ranked education at the head of their priorities.
Our schools have stood, instead, at the bottom of the list. In 1987, for example, Governor Deukmejian insisted on rebating a $1-billion surplus to the taxpayers rather than enhancing the education budget.
The failure of our elected leaders is so evident that I do not understand, and cannot agree with, Mr. Guthrie's suggestion that educators ought to work for adequate funding "in the old-fashioned political ways--through lobbying, campaign contributions, pressure groups, letters to the editor, petitioning, protesting, electioneering, and other methods."
The cta tried all those methods, as Mr. Guthrie well knows, and the powers in the state capital turned a deaf ear.
It may well be that government by initiative is a poor and even dangerous way to set public policy. That idea appears to be gaining adherents within the California electorate.
So long as the initiative process is with us, however, what choice do we have?
Proposition 98 may be, as Mr. Guthrie complains, "little more than a crude, protectionist Band-Aid." But when you're bleeding, almost any bandage is better than none at all.
Robert B. Cormany Director of Pupil Services Downington Area School District Exton, Pa.
In his Commentary on the relationship between basic and higher-order skills ("Advocates of Basic Skills 'Know What Ain't So'," April 5, 1989), Gerald W. Bracey is guilty of the same oversimplistic thinking that he attributes to others.
While it may be true that you can teach a student to multiply before he knows how to add, the student still requires certain basic concepts acquired through the lower-order skills of memory and comprehension, such as number recognition, before proceeding to the more challenging processes.
Mr. Bracey's comment that items on norm-referenced tests are selected so that 50 percent of test takers miss them is an incredible show of ignorance, or else a blatant misstatement of fact for the purpose of effect.
It is akin to his breezy dismissal of most people in the field of testing as untrained in either cognitive psychology or child development.
From personal experience with the staffs of most of the major test4publishing firms across the country, I can attest to the falseness of this characterization.
If Mr. Bracey wishes to advance the need for more attention to higher-order thinking skills in the school curriculum--a position with which many of us in public education would agree--he has chosen the worst possible way to accomplish his goal.
His inaccurate statements and pompous deprecations of others have no place in a professional publication.
Karen W. Holzinger Centennial School Bethlehem, Pa.
As an educator of emotionally disturbed adolescents, I am pleased at the current federal interest in these students ("Needs of the Emotionally Disturbed Emerging in Debate on Federal Law," March 8, 1989).
I was discouraged, however, that your report made only one fleeting reference to teachers of the emotionally disturbed.
The seemingly endless focus on school psychologists and counseling once again underscores for me the neglect by the public, the federal government, and the media of the day-to-day instruction and care provided to emotionally disturbed children by scores of dedicated teachers.
While I'm all for counseling for any student who needs it, my experience tells me that there are other problems facing emotionally disturbed children that also need to be addressed:
Money for school districts faced with the reality of finding places to put these students--I once taught in the basement closet of the vocational department--and teachers to teach them.
Staff members trained in valid methods of teaching the emotionally disturbed. Many state certifications do not directly address instruction of the emotionally disturbed.
Models of instruction and teacher education for the emotionally disturbed.
A pervasive attitude toward the emotionally disturbed allowing them to remain the last to be considered in terms of instruction, funding, and other resources.
While your article indicates that at long last the special needs of emotionally disturbed students may receive attention, I am afraid actual needs may be left untouched while idealist goals are debated.
I hope we seize the chance with the House hearings to make an impact on a neglected population.
Janice Petrovich National Executive Director aspira Association Inc.
The National Governors' Association's report on international education ("Emphasis on Interna4tional Education Essential to Economy, Governors Say," March 8, 1989) warns that economic prosperity, national security, and world stability depend on our understanding the culture and language of other countries.
Few can argue with the need for Americans to learn more about other countries for economic reasons--and simply for cultural enrichment.
But significantly absent in the report is any mention of the valuable resource this country already possesses in people who can speak languages other than English.
Also absent is any reference to bilingual education or to the implications of legislation making English the official language.
Children who come to the schools with foreign-language skills are not encouraged to maintain and improve them.
Indeed, they are too often penalized by such practices as retention in grade, inappropriate placement in special education, and tracking--practices that create stress and frequently lead to dropping out.
In these years of decreasing resources for education, it is incongruous to allow foreign-language speakers to lose that ability if such proficiency is an asset.
The report states that "governors have learned first-hand the importance of understanding the culture and customs of other nations and communicating in the language of the customer."
But how many governors see the narrowing of opportunities to gain such understanding that English-only legislation can engender in their own states?
Ann Herzer Paradise Valley, Ariz.
Your article "Teaching Board's Policy Papers Hint Vision for
(March 22, 1989) disturbed me very much.
I wonder how our public schools will attract talented, individualistic, creative teachers in light of this draft statement from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards: "The conventional image of the accomplished teacher as solo performer working independently with students is narrow and out-dated."
With one sweep of the brush, children are to be deprived, once again, of an authority figure on whom they can depend for individual instruction and attention.
How interesting that the "solo performer working independently with students"--and not involved in administration--succeeded in producing a high rate of literacy in this country.
It has only been since those progressive educators in their ivory towers started pulling our talented teachers away from the front of the classroom that America's test scores have declined so precipitously and behavior problems have increased.