Letters to the Editor
I wondered why the authors were resurrecting this discredited curriculum.
It certainly is not the type accepted by those nations whose students score so much higher than ours in science and mathematics.
The resurgence among American educators of the idea that schooling should promote children's happiness, rather than accumulation of measurable academic knowledge, does not have much rational attractiveness.
For example, Ms. Oakes and Mr. Lipton insist that there are many legitimate ways for children to learn, all of which are equally valid (except, of course, direct and systematic teaching).
Why, then, should they make the effort to learn to read?
And we should never, these educators continue, try to find out how much individual students have learned in comparison to others; this practice supposedly discourages high achievement.
Meritocracy out the window, all children "can handle the most complex ideas." Brand teachers who have found otherwise as mediocre or worse.
Nor are there right and wrong answers or best solutions in education, say Ms. Oakes and Mr. Lipton. They may want people trained in this way to design our bridges and airplanes, to diagnose our physical ills.
Finally, great thought and discovery emerge best through group decisionmaking, they suggest. Never mind that this seldom, if ever, happens in science, literature, philosophy, or even practical ventures like constructing curriculum.
Ms. Oakes and Mr. Lipton do prove one point: Sentimentality and wishful thinking about educational matters did not die with Jean Jacques Rousseau.
Patrick Groff Professor School of Teacher Education San Diego State University San Diego, Calif. To The Editor:
In reading your report, "Senate Approves Bush Education Bill; Teacher Board Would Get $25 Million" (Feb. 14, 1990), I noted that not much of anything was going directly to improve the learning process for children.
It seems that more is being said about the importance of high-quality education than is being done toward improving schools.
Other nations have come to the realization that there is a correlation between the level of funding for education and the quality of graduates, but apparently we have not.
Since the publication of A Nation at Risk, much of the discussion about reform has centered on how much money is or isn't being spent.
The professional educators say that more money is needed to do the kind of job expected by the general public. But those outside the profession are quick to say that too much money is being spent now with inadequate results.
I side with those who say that more money is needed.
I once knew an old farmer who had nothing but worn-out, second-hand equipment with which to raise a crop.
He managed to get by simply by spending all he could on repairs to plow, plant, cultivate, and harvest enough crops to either sell or feed his livestock.
He and his family merely existed on what little money was left over after expenses.
Now, he knew how to do a better job--he just couldn't afford to. His more successful neighbors, who made their income from steady jobs in town, ridiculed him. They all had advice--but no money--for him.
This story should sound familiar. Educators have operated this way for years.
We know how to do a better job of educating young people, but we need more capital.
We need the best books, the best and latest equipment, the smartest teachers, the newest information, the finest physical facilities, more computers, and much more.
Sure, we can get by. And we are doing more with less than we ought to be.
We cannot, however, do what society expects of us within such constraints.
After a while, the same criticism gets a little old.
Let's realize that education is important and finance it adequately.
Alton Manning University Ombudsman Southwest Missouri State University Springfield, Mo. To the Editor:
Perry A. Zirkel ("On the 'Crisis' in Insurance for Schools," Commentary, Feb. 21, 1990) quite correctly points out the need for reform of the tort liability system, but then proceeds to opine, on rather strange grounds, that the insurance industry is "fabricating a crisis in school insurance."
I have several observations.
First, there has been no "school-insurance crisis," as Mr. Zirkel asserts repeatedly. There was, in the late 1980's, a crisis of availability and affordability of liability insurance that affected all segments of the economy: manufacturers, service providers, retailers, professionals, charities, municipalities, and others.
School systems suffered with everyone else and for the same reasons.
There is general agreement, I believe, that the insurance industry's so-called "cashflow underwriting" in an earlier period of high interest rates contributed to the sudden surge in premiums.
But only the plaintiff bar would disagree that the crisis must be blamed principally on longterm trends in judicial decisionmaking that have made it easier and easier for more and more people to recover larger and larger sums of money in tort litigation.
Mr. Zirkel seems astonished that in a given period, claims paid by insurers are considerably less than premiums collected by them. But this is not evidence of "exploitation."
What would he expect after years of steadily increasing frequency and severity of claims?
Insurers price for the future. While the tort-reform cavalry may be galloping to its rescue, there's little in the industry's re6cent experience to give it confidence that the future will not bring even more claims and larger payouts.
All in all, there is something disturbing about scholarship that can infer conspiracy from a finding of "woefully insufficient information" and a "paucity of data" about insurance. There are enough real problems with the tort system. No need to invent more!
Finally, the American Tort Reform Association is not "backed by the insurance lobby." It is a diverse coalition of over 400 nonprofits, professional societies, trade associations, and businesses.
Its membership includes the National School Boards Association, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Association of Junior and Community Colleges, and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.
Its bylaws expressly bar insurers or associations of insurers from voting membership or representation on its board of directors.
Martin F. Connor President American Tort Reform Association Washington, D.C. To the Editor:
Thanks to Bill Honig for pointing out in his Commentary ("'Comprehensive' Strategy Can Improve Schools," Feb. 28, 1990) the great strides that have been made since l983 in improving the education of American students.
Mr. Honig's observations are of particular value because he backs them up with valid figures.
But he should also be aware of a common fallacy when comparing American students with those in other countries: Many other nations have a selective system where advancement to secondary schooling is governed by qualifying examinations in Continued on Page 31 Continued from Page 28
the 4th, 5th, or 6th grade.
Students are thus chosen for further studies in the academic, technical and commercial, or vocational track.
By comparison, students in the United States generally attend a comprehensive school into secondary school.
Consequently, when international, comparative tests are taken, students in American schools with the total age cohort in attendance are compared with those from other countries in the academic track.
Yet the figures presented in comparisons are usually accepted at face value.
This distorts the picture--without even addressing the fact that the educational system in this country was not established to promote academic excellence but rather to educate the largest number of students equitably and in accordance with their ability.
Leonore C. Nillissen Lombard, Ill.
To the Editor:
A national entry-age policy for kindergarten is an excellent idea ("Va. Bill Would Set Two-Tiered Entry-Age Policy for School," Feb. 28, 1990).
I agree with the National Education Association that Sept. 1 is an appropriate cutoff date by which children must turn age 5 to enter school.
We know that there is no specific date at which certain transformation will occur, and there will always be a youngest and an oldest group; the classroom teacher will always have to meet their varied needs.
The national age requirement would eliminate problems when families move about.
It would also be of value to textbook writers, since they could prepare texts for a more uniform pool of children.
In California, the cutoff date is Dec. 2, and I always felt that my 1st-grade kids were not quite ready for their books.
I hope this idea will be given serious consideration.
Mary R. Khan Morgan Hill, Calif.