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To the Editor:

In the controversy about ibm's "Writing to Read" program ("Researchers Cast Skeptical Eye on Efficacy of 'Writing to Read,"' Aug. 1, 1990), it's easy to see why the sides are polarized.

On the one hand, kindergarten children become enthusiastic about reading and writing because the program is fun and teaches them that letters represent speech sounds. But, on the other hand, results don't hold up through 2nd grade because ibm's program doesn't teach how the system really works. Children are taught inaccurate phonics--at great expense to a district.

Expense wouldn't be an issue if ibm's program were found to be the best thing available, but it is not even a rigorous phonics method, and there are many inexpensive methods that are.

Writing to Read's creator, John Henry Martin, admits to being heavily influenced by one of the least expensive and most rigorous total-language methods on the market--The Writing Road to Reading, by Romalda and Walter Spalding. Mr. Martin translated a few pieces of the Spaldings' comprehensive systematic phonics into a very clever computer program, which doesn't hold up because it isn't accurate.

William P. Deighan is correct in saying that we need a reading cur4riculum to follow Writing to Read that will hold up (Letters, Sept. 5, 1990). The Spalding method is such a method. It holds up throughout a lifetime--for minorities and gifted students alike. As a result, it is spreading rapidly.

For example, after startling preliminary results in Louisiana, the Board of Secondary and Elementary Education allocated $200,000 this year to pilot the Spalding method--$25,000 for each of its eight Congressional districts. This money will pay for training teachers, monitoring them in their classrooms, and evaluating results. Over 700 teachers volunteered to participate.

Also, Delaware is finding out that high school is not too late to improve reading skill with this method. Teachers at Middletown High School are in the third year of a longitudinal study to evaluate the effectiveness of the Spalding program with their special-education students.

Sixty-one percent of the students taught so far have gone up at least one grade level in comprehension (20 percent went up three grade levels), with a noticeable improvement in self-esteem. Students are volunteering to read aloud in other classes and are checking out library books.

If every state would spend money for comparing methods, we would soon stop using methods that do not work. Just as doctors are required to use medications that have demonstrated their effectiveness, we could require schools to select from programs that have demonstrated their effectiveness.

Ibm's Writing to Read would probably not be on a list of effective programs. It is an expensive toy for districts that can afford it. No re8search has ever shown that simplistic short cuts can teach most children to read.

Marguerite F. Hoerl Reading Consultant Newark, Del.

To the Editor:

I read with interest the letter from Jo Seker, director of the Concerned Educators Against Forced Unionism, regarding the American Federation of Teachers' training sessions for the leaders of Teachers' Solidarity in Poland (Letters, Sept. 5, 1990).

Of course, since she was not present, one could not expect Ms. Seker to know the depth or the content of the discussions we've had with the Poles regarding trade-union practices in the United States. I have no interest in engaging her in a debate regarding this issue, but your readers deserve to have the record set straight.

In fact, the concepts of "exclusive representation," "duty of fair representation," "agency shop," and others were discussed with the participants. They understand that, under American law:

  • Workers have the right to form and join or not join unions of their choosing;
  • Unions and employers are prohibited from coercing employees in the exercise of these rights;
  • The practice of collective bargaining is encouraged as a matter of public policy;
  • A union must be elected by workers as their representative;
  • There are obligations on employers to bargain in good faith with unions elected by their employees;
  • Unions are required to provide representation to all employees in the unit and the benefits of the union contracts accrue to all employees regardless of membership;
  • Members of the bargaining unit who have not joined the union can in certain situations be required to pay a fee to the union for costs of representation and this payment is a condition of continued employment; and
  • Union members are provided with a bill of rights protecting their ability to elect the officers, establish the dues, and shape the policies of their organization.

The Poles were taken aback when the concept of "agency shop" was introduced. But, like most Americans, they recognized its validity once it had been fully explained to them. Now, of course, I do not expect Ms. Seker to believe this. She apparently has made up her mind and does not want to be bothered with the facts.

Unlike Ms. Seker, who believes that "there are thousands of American educators caught in this web," the Poles also know that the agency fee-payers constitute only a small fraction of the teachers represented by aft locals.

Our training was not narrowly on the subject of building unions--in case Ms. Seker has been out of touch for the last several years, the Poles are quite good at that. Our mission was to help people who have lived under more than half a century of tyranny develop the personal knowledge, skills, attitudes, and self-confidence necessary to fully participate as citizens of a free society.

Of course, we learn from the Poles that the most effective mechanism available to working people through which to participate in determining their own future, and that of the nation in which they live, is free, independent, and democratic trade unions, like the aft.

Far from being thrown out on our ear, I and my aft colleagues have an open invitation to continue our work with these wonderful people whose courage and union solidarity have been an inspiration to us all.

John H. Stevens Director Aft Union Leadership Institute Washington, D.C.

I am prepared to defend the proposition that the less people know about tests, the more enthusiastic they are about testing students and teachers and about using the resulting test scores to sort them out or to judge their performance. This enthusiasm for tests has not yet extended to testing school superintendents, principals, school-board members, state legislators and the President of the United States, or business leaders--all of whom seem to want to test the teachers and kids.

All of these people harbor the misapprehension that a standardized test in reading is a good way to find out what a youngster learns in school about reading, and how well the teacher and the school are working. This erroneous assumption grows from the mistaken belief that a child's education occurs solely in school. It doesn't!

--Harold Howe 2nd, senior lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, in a speech last June to the National Academy of Public Administration.

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