Letters to the Editor
Charles W. Fowler Superintendent Sarasota County Public Schools Sarasota, Fla. To the Editor:
We in the Sarasota County (Fla.) Public Schools were most interested in the article in your Commentary section for Oct. 10: "Old Idea, New Setting: Endowed Chairs for Schools."
Our interest lies in the fact that the Sarasota-based Selby Foundation has established such a program for our school district, beginning this year.
The first holder of such a chair, whose salary will be significantly higher than that usual for a teacher, is an outstanding teacher of elementary-school science. She is spending the year doing demonstration teaching, inservice training, and working with the community to promote the importance of science education at the elementary-school level.
The major criterion for her selection was her national reputation as an outstanding classroom teacher.
We have been awarded approximately $85,000 a year in order to pursue this concept, and are now exploring what curriculum area the chair might be used for in the coming year.
Paula S. Young ESL Teacher Old Bridge, N.J. To the Editor:
Another possible explanation for the high performance by Asian Americans on the Scholastic Aptitude Test ("Asian-American Test Scores: They Deserve A Closer Look," Commentary, Oct. 17, 1990) is that, as port-of-entry students, they paticipated in an English-as-a-second-language program.
Limited-English-proficient students receive individual attention and constant support from their ESL teachers. They are taught in small groups, lessons are individualized, their academic strengths are accelerated, and their deficiencies are addressed in a positive manner.
An ESL classroom is a friendly and nurturing place where mistakes are viewed as a natural component to any learning process and student interaction with peers and instructors is encouraged. While constantly monitoring a child's academic and social progress, an ESL teacher assists regular classroom teachers and parents on behalf of the student. If a child needs help at school, there is someone readily available to lend support and encourage personal development.
Within two to three years, most students become self-sufficient and are able to maintain the high levels of personal motivation and performance encouraged by their parents and teachers.
This instructional model unquestionably benefits ESL students and could be the "how and why" Daniel B. Taylor is seeking to explain the high test scores. It would be impossible for even the most skilled and dedicated professionals to provide comparable levels of individual attention and constructive feedback to each child within a group of 25 to 30 students.
As we look to school restructuring, maybe a variation of this model should be used to address the academic and social needs of mainstream students in the primary grades.
Mary R. Khan Morgan Hill, Calif. To the Editor:
The Commentary by Daniel Taylor is indeed thought provoking. I believe that all of his possible explanations for the extraordinary performance by Asian students are true.
However, what is the underlying force that motivates these parents and their children? Is it possible that survival, rather than pleasure, is their first priority?
Do they believe the ultimate reward is success in future years, rather than a piece of candy after every 10 minutes "on task"?
As Mr. Taylor indicates, the Asians achieve all this in our highly criticized schools. It would appear, therefore, that studies of the activities and attitudes of American students and their parents would be more fruitful than mere condemnation of the schools.
Catherine C. Veal Communications Officer Illinois Mathematics And Science Academy Aurora, Ill. To the Editor:
I enjoyed your informative article on the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics ("North Carolina Academy Marks 10th Year of Spurring Careers in Math, Science," Oct. 17, 1990). But I am a little concerned about a statement attributed to me, saying that our survey of graduates at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy "indicates a level of success comparable to that of the North Carolina graduates."
In a telephone conversation and in the subsequent packet of information I sent you, I indicated that our survey reported how the IMSA's first graduates compared with a group of academically talented students from the Northeast.
The survey did not compare our graduates to those from the North Carolina academy. In fact, our interest has been quite the opposite. We have suggested collaborative research studies, not comparative ones, with the NCSSM and other similar schools.
Tom Shuford Teacher Bayville, N. Y. To the Editor:
Dennis L. Evans, in his disparagement of the free market is far too conservative in his estimate of the number of "Edsels" the free market produces for every "success story." My guess is that the ratio is closer to 10 failures for each success than the one for one he suggests.
An organization subject to the discipline of a free market, however, must quickly stop production of its Edsels if it is to survive. This is why Ford Motor Company stopped making Edsels long ago.
Public education's "Edsels"--failing inner-city schools; impersonal mega-high schools; mind-numbingly bland social-studies textbooks; stifling central bureaucracies; adversarial labor-management relations, to mention a few--are subject to no such discipline. Hence, they live on forever, and literally bury the potential success stories that a market system would nurture.
In his second line of reasoning in opposition to parental choice and competition, Mr. Evans contends that parents are not qualified to make decisions about their children's education. It is not necessary, however, to establish the educational expertise of parents to make the case for parental choice among schools.
Most parents, whatever their limitations, can detect whether or not their child is happy and excited about learning. Moreover, parents have a powerful incentive to find a learning environment that produces both of those outcomes. That ability and that motivation, if harnessed to a market system, would produce dramatic gains for children.
Nanette Fondas Assistant Professor of Management and Organizational Behavior Babson College Babson Park, Mass. To the Editor:
Dennis L. Evans's Commentary deserves careful attention. The business community's recommendations (such as parental choice) and contributions (such as time and money) to the school-reform movement are no panacea: They will not result in the kind of systemic change that is needed.
But there is a way for businesses to help, and they are not doing it.
Based on my own research, I believe that if businesses would distill the knowledge they have culled from redesigning their organization and management systems in an effort to become more globally competitive, and share that wisdom with those redesigning the "work" of schooling, they could make a more valuable contribution.
I don't mean simply for businesses to advise school systems to decentralize, create autonomous units, and make other structural changes similar to those found in industry.
I mean for businesses to share their knowledge about how to implement these, or other, changes by anticipating and overcoming resistance to change, managingtuencies with stakes in the existing system, eliminating needless layers of managers, generating local involvement and support for change, championing innovative practices, pushing quality activities to lower levels of the organization, and opening new career-path possibilities for professionals--knowledge, in short, about the process of reform.
Will the business community share these secrets?
Michael Umphrey Principal St. Ignatius High School St. Ignatius, Mont. To the Editor:
Dennis L. Evans misses the point. The best hope for eliminating lay control of schools and all the inanities it produces is precisely through allowing parental choice.
The right of parents to have a say in how their children are taught is sacred, and it's a right educators will not muster the political strength to overcome any time soon. In fact, the momentum seems to be moving the other way, which is what frustrates Mr. Evans.
But he's right to feel that we won't have excellent schools until we quit letting them be governed by lay boards. One need not attend many school-board meetings to conclude that the clash of political factions and contradictory ideals typically present won't result in any strong, inspiring, or coherent vision. And without such a vision, no school is likely to be good.
A better system would allow teachers to create the schools they want, without political interference. They would be true professionals, instead of low-level public-service bureaucrats. There would be as many different kinds of schools as there are different kinds of doctors or different kinds of churches.
The reason doctors and churches are free to practice, in general, as they please, is because people are free to ignore them. Parents' rights should be protected not by putting them in the business of running schools, but by giving them real choices among real alternatives.
I doubt that Mr. Evans will buy this, because to buy it you have to believe in freedom, and to believe in freedom you have to trust people. Most of his argument consists of a catalog of reasons to distrust people. But since this is still a democracy, it matters more what parents think than what Mr. Evans thinks, and despite two decades of noisy moan the education industry in its attempts to drown out a simple message, parents are beginning to hear it: Giving parents educational vouchers makes good sense.
Timothy W. Young Professor of Education Central Washington University Ellensburgh, Wash.
I think a less emotional and more thoughtful discussion of public-school choice would have benefited Education Week's readership.
Daniel L. Evans's analysis was simplistic. Contrary to what he would have us believe, choice is not some kind of corporate plot. This may come as a surprise to him, but there are supporters of public-school choice who are not enthusiastic supporters of corporate America.
Much of the motivation for the concepts of options and choice in public education can be traced back to the alternative-school movement in the 1960's, which has a very different agenda than the one Mr. Evans ascribes to supporters of school choice.
I would like to recommend to Mr. Evans a book I have written on the subject, Public Alternative Education, Options and Choice for Today's Schools. In it, he will find some exemplary public schools of choice that owe little to the corporate model.
I also take issue with his contention that choice is undesirable because many parents do not make wise choices. If we were to follow that argument to its logical conclusion, democracy would be an undesirable form of government.
E.L. Daugherty Principal West Harrison High School Mondamin, Iowa
I found the article by Dennis L. Evans very refreshing. I'm reminded of the story of the emperor's new clothes--why can't more people see the obvious?
R. L. Wehling Vice President, Public Affairs Proctor & Gamble Company Cincinnati, Ohio
It would be irresponsible of me to let the Commentary by Dennis L. Evans ("The Mythology of the Marketplace in School Choice," Oct. 17, 1990) pass without comment.
I am frankly saddened to see an article that discredits business involvement with education at a point in time when it's critical for all of us to be working collaboratively to improve student outcomes.
I find it absolutely shocking that a high-school principal so utterly fails to understand the relationship of competition and quality and what makes a business succeed or fail. "The company is not in business to give the consumer the best possible product or service at the lowest possible price" can only describe a firm on its way to extinction.
Any business which expects to succeed must offer consumers acceptable, preferably superior, quality and value. If competitors offer a better value, a company must improve significantly and quickly or it will fail.
If the students at Mr. Evans's school, and all schools throughout the United States, aren't getting this message, we are in deep trouble and we'd better change the message fast.
By the same token, brushing off corporate America's sincere interest in trying to help our education system simply on the basis that we're unied because some of our businesses fail is a non sequitur. Business knows the limits of its contributions. School administrators must lead.
Still, education is a collective responsibility. We must use the best minds we can find, whether they are in public schools, universities, governments, or, yes, business, to work together to achieve a new standard of excellence.
Apparently, these divisive arguments and accusations are made to support the point that "choice" is not the answer for our public-school systems. No one that I've met who is really close to the issues in our schools is saying that, by itself, choice will lead to a substantial improvement in education quality for all our children.
There is, however, growing evidence that choice can be an important element of a multifaceted strategy to improve student outcomes in concert with significantly improved and better-coordinated early-childhood programs; improved recruitment, training, and reward systems for teachers and principals; a radically different approach to remediation; a much greater emphasis on critical thinking and demonstrated mastery of essential skills; an overarching commitment that all children will read and comprehend at a high level by 3rd grade; and a communitywide commitment to help alleviate social and economic problems that interfere with a student's ability to concentrate and learn.
Giving parents a choice of excellent schools and the information they need to make well-informed decisions can be a part of the solution.
Let's get confrontation behind us and start working together to help our children.