Letters to the Editor
Wonderful. What education needs is another dogmatic position that throws the baby out with the bath water.
Joanne Yatvin, in her Commentary on "Re-Inventing the Wheel" (Sept. 19, 1990), champions the position that it is appropriate, good, and proper for educators to re-invent wheels even though a round, sturdy, and reliable one already exists. At a time when education is struggling to become a legitimate profession, which includes a well-defined body of knowledge, tools, and strategies able to be used across a range of educational situations, Ms. Yatvin indicates that no such body of collective knowledge ought to exist.
In Ms. Yatvin's view, education and schooling ought to return to a pre-Industrial Revolution state, where each school is an independent, isolated kingdom, and the residents choose not to take and use the tools built by craftsmen in the next kingdom, but instead always build things from "scratch."
What if law, medicine, or business took her advice? Maybe your family doctor would still use leeches for eliminating bad blood from your system when you had the flu, because he wanted to hone his craft via the discovery method, disdained the "wheels" already developed by Faraway Laboratory, and wanted to start from scratch?
Ms. Yatvin is unequivocal in her belief that teachers ought to re-invent the wheel. Her reasoning has to do with what she calls the "Hawthorne Effect that all those bright, well-paid types may have heard about in graduate school, but, in my opinion, didn't quite understand."
Well, in addition to re-inventing the findings of the Hawthorne Effect, Ms. Yatvin also re-invented the location of "that famous experiment in a New Jersey manufacturing plant."
As many graduate students do know, the effect known as Hawthorne was the result of many experiments, not Just one, and they were conducted at the Western Electric Hawthorne Works, in Cicero, Ill.
With respect to the Hawthorne studies, the statement that they demonstrated that "when people believe they are important in a proJect, anything works, and conversely, when they don't believe they are important, nothing works," is not accurate.
In the Hawthorne study she refers to, the renowned illumination study, the researchers did not find that any old thing works Just as long as the people think they are important. Productivity did decrease, once a certain low level of illumination had been reached.
Conversely, even as the level of illumination was increased and increased productivity was observed in the control group (where light intensity remained constant) and the experimental group (where the light intensity was gradually increased), there was a limit to the workers' ability to work rapidly at a sustained rate.
The point is, there is a limit to what belief can and cannot do regarding productivity. Belief is certainly a motivator, but it is not the only one, as observed by Maslow, Hertzberg, Halpin, Sergiovanni, and others.
There can be no doubting the common sense and personal experience many educators have had that "belief" is a potent motivator. But, I would take Ms. Yatvin to task for oversimplifying the results of the Hawthorne Studies, erroneously identifying the location of those studies, and for assuming that "belief" can only come through the task of re-invention--a task that is unnecessary in terms of time, labor, and capital.
North View Elementary School
Your report on Joe Nathan's study of school-choice plans in Minnesota ("Study Documents Impact of Four Minnesota Choice Plans," Jan. 9, 1991) is welcome news. But the fact that it is news reflects very poorly on previous news coverage about education.
In point of fact, school choice is not new: In New York City alone, 8,000 students are currently enrolled in 21 alternative high schools; an additional 27,000 attend nearly 250 alternative-high-school program sites at any given time. The first of our schools is nearly 25 years old and has granted hundreds of diplomas since its opening; together, our schools awarded over 2,000 diplomas in 1989 alone.
Tens of thousands of students have told us, personally, what Mr. Nathan's statistics tell us: that they feel better about themselves, feel higher expectations for themselves, and feel more successful than when they attended "one-size-fits-all" schools.
In addition to the benefits to students, New York's alternative schools, like those across the country, have strong legacies of teacher empowerment, of school-based management, of graduation-by-demonstration, and of a host of movements Just now catching on with the broader establishment.
In short, the press need not sit idly by, waiting to explore and examine the results of "experiments" now in their infancy in some locales. There are dozens of places, many with long histories, which can provide text8book examples of educational "innovation" at its best. Where has the press been?
Stephen E. Phillips
Alternative High Schools and Programs
New York, N.Y.
The points raised by Lawrence Schweinhart in his letter are well taken ("Early-Childhood Education Is Not a 'Profound Failure"' Letters, Jan. 23, 1990). I agree that there are many good early-childhood-eduction pograms--both public and private--in the United States today. I'm also in complete agreement with his condemnation of the absymally low salaries of early-childhood employees as disgraceful.
The "profound failure" to which my Nov. 28 essay refers is the failure to make high-quality early-childhood programs available to all youngsters whose parents wish to enroll them. Yes, the Congress authorized an increase in Head Start funding last year. But that increase will at best enable Head Start programs to serve one out of every four eligible children. That is simply not good enough.
The fact that there are early-childhood teachers and other paid employees delivering high-quality education while being paid poverty-level wages is a testament to the employees' professionalism and commitment. It is also a national disgrace--and a profound failure of U.S. education, social, and economic policy.
National Education Association
Ann Mactier's letter ("Reading Recovery Versus Stanley Orton's Methods," Letters, Jan. 9, 1991) points out some important and neglected history in the field of reading instruction. Her concern about the failure of schools of education to present alternatives to the whole-language or basal-reader methodologies is one we share.
As a matter of accuracy, however, please note that Mr. Orton's first name was Samuel, not Stanley.
As the oldest national organization dedicated to the needs of poor readers, The Orton Dyslexia Society supports all efforts to introduce teachers to programs based on the work of Mr. Orton and his educational colleague, Anna Gillingham. The Writing Road to Reading is among several programs that have proved successful.
Other programs in the Orton tradition include the Bloomington, Minn., ProJect Read, which has had great success over two decades in preventing failure through regular classroom instruction based on the principles of multisensory teaching; the Slingerland program, found in many schools in the West, which has an excellent track record; and Alphabetic Phonics, developed by Aylett Cox in Dallas, which is now being presented in several schools of education, including Teachers College, Columbia University.
These are but three of a number of excellent programs largely unknown to teachers.
The Orton Dyslexia Society, through its teacher-education-issues initiative on quality control, has established several task forces whose goals include establishing links with teacher educators and4school systems. These task forces include representatives of a number of organizations and institutions working collaboratively to promote opportunities for teachers to learn instructional methodologies derived from Orton and Gillingham.
The issue is not whole language versus multisensory, structured, phonetically based instruction. The issue is dismantling the Procrustean bed and freeing teachers to select the appropriate reading/lanuage program for each student they serve.
Rosemary F. Bowler
William Ellis Chair,
Teachers Education Issues Committee
The Orton Dyslexia Society
There is no question that Gilbert T. Sewall's Commentary ("Volunteers Are No Cure-All, but They Can Nourish Schools," Dec. 5, 1990) is topical and offers points that administrators should consider when asking for volunteer assistance at schools.
With the growing numbers of retired professionals, our ranks should be swelling with outstanding volunteers who have a wealth of experience to offer students. And many colleges, such as Georgetown University and Harvard University, offer voluntary services by their students.
Mr. Sewall holds, however, that "[v]olunteerism at the local level can be far different from the dreamy hopes that sometimes emanate from terraces in Georgetown or Cambridge." While he does not specifically refer to these fine institutions, the allusion seems clear.
The university in Georgetown has long been known for its altruism in the District of Columbia. My daughter, an alumna, helped tutor underprivileged children, painted dilapidated homes, and helped in the soup kitchens on a regular basis.
There is no question that the university in Cambridge is also proactive with volunteerism. The "dreamy hopes" are realized by these students, who make a commitment to those most in need.
Possibly, Mr. Sewall was referring to e.e. cummings's poem, "the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls."
The brittle comment regarding the "terraces in Georgetown or Cambridge" may be a bit dated in Mr. Sewall's mind. I suggest that this member of the National Research Council committee which recently studied volunteerism in schools go back and study the facts for a more accurate picture.
M. Cathleen Raymond
Department of English
Florida Atlantic University
Boca Raton, Fla.
As a veteran teacher, I was disturbed by the implied lack of credibility of the perceptions of teachers in the Commentary by Gene I. Maeroff ("Class Size as an Empowerment Issue," Commentary, Jan. 9, 1991).
In his concern for the "vital underpinnings of empowerment," Mr. Maeroff failed to heed the voices of the teachers themselves, thus contributing to the pervasive low professional self-esteem that is a fundamental impediment to the empowerment of teachers and the improvement of schooling.
He states that one-third of all teachers perceived their typical class as "too large." Then he implies that their perception was faulty by citing the fact that "15 percent of the teachers who consider their typical class too large actually have classes below the average size for the grade level."
Is the average class size the optimum class size in the United States? Does the average class size take into account the tremendous variations in context that exist in our classrooms and the diversity of our students?
Comparisons of our students to those in Asia do even less to promote the cause of teacher empowerment in the United States. The fact that Korean middle-school children score higher in mathematics proficiency than our students, even though they attend classes with 40 to 55 students, is irrelevant when differences in social, political, and cultural context are taken into account.
Do Korean middle-school children fear being murdered for their "B Ball" Jackets or "pump" sneakers?
Mr. Maeroff suggests "a more child-centered approach to instruction'' as a means of easing some of the self-perceived burden of teachers. Is instruction in Japan or Korea more child-centered than it is here? Is the means of assessment used in the comparisons appropriate to child-centered classrooms? Would a more child-centered approach in other areas improve our children's education?
Why do we, in one of the wealthiest nations in the world, have to face the fact that there "will never be enough money to lower class sizes appreciably?" Perhaps a comparison with other nations might clarify some of the differences between them. In a comparison of 142 countries, the United States ranks 20th in school-age population per teacher, 7th in education spending per capita, and 18th in infant mortality, yet first in military spending.
We have the money to lower class sizes. We simply spend it elsewhere.
Mr. Maeroff states that "many teachers whose classes have been reduced ... do not change their teaching techniques." But he does not cite the effect the reductions had on the climate of those classes, or on the sense of satisfaction or willingness to spend extra time of those teachers.
If a factor in the empowerment of teachers is a sense of efficacy, then how, in fact, do teachers who reported satisfaction with class size feel about the availability of time and energy? Of course, it might be a waste of time to ask that now.
If we ask teachers their perceptions of class size, and pay no attention to what they say, other than to acknowledge the fact that that is their perception, then why should they contribute any more to what seems to be a debate in which they are not involved--other than as both the bane and the solution?
"The perceptions of teachers are the reality with which they live every day in the nation's classrooms." Do we believe that or don't we?
Rose A. Rudnitski
Teachers College Columbia University
New York, N.Y.
In 1978, I thought having 34 kindergartners in my class was "too large." The school board, administration, and state disagreed. But I knew I wasn't meeting needs or offering the kind of program 5-year-olds deserved.
A year later, class-size legislation reduced my load to 22. Now I could teach and have time to interact. The difference made teaching fun again.
Since then, the numbers have steadily increased, and in 1988, I had 33 pupils. So far in 1991, I have 31. For me, it has nothing to do with "empowerment," per se. I get only 30 minutes for lunch, regardless; as a kindergarten teacher who teaches every subJect, there are no "breaks" in my day. I do have one hour of planning time daily, as does every other teacher on staff. To be recertified, I must take courses every 5 years (to keep myself current), whether my class is large or small.
No, it's really quite simple: I can't do the same Job with 33 to 34 children that I can for 22 to 23, not with all my hats.
I'm awfully tired of hearing how other countries manage large classes. I've been to Japan--they're not dealing with Nicaraguan, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Colombian, black and other American children all in one classroom.
After a year in England teaching 33 6-year olds, I know how they do it. The children behave; they had learned some self-control, they followed directions, and they listened and responded politely. The British teacher who took my place in Miami was reduced to tears the first day when a child spoke back to her.
Dade County, Fla., schools are overcrowded and have been for years. Teachers I talk to know what the reality is: more and more kids! A dose of management skills isn't going to make that room any larger. While different instructional strategies may help a teacher manage large numbers, are the children going to learn more or better?
Class size isn't so much an "empowerment issue" as it is a "person" issue: There's only so8much one person can do. I'd like to teach, and I'll gladly teach 34 children if:
I get a secretary to handle my paperwork--checking and recording grades, filing papers, collecting parent notes, checking and filing homework, gathering papers that go home, etc.
I get a counselor to take out the small groups of children each day who need that extra something--the ones who lack self-esteem and need an interested adult; the ones who lack self-control and spoil lessons for others because they can't behave appropriately; the quiet ones who rarely talk; the loud ones who want attention; and the very young ones who need a helper.
I get a cashier who can collect lunch mony, field-trip funds, picture money, pta fund-raising envelopes, United Way collections, etc.
I get a social worker who can work with parents who are undergoing messy divorces, single parents who are barely coping, those who are involved in drugs, lack parenting skills, are part of a dysfunctional pattern, etc.
I get a nurse who can assess whether it's an illness that's real or imaginary, look for head lice, knows ringworm, recognizes chicken pox versus measles, has time to go over the records in the office, and can tell if a finger needs a Band-Aid or is really broken.
I get an aide who'll work with those small groups who need reinforcement of skills, practice for mastery, and who knows how to keep them "on task." A responsible person whom I can count on to help make materials, who knows where the supplies are kept, who can follow directions, fills paste and paint Jars, takes down and puts up bulletin boards, etc.
I got my bachelor's and master's degrees so I could work with children--educate them in the best sense of that word. If large classes are here to stay, and the concern is really the impact on teachers, then get us some help so we can do the Job.