Letters to the Editor
To the Editor:
In your Question-and-Answer column in the Jan. 23, 1991, issue ("A Conversation with Debra Saunders," Focus), the Los Angeles Daily News columnist Debra Saunders displays her rather superficial understanding of the facts regarding education funding from the California lottery, teacher salaries, and teachers'-union activity in the Los Angeles area.
First of all, we need to put the whole matter of whether her home telephone number was given out by the union behind us. Not noted in your q & a is the fact that Ms. Saunders had been the first to list a personal telephone number in a Los Angeles daily newspaper. She did it in two of her own columns, and the number given out was my unlisted, private number, which is used for emergencies and personal calls. Only after those columns appeared did we locate her telephone number, listed in the Pacific Bell telephone directory.
On the subject of salaries, this columnist keeps using the figure of $92,000 as the highest-paid teacher in Los Angeles. The only way this one teacher can have that income is because she taught on the "rainbow track" for 12 months a year in a hard-to-staff school, was a mentor teacher, bilingual certificated, and an adult-bilingual-education instructor weekday nights and weekends. Given those criteria it is clear just how unusual such income would be.
Los Angeles teachers' regular salary range is presently $29,529 (beginning with credential) to $51,490 (10 years' experience and 98 earned salary credits).
Ms. Saunders also indicated that she thought the United Teachers-Los Angeles kept teachers' salaries under wraps and that sparked the debate. In fact, the utla has been very vocal in publicizing these salaries and, as a result, teachers are flocking to teach in the Los Angeles city schools. Where there was a teacher shortage of up to 3,000 positions each year before the new contract, each and every classroom is now filled, and qualified teachers are waiting to be offered jobs.
This columnist clearly does not grasp how budgets are developed and administered in the district, nor has she adequately followed the work the utla has done to point out gross discrepancies in spending. It is not the level of teacher salaries that has the district strapped in a budget crisis, it is inadequate financing from Sacramento and mismanagement of budget priorities within the district.
In fact, since 1982-83, the total Los Angeles Unified School District income has gone up by 74.6 percent, while negotiated teacher salaries have totaled 68.05 percent. The district budget has increased more than salary settlements. It's not teacher salaries that have caused district budget woes.
Ms. Saunders also does not seem to be familiar with teacher initiation of school reform in Los Angeles. School-site decisionmaking and school-based-management programs negotiated by the utla get to the heart of many of the things she says concern her--and that also concern us. We believe that the current administrative system--top-down bureaucracy--is too removed from the interests and needs of children and the classroom.
If the district would allow the flow of funds directly to schools, then proper decisions would be made for students by the people who care about them the most. As it is, this year the district absorbed lottery funds into the general budget and none went to schools. It also held up year-round-schedule incentive funds--again money kept from the reach of school decisionmaking councils. Now the Instructional Materials Account funds have been frozen--the last budget line item councils can spend on their individual schools.
If Ms. Saunders still questions whether teachers care about our students, we probably cannot convince her that we do. But she might be more receptive to the findings of a study by the rand Corporation, "Teacher Unions and Educational Reform."
Among its conclusions are that "... despite charges to the contrary, teacher unions have not been a major obstacle to educational reform. Their modal response has been an accommodation, even in those instances where a specific reform initiative has run counter to their organizational interests or has been at odds with the professional judgment of their members. ... In fact, if teacher unions had wanted to block reform policies, they could probably have done so quite successfully in many local districts. Not only did they choose not to, but in many cases organizational leaders were active participants in the implementation process."
In Los Angeles, not only did teachers initiate reform, they also have put enormous amounts of time and dedication into improving public education. Does Ms. Saunders truly believe we don't care?
We recognize that she has personal opinions. She even states in her interview that she does not "believe in unions for professional people." Of course, we disagree. We can only hope that her personal opinion does not distort her journalistic integrity.
The UTLA is attempting to put the meanness of this whole episode behind us and focus on issues that will be constructive. To that end, we recently invited Ms. Saunders and other members of the Los Angeles Daily News editorial staff to meet with us for an open and thoughtful review of the challenges facing the Los Angeles school system.
We believe, with an understanding of the facts, that even Ms. Saunders may find we have more room for agreement than anger.
United Teachers-Los Angeles
Los Angeles, Calif.
To the Editor:
Occasionally, experts in other fields can make substantial contributions to education by introducing a new perspective. But the Brookings fellow John Chubb and the Stanford University political-science professor Terry Moe have not done so. ("A Response to Our Critics," Commentary, Feb. 20, 1991.) Educators know from practical experience that the "full-blown choice" system Mr. Chubb and Mr. Moe recommend would further reduce the authority teachers and administrators need.
At the university level, where much choice currently exists, implicit limits are placed on the standards faculty members require. If faculty exceed those limits, enough students choose or threaten to choose easier schools, creating the perception that standards cannot be raised. "Quality" may draw students to Stanford, but that institution is hardly typical of colleges or K-l2 schools generally.
There is much wrong with a "full-blown choice" system, but even if one doesn't care about the role of the public schools in bringing all children together within a learning community, as a practical matter, the choice system Mr. Chubb and Mr. Moe propose would reduce the authority educators need, further eroding quality.
Even without choice, in public education the need to "satisfy" and "appeal to the majority," most frequently works against the authori4ty of educators to raise standards. With choice, that problem would be exacerbated.
Associate Professor of Education
California State University, Bakersfield
To the Editor
I find it ironic that part of Michael Pressley's recent letter about the "Tactics" program ("A Conservative 'New Ager' on Religion and Visualization," Letters, Feb. 20, 1991) defends it on the basis that guided-imagery techniques have been used by mainstream religions for years. I thought religion was precisely what was not allowed in the public schools.
Mr. Pressley believes it is merely coincidental that guided imagery and self-hypnosis are widely used religious techniques. I don't think it is coincidental at all. These techniques are effective in achieving altered states of consciousness and communing with spiritual reality.
It is precisely the effectiveness of these techniques that has parents upset. Such techniques can alter consciousness and often bring about long-lasting behavioral and psychological changes in children.
Mr. Pressley states that those who oppose programs such as "Tactics'' have a moral obligation to state why a potentially beneficial program should not be used. I believe that those who favor such programs have the moral obligation to state why they believe schools have the right to use mind-control techniques on children without parental knowledge or consent.
Front Royal, Va.
To the Editor:
For a book on the impact of standardized testing on young children, parents, and teachers, I would appreciate hearing from anyone willing to share anecdotes and other information (newspaper articles, unpublished papers, personal recollections, etc.) regarding the use and abuse of testing in prekindergarten through grade 3.
Samuel J. Meisels
Professor of Education
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Mich. 48109
To the Editor:
At first glance, the letters you published under the heading "The Teacher-Preparation Series: Two Views From the Field" (Letters, Jan. 23, 1991) appear to represent contrasting positions on the possibilities of cross-institutional collaboration to improve teacher education.
As a school principal, Kenneth Moran expresses little faith in the ability of university-based teacher educators to reform the process they have created. As a teacher educator who has struggled with this issue for many years, I agree with him completely, and I am never surprised at the suspicion that often accompanies the intrusion of higher education into the schools.
On the other hand, Edward Meade's letter describes the only approach to collaboration that I believe holds any promise for bringing collegiate and school faculty together in a concerted effort to discover how teachers ought to be prepared and how to go about it. This work is carried on in the clinical schools Mr. Meade cites that have been supported with grants from the Ford Foundation.
John Williams School #5 in Rochester, N.Y., fits the Meade description of a school with a diverse student body and a faculty that has taken steps to become a learning community within itself. In addition, it has defined itself as a site for the study of student teaching and a search for ways of preparing teachers who can ground their practice in the intellectual processes and theoretical frameworks that sustain critical and creative teaching over time.
As the college supervisor for student teachers in the building, I have been a part of an ongoing dialogue with teachers and administrators in which the interdependence of our respective institutions is taken for granted. Although I represent the teacher-training institution, I am not willing (as Mr. Moran suggests) to tell teachers what to do without listening, nor am I ready to dictate without cooperating or communicating with my colleagues in the school.
I agree with Mr. Moran that to be welcome in the schools, "college/university visitors should be ready to embark upon some investment of understanding local situations." The fruits of collaboration can come only from the serious investment of all segments of the teacher-education process in understanding each other's settings.
My colleagues at John Williams School and I believe that we, with the help of the Ford Foundation, are forming the coalition Mr. Moran has envisioned, a partnership that unites us as a profession. We believe teacher education can be changed and that we are part of an important effort to create those changes.
Patricia Taylor Pivnick
Professor of Education
To the Editor:
Edwin J. Delattre's Commentary, "Teaching Students About War" (Feb. 6, 1991), provides a thorough critique of the pseudo-psychology, pseudo-learning that goes on in our classrooms. But one good thing can be said about the "education-as-group-therapy" approach: Like most ignes fatui, it readily extinguishes itself under the pressure of its own deadly seriousness and intellectual vacuity. Bringing this about in the classroom can provide a valuable lesson for our students.
I usually devote at least one lesson a semester to a mock "education-as-group-therapy" approach to a great work of literature, such as "Macbeth." Students are invited to air their "deepest inner feelings'' about the plight of a tragic hero, bearing in mind, of course, that "all points of view must be expressed," and that, in the best tradition of moral relativism, we can never say that anything the character does or thinks is wrong--because whatever he does or thinks is, of course, always right for him.
About 10 minutes into the lesson, students begin to catch on and learn, as Professor Delattre puts it, that "immersion in sentiment will not engage them in the long, literary history of reflection on the human condition; it will only isolate them in the narrow confines of their own transient psychological states"--a form of isolation, that, as my more perceptive students usually point out, in no time at all drives Macbeth and his wife thoroughly insane.
When class is over, the students have learned that although the "education-as-group-therapy" model may tell them a lot about how they feel at the moment, it's a bogus approach to learning that fails to tell them much about either the text in front of them or the larger text of their world.
So perhaps one "critical-thinking skill" we can teach our children is the ability to distinguish education from pseudo-learning. A good test of our success as educators may well be our students' willingness to regard the one and reject the other. "Things without all remedy," we learn in "Macbeth," "should be without regard."
Edward A. Rauchut