Letters to the Editor
I found both Larry Cuban's article on all-male African-American public schools ("Desperate Remedies for Desperate Times," Commentary, Nov. 20, 1991) and Jawanza Kunjufu's essay on Detroit's African-American male academies ("Detroit's Male Academies: What the Real Issue Is," Commentary, Nov. 20, 1991) of considerable interest. As usual, Jawanza Kunjufu's writing stimulates discussion and provokes much thought.
However, I would like to clarify one paragraph in the Kunjufu article. According to him, "Studies indicate that teachers have higher expectations for female students, call upon them more in class, and give them greater feedback. I am not sure what studies he is reading, but the literature I have read contradicts this statement. David and Myra Sadker's studies on sexism in schools as well as numerous other studies from the 1960's to the present have found that male students: (1) tend to receive more precise feedback from teachers; (2) receive significantly more remediation and praise; and (3) are asked more direct, open-ended, and abstract questions than female students.
It is also unclear what Mr. Kunjufu means by the statement that "teachers value females .... "The main points of his essay are well taken. Let us not blur them with statements not substantiated by research.
Paula A. Cordeiro
Assistant Professor of Education
University of Connecticut
To the Editor:
I would like to respond to a remark made by the textbook critic Mel Gabler in your Nov. 20, 1991, article, "Texas Board Delays Decision on Error-Filled History Texts." The quote concerned 230 factual errors found in new textbooks being ordered for the Texas school system.
Mr. Gabler said, "It's obvious their proofreaders don't know history." That anyone would assume that proofreaders would be knowledgeable in all the subjects they are called upon to read totally amazes me.
As a "proofer" of many years during my 20's for a local newspaper, I can only account for my own experience. We proofed for spelling errors, correct grammar and sentence structure, etc. The only time we would ever correct for accuracy of facts would be on a subject we were familiar with and, at those times, we were only expected to point out to the author of the article that we thought his or her facts were wrong. He/she would be responsible for rechecking the sources and adjusting the facts if necessary.
How could an English major possibly be up on all the historical facts that would be compiled in just one book, let alone all the manuscripts they have to deal with?
Since Mr. Gablet and his wife obviously have a "drum to beat" with state school officials over the treatment of evolution in science textbooks, I think they both should place the blame where it belongs--with the historians who presumably made the mistakes in the first place--and apologize to the intelligent people who have a tedious job to begin with, without being blamed for something they have absolutely no control over.
Lois W. Gagliardi
White Plains. N.Y.
To the Editor:
Martin Haberman's Commentary touched on so many points relevant to the issue of teacher education that I am reluctant to find fault ("Catching Up With Reform in Teacher Education," Commentary, Nov. 6, 19912. He's right when he says that teacher-education programs are not producing teachers for our urban schools. Those of us who face the problems of urban public education have implicitly known that to be the case.
Mr. Haberman was right to stress the need for school districts to have a solid and effective interview/screening process for prospective teachers and an internship/mentor program to support those new or inexperienced teachers during the first difficult years of teaching.
And, while universities deserve their share of blame in continuing to pursue the same process of teacher preparation, we need to understand that they didn't do this by themselves. They had the help of education organizations, state certification boards, and school administrations.
But Mr. Haberman's biggest fault was not letting us know about his own admirable work in this field. His model Urban Teacher Interview Process, which we are piloting in Chicago, is a fine example of research blended with practical application that university people are capable of producing.
Assistant to the President for Educational Issues
Chicago Teachers Union
To the Editor:
It appears from your recent article about the Houston Independent School District's reversion from whole language to phonics that education in Texas is suffering from more than deflated expectations regarding student outcomes in language arts ("Opposed to Whole Language, Houston Schools Revert to Phonics," Nov. 20, 1991).
It is utterly dismaying to see inner-city children--children anywhere for that matter--get handed a second-rate curriculum because their teachers are not as "gung ho" about an integrated approach to language arts as they are about Direct Instruction Teaching Arithmetic and Reading, or DiSTAR. It is equally outrageous when parents are blamed for their lack of support for reading at home as an excuse for regressing tea simplistic approach to building literacy skills.
Does anyone really believe that teachers and administrators at the school site should have the right to choose overly structured, "drill and kill" programs at the expense of children because they make adults feel more comfortable?
I am more than skeptical about Houston's so-called management policy "shift" that permits bad decisions to be made in the name of school-based management. Where is the moral and instructional leadership in Houston? I gather it is no coincidence that your article appeared in the same issue as Larry Cuban's Commentary piece, "Desperate Remedies for Desperate Times."
Assistant Professor of Education
Washington State University
To the Editor:
It was with great interest that my students read about the proposed nickname changes some schools were considering as a result of concerns from native activist groups ("Schools Reconsider Indian Mascots in the Wake of World Series Furor,'' Dec. 4, 1991).
Over the past eight weeks, my students have been trying to find where the truth lies in this controversy, using skills learned in our 8th-grade social-studies program. As all good historians would do, they started with primary sources, then wrote to every tribe in California. (Because California reportedly has the largest native population in the United States, we felt collected data from it would be of merit. )
Contrary to what vocal native spokespersons have indicated, the majority of responses the class received clearly indicated that tribespeople were not against such practices. In fact, even those tribes in which members did not want a continuation of the use of such names as "Redskins" for sports teams, the opinion was frequently based on the fact that the holders of the name (the native tribes people themselves) were not being compensated for its use.
Of the tribes responding, 66 percent did not care and, as one interesting letter said, "One of our favorite teams is the Washington Redskins." Perhaps most representative of the responses was the comment from a tribe leader who said, 'I personally think it's O.K. to use [these names] as long as they're not being used in a disrespectful manner."
Other letters carried this message: "Most of our tribal members take pride in the fact that these team names make reference to the American Indian." And one added, "We love the names Redskins, Braves, and the Tomahawk Chop."
There were notes of disapproval that conveyed sentiments similar to those of the activists quoted in your article. However, as one leader wrote, "Those individuals queried here are not offended by such names, as on the surface there appears to be no disrespect intended."
Our class research cannot, of course, purport to show that members of every tribe in the country support the use of Indian-related sports names and themes. But we found that there was a large difference between what appeared in the press and what we found using primary-research techniques.
The class's work also brought out another aspect of the practice of using native names. Students posed to their respondents a question, for example, on why so many automobiles--the Cherokee, Navajo, Pontiac--have been given Indian names. And why, my students wondered, do we use such names on military equipment like the Apache helicopter and Tomahawk missiles? Wouldn't it be an interesting exercise, they thought, to see if those names were copyrighted and if the tribes involved had received compensation?
We strongly suggest to schools and organizations that before they change team names they do some historical and survey research and reach their own reasoned conclusions.
To the Editor
It's tempting to write off the defense of basal readers by CTB MacMillan McGraw-Hill's director of public and governmental affairs Michael Kean ("The Basal Reality," Commentary, Dec. 11, 1991) as simply the self-serving pleading of someone who makes a living from these products and their associated tests.
But several of the statements made by Mr. Kean are so false or misleading that they cannot be ignored.
First he says, "Our nation's public schools typically administer standardized tests to about one-third of their students every year." This is not even close to the truth. A 2988 FairTest survey demonstrated that public schools administer more than 100 million standardized exams annually, an average of two-and-one-half per student per year. The National Commission on Testing and Public Policy found a higher rate of testing.
Second, Mr. Kean's bold assertion that "these test results have nothing to do with reward or punishment ..." is contradicted by evidence from classrooms around the country. Every year, thousands of students are retained in grade or shuffled into dead-end special programs because of their test scores. Thousands of teachers are pressured to spend weeks, months, even most of the year, to engage their students in millions of hours of"drill and kill" in preparation for tests that are both trivial and toxic.
Finally, his suggestion that firms like his employer had begun "development of performance assessments more than 25 years ago" reflects a new definition of terminology, not a contribution to education reform. Now that performance assessment is spreading, test companies are relabeling multiple-choice word problems, minus the answer options, as "performance tasks." They also claim their tests measure "higher order skills" by defining "higher order'' as simply what their tests measure. In so doing, they are attempting to perpetuate schools' dependency on the test companies, thereby retaining their market.
The egregious nature of these discrepancies is more than sufficient to call into question every other assertion in Mr. Kean's apologia for basal readers.
National Center for Fair & Open Testing
To the Editor:
Events these days convince me we could use a refresher course on that old, almost-forgotten tale, "The Emperor's New Clothes."
How about our "education President," who has never taught school but proposes to solve the schools' problems with a new series of national tests? And how about teachers who have taught school, and know that testing is not teaching, but are ready to jump on his bandwagon? Is there a parallel here to those wonderful, nonexistent clothes of the folktale, spun by clever charlatans and visible only to the "wise and the intelligent"?
Of course, telling the truth may be dangerous. Gerald Bracey took the risk. After saying what we all know-that schools are doing about as well as they have been doing for decades--he lost a prestigious job ("N.E.A. Charges Former Researcher With Spelling Out of Turn," Nov. 20, 1991).
Education needs more people like Mr. Bracey.
Mary R. Khan
Morgan Hill, Calif.
To the Editor:
Thanks for printing McMurry University Dean of Education Terry Northrup's rambling and ill-written commentary on Rita Kramer's critique of education schools ("Rita Kramer's Commentary Repeats 'Same Old Garbage' "Letters, Nov. 27, 1991; "Reciting the Sins of a Professional Education Industry," Commentary, Oct. 23, 1991).
The letter was an excellent example of the kind of weak thinking, weak writing, weak instruction students are exposed to when they attend the kinds of education schools that Rita Kramer knows so well from the inside.
It reveals, in its way, why neither I nor most headmasters I know will hire teachers who are the products of the "professional education industry."
Bruce E. Buxton
Headmaster Falmouth Academy