Letters to the Editor
To the Editor:
I was saddened to read Allan S. Vann's recent Commentary ("A Missing Partnership: Principals and Professors," Commentary, Jan. 8, 1992).
He spoke primarily from his experience as an elementary principal on Long Island, N.Y., about the "historical estrangement between professors and principals." He was addressing the lack of communication he has experienced when dealing with professors from area teacher preparation institutions.
While I commend Mr. Vann's willingness to go further and offer solutions to this dilemma, I want to counter the generalization he makes.
Not all higher-education institutions-in New York or the nation-operate in the manner he describes. At mine, the educational-administration department has always worked closely with practitioners in designing appropriate learning experiences for students, assessing student progress, and establishing program improvements. In recent years this strong linkage with the field has resulted in what the department refers to as "authentic learning" and "authentic assessment."
Authentic learning and assessment require that practicing administrators be actively involved with professors at all points of the program. For example, school administrators every semester co-teach courses with professors in the department, teams of students work for area principals and superintendents analyzing issues of importance to them, administrators routinely are asked to provide feedback on the program and on students and their development.
Mr. Vann's characterization is probably accurate for a good number of colleges and universities that train education professionals. But for those of us who value interaction with the field and work diligently to obtain it, being painted with such a broadbrush generalization is discouraging.
William D. Silky
Assistant Professor of Education
State University of New York at Oswego
To the Editor:
Echoing Allan S. Vann's excellent Commentary, I would like to second the notion that teachers of teachers should rely more on the resources that are important to practitioners in the schools. The use of periodicals in place of textbooks would not only present prospective teachers with current ideas and insights but would introduce them to the habit of reading professional journals.
As Mr. Vann suggests, too often the textbooks used in schools of education are dated at their printing-or shortly thereafter--thereby becoming historical collections rather than topical treatises.
Since a great many journals touch on the abstract as well as the concrete, and may have a column devoted to educational research, the use of journals also might present professors the additional opportunity to share their interests in educational research, while teaching their students-all prospective teachers-to consume educational research--to road and to question with basic understanding, in order that the abstract and theoretical become shared.
Educational research should not be the province solely of doctoral students and professors. All members of our profession should be able to understand the fundamental research report, thus providing yet another means to achieve partnership.
Kenneth F. Moran
Winamac Community Middle School
To the Editor:
As a health educator, I read with interest your article entitled "Studies Reveal Camel Cigarettes Cartoon May Entice Young People To Smoke" (Jan. 8, 1992), which revealed the unconscionable advertising tactics tobacco companies like R.J. Reynolds will use to promote nicotine addiction among the young.
Health professionals, including former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, agree that the elimination of smoking would do more to reduce the incidence of premature death and disability than any other single measure. Drug- and alcohol prevention research can attest to the "gateway" function cigarettes serve as precursors to illicit-drug use. In addition, epidemiologic studies support the notion that smoking is one of the leading contributors to the health-status "gap" between whites and African-Americans.
It was therefore troubling, to say the least, when your following week's issue detailed how Philip Morris Companies Inc. were awarding a major grant to the Teach For America program ("Teach For America Wins $3-Million Challenge Grant," Jan. 15, 1992).
As the largest manufacturer of tobacco products in the United States, Philip Morris could arguably be the country's largest contributor to over 700,000 cigarette-related deaths every year. Although diversified into several non-tobacco product lines, Philip Morris still generates over 65 percent of its revenues through the sale of cigarettes.
To give her the benefit of the doubt, perhaps Wendy S. Kopp, Teach For America's founder, was unaware of these facts. What she could do now to demonstrate her commitment to the ideals expressed through her organization's work is to publicly renounce the tobacco industry and perhaps donate Philip Morris's "blood" money to interested schools to help implement effective anti smoking-education curricula.
To merely accept the money on the shaky rationale that "at least it's for a good cause" would be nothing more than shameless institutional self-justification. If Teach For America will not divest itself of its "tobacco for America" funding source, perhaps concerned school beards should boycott its graduates.
Michael J. Cleary
Department of Allied Health
Slippery Rock University
Slippery Rock, Pa.
To the Editor:
In "The Publicization of the Private School" (Commentary, Jan. 8, 1992), Frank R. Kemeror makes the argument that if public money is given to private schools their uniqueness and effectiveness will be threatened. Yet a very strong argument should be made that without public money there will be little or no alternative to public education in the near future. With the rising costs of education it becomes increasingly difficult for private and parochial education to survive. Do we as a nation want to have one system of education?
The question should be asked, "What is public money?" If public money is money collected by the public for use in public institutions, then none of these funds should be distributed directly or indirectly to private institutions. But if public money is collective funding used for the common good, then funds should be given, directly or indirectly, to any institution that promotes the life of the community.
Is it more important to this country to have educated children or to maintain a particular provider at any cost? John Stuart Mill wrote in 1859 that "education established and controlled by the state should only exist, if it exists at all, as one among many competing experiments, carried on for the purpose of example and stimulus to keep the others up to a certain standard of excellence."
The time has come to make everyone compete. This country needs full educational choice. Without this systemic change, reforms will be unable to take root. Public, private, and parochial education will all be better with real accountability and competition. Certainly all our children deserve nothing less than our best effort.
Ronald T. Bowes
Director of Educational Planning and Development
Catholic' Schools Office
Diocese of Pittsburgh
To the Editor:
The voucher argument is that small competing, decentralized schools will be free of the meddling political posturing of school committees and the obstructionism of the unions. They will be governed not by defensive bureaucracies but by market-savvy principals who fire weak teachers, hire strong ones, and deliver the goods to parents who will walk next door if they are unsatisfied, voucher in hand.
The voucher idea could, properly structured, break the gridlock; it could ren- der the unions harmless and neutralize the bureaucracies.
But the forces that created our big-city superintendencies and school committees continue to walk at large. We do not wish to raise taxes to provide health coverage for our citizens and for the young. Our politicians refuse to define any priorities in health or education that eschew endless meddling, that force us to embrace limits, that force us to say, brace will care about you up to a certain point, but we will not spend any more tax dollars on you beyond that point." We prefer to practice a class-based triage of neglect, rather than develop a rational system which acknowledges the obligations and the limits of our care.
Public schools are to be our melting pots, because the government would not create a sensible kind of national conscription for public service. Schools are now clinics, because the government cannot agree on how to service the health needs of the young. Therefore the schools, with or without vouchers, will continue to be vulnerable to political strategies that use schools as rugs of convenience under which we sweep our social problems.
The single greatest threat to our national system of public education continues to be meddling by politicians and the courts, who have burdened the schools with every social mission the government has failed to address.
Bureaucrats thrive on regulation. Every evangelical cause a school system embraces swells empires at the state, union, and local levels. At each level it creates another office, another director, another assistant, another fax machine, another copier, another newsletter--and never any statistical proof that any of this meddling has produced results, has improved our schools, has helped the children. Schools that accept government dollars make themselves vulnerable to government regulation, and that is how we got where we are now.
Frank R. Kemerer is right to warn that increased government regulation will inevitably accompany a tax-funded voucher system, and that such regulation is a serious threat to the private schools. Government regulation will lead to a decline in quality and an increase in expense for the schools it affects.
But a nationwide voucher system, effectively funded, could also focus more effective lobbying for a decrease in regulation. If all the receiving schools, including public schools which would be included under the voucher umbrella, were to join forces, we could see a lobbying force with the potential to act as a significant counter force to regulation.
Historically, schools have never been very good at anything but teaching students the rudiments of literacy. Many schools have not even been of much account there. To dilute and confuse the mission of our schools has been to weaken what was never strong enough. If we really expect to develop schools that will do what schools do best-if we really believe that our future voters and workers should be able to read and listen for nuance, calculate with the Japanese, and compete with the Germans, then we will have to make changes not just in how we fix our schools, but in how we see them.
Bruce E. Buxton
To the Editor:
Frank R. Kemerer's Commentary raises, it seems to me, the crucial educational issue of our time: state regulation of schools.
The publicization--intrusive regulation--of private schools in the event a voucher system is enacted would indeed serve "neither the schools, their clients, nor American education," as Professor Kemerer contends. But does the "publicization" of public schools benefit public schools, their clients, and American education any more than it would private schools?
In short, have the central planners in state education departments advanced American education with their detailed certification requirements, curricular specifications and mandates, textbook-approval criteria, and procedural regulations?
Are children learning more--or less--because of these people?
The peoples of the former Soviet Union have escaped from a listless existence in which central planners and state monopolies controlled all aspects of life. We do not trust central planners and state monopolies to tell us what to do--except in the operation of our schools.
Few would question the need for basic health and safety regulation, but beyond that what are the costs of state regulation of public schools, the costs, for example, of denying teaching opportunities to highly qualified subject-matter specialists because they can't stomach 60 hours of featherweight education courses? The costs of making it nearly impossible to remove disruptive students, burned-out teachers, and weak principals? The costs of monopoly per se in terms of countless innovations never developed, technology that cannot be absorbed and utilized, and the lack of compelling incentives to improve?
We have placed great power in the hands of state central planners. What would happen if we took back some of that power and gave it to schools and the parents they serve?