Letters to the Editor
To the Editor:
This is a response to your egregiously biased attack on "Hooked on Phonics'' ("Claims of Success for 'Hooked on Phonics' Called Into Question,'' Feb. 12, 1992). A quick scan of the subheadings exposes that bias: "Read 'Almost' Anything''; "Simple-Minded Approach''; "Sour Grapes Critics.''
In addition, much of the article devoted itself to criticism of ads which have not aired for months. At present, Hooked on Phonics advertising consists solely of unsolicited, uncompensated testimonials by satisfied users of the program.
With the exception of a few brief quotes from John Shanahan, Gateway Educational Products's C.E.O., you confine your interviews strictly to critics of Hooked on Phonics. Certainly Education Week also has access to the thousands of educators who currently use Hooked on Phonics in their classrooms successfully. Jeanne Chall, a "reading expert'' who never misses an opportunity to slam Hooked on Phonics, is quoted as though she is an impartial guardian of the public good. In fact, you refer to "prominent educators'' like Ms. Chall and Jean Osborn as "consumer advocates,'' thus implying that they have no profit motive. But of course educators who write and market texts have more than simply altruistic motives.
Why do Ms. Chall and Ms. Osborn feel so threatened by Hooked on Phonics? Rather than refute their meager specific criticism of elements of the program itself, let's get to the heart of the matter. These professionals always make the unsubstantiated assertion that Hooked on Phonics can't be used without supervision. But whose supervision? Theirs.
Ms. Chall's admission that there are "very bad programs being sold to teachers and taught by schools'' is quite interesting. She concludes that these "bad'' programs are not problematic because, as she adds, "they're being sold to professionals.'' How does a professional make a bad program "good''? What's the difference between Hooked on Phonics and others deemed "bad''? Could it be that when people can learn to read on their own, Ms. Chall and Ms. Osborn are no longer indispensable?
The article also mentions that "no formal studies of the product's effectiveness have been conducted.'' Such studies have been under way for some time, and statistics will be made available. However, if statistics are an essential part of evaluation, how can Jeanne Chall make this completely unsubstantiated claim: "People will buy it [Hooked on Phonics], and will not send it back, because to have ordered it was a great thing for them, and to have not learned from it was a great shame for them.'' On what evidence does she base such a damaging assumption? None.
Apparently, publishers of educational material are not required to "offer proof that their products work,'' a problem that needs remedying according to Ms. Chall. If textbooks and other materials adopted for classroom use are routinely accepted without surveys and statistics proving effectiveness, why have "reading experts'' zeroed in on Hooked on Phonics?
I agree that evidentiary statistics and surveys are essential. I would like to see an article by Ms. Chall in which she furnishes such material to back up her criticisms of Hooked on Phonics, something she and Linda Rath neglected to do in their analysis of the program for the International Reading Association.
Gateway Educational Products Inc.
Editor's Note: Gateway Educational Products did not respond to repeated requests by Education Week for the telephone numbers or addresses of satisfied customers who give testimonials in the company's advertisements. In addition, John M. Shanahan, Gateway's president, did not respond to repeated requests over several weeks for a follow-up interview to respond to critics' claims.
To the Editor:
"Are We Really Serious About Reform?'' (Commentary, Feb. 19, 1992). I think the answer is "no.'' Oh, we make lots of noise (articles, papers, committees, etc.), but the resolution, the willingness, the "can do'' or "must do'' attitude just isn't there.
M. Donald Thomas, the author of your Commentary on the subject, says that "the ultimate in accountability lies with the parents of our nation'' and that "parents particularly should demonstrate the importance of education by helping children learn, by respecting educators, and by making education a high value in the community.''
In my area, recently surveyed parents have just rated the Dade County (Fla.) Public Schools with A's and B's in all areas; this, while Scholastic Aptitude Test scores continue to decline over all, the dropout rate hovers at 25 percent, and many students come to school unready to learn.
Cutbacks in education throughout our state this past year have meant larger class sizes, the elimination of special programs, and no raises for teachers. Are legislators, some of whom are parents, alarmed? Will we see increased funding next year? My local newspaper reports the possibility of even less funding.
Are Florida parents jumping up and down, upset and excited about these points? Are they marching on Tallahassee? Are they demonstrating with others for reform in Washington? Gosh, if they are, my TV isn't reporting it. If accountability starts at the top, who's leading the charge?
Parents that I talk to are serious about ... money ... jobs ... economics. I had a conference with a kindergarten parent last week who told me she couldn't help her son with his nightly homework because she had to work two jobs, as a single parent; she had asked the young caretakers at the after-school-care program to do his homework with him, and she'd be glad to check with her 18-year-old brother who helped baby-sit. But one-on-one parent involvement? Concern over my class size? Education as a priority? Serious interest in reform?
As a teacher who is part of the system, as a citizen who wonders if American greatness has run aground, as a person who supports public education, as a voter who tries to elect those who favor money for education, I would love to see Mr. Thomas's reforms adopted ... with, as he says, "bells and whistles.'' Will I live long enough?
Nancy K. Webster
To the Editor:
Obsolete knowledge dies hard. David Osborne's idea that "entrepreneurial spirit'' will revive public schools has already been tried and tested in the free marketplace (" 'Entrepreneurial Spirit' Is Key to Reviving Schools, Book Argues,'' Feb. 19, 1992) . The score is Japanese Cooperative Spirit, $41 billion, American Entrepreneurial Spirit, úéð.
The entrepreneurial spirit has given Americans 25 million people on food stamps, one of the highest unemployment rates since the Great Depression. Neither does it address the social problems inherited by public schools: 4.6 million teenage alcoholics, 5,000 fetal-alcohol-syndrome babies, 40,000 babies born with alcohol-related birth defects, 24,000 alcohol-related motor-vehicle deaths, and the 500,000 alcohol-related motor-accident injuries.
The entrepreneurial spirit will provide the same for public education as it has for the American automobile industry: bankruptcy for the poor and a few super rich.
What would work is a Spirit of Cooperation. Let professional educators run public schools. That's what the Japanese do.