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To the Editor:

Your Oct. 14, 1992, article entitled "Senators Ask G.A.O. To Investigate Grants for a Political Taint'' includes at least two serious and knowingly false statements issued by Diane Ravitch, the U.S. Education Department's assistant secretary for educational research and improvement.

The first was her assertion that "the inspector general had recommended against the [American Association for the Advancement of Science]'' in the competition for a national clearinghouse on mathematics and science education.

In a telephone conference call with the department's inspector general, Hugh Monaghan, in Philadelphia; one of his staff members, Helen Johnson, in Washington; myself; and the National Science Teachers Association's attorney, Richard Steyer, as a witness, both Mr. Monaghan and Ms. Johnson disclaimed responsibility for the false statement made about N.S.T.A. [that the association had a "cash flow problem'' and was a bad financial risk]. They had asked for copies of the assertions attributed to them, which they claimed to have never seen. Mr. Monaghan and Ms. Johnson issued the same disclaimer to the A.A.A.S.

The other obviously distorted, if not false, statement was Ms. Ravitch's attempt to minimize the size of Ohio State University's contract. The $3.5 million she cited is only for the first year of a five-year contract.

It is an outrage that someone high up in a federal agency could, for clearly political purposes, falsely libel a reputable association like N.S.T.A., then attribute the libel to an inspector general who denies it, then use such knowingly false information to disqualify the A.A.A.S. proposal, then in the tradition of Catch-22, award the contract to the only remaining proposal.

Bill G. Aldridge
Executive Director
National Science Teachers Association
Washington, D.C.

To the Editor:

It is important to set the record straight with respect to the U.S. Education Department's selection of Ohio State University to establish a national clearinghouse for science and mathematics. The executive director of the National Science Teachers Association has charged that the department misstated what happened during the contracting process, possibly for political ends. That is simply not the case.

Ohio State was awarded the contract because it offered both the best technical proposal and the lowest price. The competing proposal from the American Association for the Advancement of Science had originally identified the N.S.T.A. as one subcontractor. However, a routine pre-award audit was conducted by the department's office of inspector general. That review raised questions as to N.S.T.A.'s accounting systems as well as "flags'' with respect to N.S.T.A.'s financial condition.

Although the office of inspector general drew no formal conclusions from this limited review, the department's grants and contracts services concluded that those concerns, if not dispelled, would disqualify the N.S.T.A. from participating in the work. Similar concerns were also expressed about another of the A.A.A.S.'s proposed subcontractors.

The A.A.A.S. was informed of the concerns but was told by telephone that N.S.T.A. could be retained as a subcontractor if it could satisfactorily rebut those potential problems. The N.S.T.A. was directly informed by telephone of this possibility as well. Rather than trying to address the department's concerns, the A.A.A.S. instead chose to drop the N.S.T.A. from its proposal and not to name a subcontractor at that time. Subsequently, the peer reviewers gave their highest rating to the final proposal submitted by Ohio State. As noted above, the Ohio State proposal was also less expensive.

All of these actions by the grants and contracts services and the office of inspector general were taken by career employees acting with complete impartiality and according to standard department practice. The charge that political considerations played any role in their actions or in the overall process just has no basis in fact.

Donald A. Laidlaw
Assistant Secretary for Human Resources
and Administration
U.S. Education Department
Washington, D.C.

To the Editor:

Enough, enough, enough!

The for-profit schools have had enough criticism from people who are overprotective of the failed public system. These people include Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Albert Shanker, Keith Geiger, and now Linda Darling-Hammond ("For-Profit Schooling: Where's the Public Good?'' Commentary, Oct. 7, 1992).

Notwithstanding Whittle Communications, the Edison Project, and Educational Alternatives, the many schools in this country that are part of the National Independent Private Schools Association make education work not by pitting profits against service. We deliver a quality education to our students.

All of our member schools are for-profit or proprietary schools. They are academic schools with full-service programs for students, including disabilities programs, special-education programs, and, in some cases, full English-as-a-second-language programs. If our members had the resources available to them that the nonprofit or public sector has, heads would spin at what we would accomplish for the children we serve and would like to serve. We are selective because we have to be, not because we necessarily want to be.

Please be assured that my comments do not pertain to child-care centers but to full-service academic schools. We have schools that have been recognized as National Blue Ribbon Schools and cited in the federal Drug-Free Schools Program.

Consider the following:

  • For-profit schools must satisfy the educational needs of their students with substantial results in national testing and college placement.
  • For-profit schools must provide an environment that pleases parents and students.
  • For-profit schools turn any profit into improvements in facilities or curriculum because funding is between owners and banks, not donorsand fund raising.
  • For-profit schools do not have a captive audience.
  • For-profit schools are taxpayers, not tax users.
  • For-profit schools have generally lower salaries for directors and staff members than not-for-profits have--and certainly lower than the public sector.
  • For-profit means someone has risked his personal financial future to make an educational statement.
  • For-profit is not a bad word in a market economy, only in a socialist one.
  • Ownership is an American dream, not an American nightmare.

People who own schools in our organization go through a rigorous accreditation program that includes their business practices, staff qualifications, curriculum, and facility. If for-profit schools do not follow through with their accountability, they close their doors.

We are not in business to put the public sector out of business. We are in business to own and operate quality educational facilities. There is much both we and our critics could be doing to help each other and in turn benefit the children of this country. We are all citizens and all wish to contribute to the "public good.''

If the Edison Project or Education Alternatives can find a way to deliver exciting education and make a profit, they will stay in business. If not, their stockholders will close them down.

The parents and citizens and, yes, the students are the stockholders of public education. When their schools fail, they just continue. The accountability in the public schools means nothing because the failures are allowed to continue.

Don't blame successful people for the public failure. Find out how we succeeded and let us help. Don't equate day-care centers with academic schools, and don't ignore success--use it.

Lois M. Gerber
President
National Independent Private
Schools Association
Bradenton, Fla.

To the Editor:

Although Mary R. Blanton's Commentary, "One Parent's Odyssey: Or, How the Schools Take the Wind Out of Our Sails'' (Oct. 7, 1992), was very well-written, it seems to me that her efforts for change were extremely ill-founded.

Grassroots reform of the public schools begins with the local school board, a policymaking body of community representatives that was conspicuously absent in the process she described. The school-board member that told her she was infringing on the prerogatives of the board was correct: It is the responsibility of school boards, not self-appointed councils of one school's parents, to "make decisions about teacher and aide hiring, curriculum changes, budget allocations, etc.'' The "timid'' proposal of a parent-teacher advisory group, however, is a good start in making such recommendations.

As a lawyer, Ms. Blanton should be familiar with the necessity and, yes, the tedium of proper procedure. Even Odysseus had to appease the gods in order to find success.

Cass Cannon
Membership Services Specialist
Virginia School Boards Association
Charlottesville, Va.

To the Editor:

After reading "One Parent's Odyssey,'' I can simply state, as an elementary school principal deeply committed to excellence in education, "No, Mary Blanton, you do not know as much about education as I do, and I do not know as much about law as you do.''

I would never presume to say to Ms. Blanton, a lawyer, that I would reform the American Bar Association and change the entire system of jurisprudence that guarantees little justice except to those who can well afford it.

I would, on the other hand, encourage Ms. Blanton and others who wish to be a part of the effective-schools movement to become less confrontational and more of a partner in efforts to improve schools. Ms. Blanton could even run for the school board in her district. That is more than I could do in the justice area. She could lobby for adequate school funding; support equal educational opportunity, financial and social; and take part in all sorts of other positive activities.

The appearance of a revolutionary "takeover,'' pitting some parents, some teachers, and administrators against each other, is simply counterproductive, as Ms. Blanton found out. A reluctance to join a revolution in no way suggests that parents, teachers, and administrators oppose change or improvement.

Orderly, well-thought-out, well-planned improvements are welcomed. Ad hoc committees meeting once or twice without consultation with the elected school-board members to demand action plans smacks of Leninism, and not prudent processes that intimately involve the entire community of educational professionals along with interested, level-headed lay persons.

Edwin R. Hamilton
Plainfield, Ill.

To the Editor:

Your article "Pulled by Incentives and Pushed by Pressures, Principals Are Exiting Schools in Droves'' (Focus on: Administration, Oct. 7, 1992), describes a trend across the country of older principals retiring early after receiving a golden handshake. You report that many school systems are finding it difficult to find people to replace these leaders.

It is no wonder that highly qualified people would rather work in the private sector. There, they receive more money and have a clear description of what their responsibilities are.

Who would want to embrace the stress and frustration of leadership in a school and the many responsibilities, which, in another institution, would be allotted to various people?

Thomas J. Sergiovanni has outlined five "forces'' of leadership and excellence in schooling. He calls them technical, human, educational, symbolic, and cultural forces.

Principals today realize that they must wear the technical, human, and educational hats in order to have an effective school. They also realize that they must wear the symbolic and the cultural hats in or
der to have an excellent school.

When we analyze all the aspects of each one of the five types of tasks the principal is supposed to carry out every day, we soon understand the enormous job we are asking this individual leader to take on. Each one of these areas has enough responsibility attached to it, never mind unloading all five on one person.

Most leaders, I believe, are not adequately prepared for such a role, and there is certainly no financial incentive to take it on. The responsibilities and pressure of the office are pushing good leaders out and frightening away potential leaders.

How much more responsibility are we going to lay at the feet of the principal? He or she has only 24 hours in a day.

Mary Glynn
San Diego, Calif.

To the Editor:

Your article on the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's education-indicators report was incomplete ("U.S. Not Biggest Spender on Education, Study Finds,'' Sept. 30, 1992).

Like any first-time report, the O.E.C.D. study contains new and important information, but also has some limitations, which your article did not mention. This is especaily true on education spending.

First, on the reporting years: In the O.E.C.D. report, the years reported across nations were not comparable. Some countries report spending for 1988, and others for 1989. Moreover, some report using figures for fiscal year, while others use calendar year. Of 19 nations in the O.E.C.D. survey, only the United States and Japan reported fiscal year 1988 expenditures.

Had the United States reported fiscal year 1989 expenditures, like the other countries, it would have ranked third out of the 19 countries on the O.E.C.D. list (behind Luxembourg and Sweden), instead of sixth, and first among "G7'' nations (Germany, France, Japan, the United Kingdom, Italy, and Canada).

Second, on private expenditures for education: The O.E.C.D. calculation, which counts both public and private school students, significantly understates resources actually provided to U.S. students, because private sources account for a substantial amount of spending, and are not included in the figures we report. In most countries, public funds are routinely spent on private school students, whereas, in the United States, with some exceptions, private schools cannot receive or spend public funds.

In short, using 1989 data, the United States spends more, per pupil, than any of our major international competitors on elementary and secondary education. And as others have shown, there is no direct correlation between high education spending and high education achievement.

To be sure, in achievement we are way behind countries that we outspend. Most of the countries whose students consistently outperform ours on international assessments (for example, Japan, France, and the Netherlands) spend far less per pupil than we do.

Bruno V. Manno
Assistant Secretary
Office of Policy and Planning
U.S. Education Department
Washington, D.C.

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