Letters to the Editor
To the Editor:
I am writing in response to your front-page article on the endorsement by the National Association of State Boards of Education of the "full inclusion'' of students with disabilities ("NASBE Endorses 'Full Inclusion' of Disabled Students,'' Nov. 4, 1992).
People involved in education cannot agree on school choice, on promotion policies, on achievement testing, on curricula, teaching approaches, or the distribution of condoms. But all the state boards of education can agree on full inclusion for all disabled students?
It would be impossible for these people to agree on what constitutes an educational program or process that is in the best interests of all children.
This is obviously a money issue, pure and simple. The key may be found in the paragraph in your story that says a new report from îáóâå proposes that funds be provided on the basis of instructional need, not head counts. That need seems to have been already predetermined by the organization: full inclusion in regular classrooms for all disabled students.
The article--and quite possibly the report--refuses to deal with the real nature of some children, which might require that they not be in a regular classroom.
All the abuses attributed to special-education services are potentially true, somewhere, if not everywhere: over-identification, segregation, stigmatization, and automatic perpetuation. We must do better in overcoming these problems. Full inclusion may be an important strategy to do this. However, no one seems to mention the potential abuses of regular-classroom placements: isolation, lack of proper attention and caring, lack of achievement, and, once again, stigmatization. There is little doubt that these regular-classroom abuses exist somewhere, if not everywhere.
Some educators would place the issue of full inclusion solely in the realm of morality. Anything separate is evil. There may be a higher immorality than separateness: lack of progress, lack of achievement, lack of skills, and splintered learning of meaningless academic trivia.
There is the issue that special education hasn't been effective. Where, and for whom, and why? Because it has been too separate? Unlikely. The regular classroom is not separate by definition. Has it worked? Sometimes, but not all the time. Placing severely disabled students in regular classrooms presupposes a level of individualization that does not exist. In fact, the country's current orientation is completely removed from meeting individual needs.
Some educators believe that disabled children will be much more accepted, and society as a whole will show much greater compassion for the disabled, if all children are in regular classrooms. Knowledge does not necessarily lead to compassion.
There is a common belief that when disabled children are in physical proximity to normal children they will tend to adopt more-normal behavior patterns. This is obviously not the case with many autistic children, who generally begin life surrounded by normal families.
Some suggest that disabled children will learn more from more competent children in their midst. They might also learn less.
Everything addressed in this letter is potentially right and also potentially wrong. Full inclusion is not the right thing to do. It is one right thing to do, sometimes. Where it fails is at the level of public policy and at the level of organizations that endorse it. Public policy is choice in the form of a continuum of services.
Any organization like îáóâå or the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development that endorses full inclusion is taking an extremist position that has no place in an educational system and a society that prides itself on its choices and multiple ways to achieve a desired quality of life.
Laurence M. Lieberman
To the Editor:
It's difficult to argue with a successful author and teacher, particularly when she advocates the importance of being sensitive to students' interests and needs. Yet, I would be remiss to allow certain of Susan Ohanian's generalizations to go unchallenged ("Classroom Structures That Really Count,'' Commentary, Dec. 2, 1992).
We are advised that in the typical education course one learns tasks equivalent to "pass[ing] out paper.'' This indictment is then juxtaposed with the author's critique of the California Literature Project which (heaven forbid) includes required literary works. Worse, teachers are spending time discussing what books students should read. According to the author, such discussions should make all of us "weep.''
First, let me say that I have been exposed to both English and education courses throughout my career. In one graduate English course, the professor fell asleep regularly during the latter part of the period; in another, a supposed seminar of six students, our distinguished professor lectured to us for the greater part of each class period. Yet I am not prepared, as Ms. Ohanian apparently is, to make a blanket indictment of one department based on the instructional ineptitude of selected staff members.
Second, we are told that rather than teacher discusssion and selection of core literary works, "student choice must be central to our literature program.'' Her solution is to "surround children with the sounds and sense of wonderful language.'' I am at a loss to understand why Ms. Ohanian feels that teacher selection of a particular literary work is antithetical to stimulating student interest and choice. My own experience, as well as that of many of my friends, is that the exposure to good literature--literary works selected by teachers--led to broadening my interests and horizons.
Further, as a former English teacher I welcomed departmental discussions on the quality of our literature and language programs. Unfortunately, such dialogue was rare. Most meetings seemed to involve more mundane matters, such as budget, copy-machine use, and other administrivia.
We in education seem to have a deplorable habit of setting up good guys-bad guys scenarios. The latest good guy seems to be "whole language'' and its emphasis on student-selected materials; the bad guy is "core literary works.'' Isn't it possible that both of these emphases have valuable aspects which are complementary and beneficial to students? Why must we always go from one extreme to another and, as a result, incur the rightful wrath of our critics--who can't understand why a simple matter of required reading of a few worthwhile selections is a major barrier to a sound education for our students.
Most of us have the greatest admiration for the success and the excellent writing of Ms. Ohanian. It is, therefore, particularly disturbing that she has chosen to take a negative view of discussion of worthwhile literary works. I think such discussion stimulates rather than stultifies good teaching. I recently had the pleasure of seeing a creative teacher use an Oprah Winfrey format in having 9th-grade students portray various characters in Great Expectations--a required reading that Ms. Ohanian deplores as of no real interest to students. I am certain that the benefits of this experience far outweigh the damage that will be done by not allowing students to have absolute "freedom of choice.''
Joseph M. Appel
North Hunterdon Regional
High School District
To the Editor:
David Summergrad's heroic effort to raise funds for Boston's íåôãï program ("A Reluctant 'Point of Light,''' Commentary, Nov. 11, 1992) may help to keep it going one more year, but it will not address the problem of educational inequality which is at METCO's root.
When METCO was instituted 25 years ago, it was intended to last only a few years. As Boston struggled with school integration and the grave disparities between urban and suburban schools, íåôãï provided some urban minority students the opportunity to attend suburban schools rather than those in their neighborhoods. Continued interest from students, parents, and host suburban districts, along with the persisting gap in educational quality between urban and suburban schools, have fueled METCO's longevity.
By many measures, the program is indeed highly successful. There is a long waiting list for students to enroll in METCO. Those who attend the program, who are not selected on the basis of academic ability, have higher graduation and college-attendance rates than urban students who do not. Most importantly, METCO gives students and parents an alternative to the often low-performing schools in their neighborhood.
However, the continued existence of--and need for--the METCO program is a testament to Boston's failure to improve its urban schools. It would be a true loss to allow one of the few good alternatives for students to disappear through lack of support, but it would be at least as harmful to let a palliative divert attention from the real issue of improving all schools to a level which would render METCO obsolete.
Lynne D. Sacks
To the Editor:
The "Bilingual Education'' column in your Nov. 4, 1992, issue bore two statements at which we take umbrage.
First, our organization, the Institute for Research in English Acquisition and Development, or READ, never has issued any reports "critical of native-language instruction.'' The study to which the column refers, "Bilingual Immersion: A Longitudinal Evaluation of the El Paso Program,'' is the first report we have released publicly bearing READ's imprimatur. It will not, however, be our last.
Second, READ is committed to fostering free and open inquiry into how students learn and acquire English. As a research organization, we are not committed to any single teaching approach or political program. Our mission never has been to promote one instructional method over another, nor to engage in idle program bashing. Rather, we believe that a variety of effective methods, including English immersion, should be employed to help language-minority children achieve success in school and in an integrated society.
We hope this sets the record straight.
John E. Rankin 3rd
Institute for Research in
English Acquisition and Development
To the Editor:
You recently reported on a Presidential panel's response to the issue of "war orphans'' created by the deployment of single parents in the military ("Panel Urges Pentagon To Restrict Roles for Parents,'' Dec. 2, 1992). The panel had several suggestions, all of them in my view detrimental to military readiness.
My answer to this concern, published in Navy Times on July 15, 1991, was to establish residences for military dependents at various bases around the country. These residences would serve a dual purpose. First, of course, they would be a safe haven for dependents during a period of mobilization. Secondly, they could serve as temporary residences for dependents facing a transfer near the end of a school year, or for those undergoing a family crisis (when Dad is at sea and Mom is hospitalized, for example).
While this idea may seem to be outside the normal concern of the U.S. Defense Department, it makes military sense. The soldier or sailor who is constantly worried about the well-being of his child is not combat-ready. These residences would increase our military effectiveness rather than decrease it, as the Presidential panel's recommendations would do.
Lieut. Comdr. Robert F. Welt
U.S. Naval Reserve
To the Editor:
I would like to respond to the negative article about the progress, or lack thereof, made during the seven years of desegregation efforts in Kansas City, Mo. (Across the Nation, Oct. 7, 1992).
You quote a report by a citizens' oversight group stating that the district has made only "modest, incremental improvements.'' If students have made modest, incremental improvements in 56 schools, this is a phenomenal accomplishment for any urban district. As to the comment that four magnet schools have lost white students since the magnets were implemented, the emphasis should have been placed on the fact that 52 of 56 schools made improvements in racial balance.
Many of the thousands of people who have visited the Kansas City schools during the past few years believe that Kansas City may represent a model for urban districts. It is too bad this report pointed out the negative aspects of the program. The very same facts, presented in a different way, might have led readers to conclude that Kansas City has a successful magnet-school and desegregation program.
A report like that hurts progress. Think of it: Fifty-two of the schools, despite these negative public reports, have successfully attracted white students from 11 suburban districts.
I know that many of the members of the monitoring committee which wrote the report are top-notch professionals wanting only the best for Kansas City. But I hope that their future reports will first list the tremendously successful aspects of the Kansas City program--and then suggestions for improvement.
Donald R. Waldrip
Magnet Schools of America
University of Houston
To the Editor:
Freda Schwartz ("Statistics: The Treacherous Taskmaster,'' Commentary, Nov. 18, 1992) has exposed courageously the dirtiest secret in public education.
This ordinarily closely-guarded fact is that teachers grossly inflate the grades they assign students. Starting with superintendents, the pressure to exaggerate students' grades grows as it passes through the educational chain of command. By the time this force reaches classrooms, it normally is impossible for teachers to resist.
Woe betide the teachers who try to do so. They find no support here from their unions. They are harassed by school administrators, berated by parents, and ostracized by their teaching cohorts. Teachers learn that the future of their professional careers can be jeopardized if they do not lie to parents about their children's school achievement.
Teachers who are conscience-stricken over this situation project a lot of psychological denial about it. Some lower standards so that it is easy for all students to get high marks. Others adopt the principle that grades are not important. It is claimed that giving good grades to unmotivated, underachieving students will change their attitudes to the better. In certain schools, teachers even fear for their personal safety, or that of their possessions, if they award honest grades.
The grade-inflation debacle has disastrous ramifications beyond deluding parents about their children's achievement. By not dealing seriously with this problem, the reform movements in education sow the seed of their eventual inconsequentiality. Unless reform first answers the question, "How can it be made possible for educators to operate schools without flagrantly overstating the achievement of students?'' the best laid plans for improving our schools will flounder and prove to be meaningless.
San Diego State University
San Diego, Calif.