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To the Editor:

Gene Maeroff in his Commentary essay, "The Assault on the Carnegie Unit'' (Oct. 13, 1993), says that the secondary-school Carnegie unit "has increasingly transformed itself into a restraint on teaching and learning.'' In support of this, he describes all ofthe rigidities of school organization, from inflexible time schedules to unchanging curricula. And we all know he is right in pointing out the rigidities of many secondary schools.

But he is wrong in suggesting that the Carnegie unit is a principal roadblock. The schools that want to improve their teaching, curriculum, schedules, and programs do so with little or no concern for how to accommodate to the Carnegie unit. One never even hears mention of the term in truly forward-looking secondary schools.

During my years as president of Bank Street College of Education and later as a federal official, I had the opportunity to visit schools all across the nation. And for the last 11 years as head of a very college-oriented public school system, I have rarely heard even casual reference to the Carnegie unit as a handicap to school improvement.

But Gene Maeroff does us a great favor in highlighting the Carnegie unit because in many settings one does hear people complaining that it blocks reform. If you listen closely to the complainer, however, you will discover that the person complaining has no intention of doing the hard thinking and collaboration needed to modernize a secondary school, and is simply using the Carnegie unit as a durable scapegoat.

Francis Roberts
Superintendent of Schools
Cold Spring Harbor Central School District
Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.

To the Editor:

Having been taught by whole language, I mis-read the title of Beverly Eakman's essay ("It's About Mental Health, Stupid,'' Commentary, Oct. 20, 1993) to say, "It's About Medieval History, Students.'' Fortunately, I read on and discovered that she was damning schools not praising them, so I went back and self-corrected my errors. Self-correcting is what real readers do all the time, stupid--excuse me, Ms. Eakman--when they have a real text to read, not made-up sentences without context.

Despite being a former teacher, Ms. Eakman understands very little about how teachers teach and children learn. With obsolete certainly she declares that whole language is "look-say,'' that children are asked to keep journals so that school officials can pry into their family lives, and that students taught by whole language will never read "effortlessly and fluently.'' Since she suppines no evidence to support her assertions, I feel no obliteration to give any in refutation. I will merely shout with equal certainty: Nonsense, Nonsense, Nonsense!

Just in case Ms. Eakman or any one else is interested in facts about student achievement and whole language, I refer them to "The Third Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education,'' by Gerald Bracey, in the October 1993 isthmus of the Phi Delta Kappan and the "NAEP 1992 Reading Report Card for the Nation and the States,'' prepared by the Educational Testing Service.

Joanne Yatvin
Superintendent
Cottrell School District
Boring, Ore.

To the Editor:

As an educator with 16 years' experience teaching lower-primary grades and another 16 as an elementary school principal, I am deeply disturbed over state testing programs, possible national testing, and the general overtesting of our students.

Back in my early school days, my teachers knew what to teach me to get from one point to another. They also knew my strengths and weaknesses, which were often checked by informal testing methods. These teachers didn't need a deluge of outside testing every few years to direct their teaching skills or solve my learning problems.

I sincerely believe these same truths apply today. Teachers know how to test, when to test, and what to do with the results without big-business test-makers foisting their wares into the classroom. Make no mistake about it, test-makers are in business to sell tests for a profit and they lobby extensively to make the politicians and the public demand more testing.

In 1933, Charles Kettering, a teacher, businessman, and inventor (of car starters, the auto generator, the electric cash register, and dozens of other important things) declared that "the trouble with schools today is that they test too much.'' Mr. Kettering went on to say that if inventors were tested every time they tried something, nothing would ever get invented and creativity would be destroyed. He expected to fail often in his quests--but, at the same time, to learn from his mistakes.

Concerned educators need to arise and put a halt to this insidious testing syndrome that is destroying creativity and the desire to learn.

Another source of my concern over national testing is that, before you can test everyone's knowledge with a standardized test, you would need to teach a standardized curriculum. Because children have different learning backgrounds, and grow and develop at different times with different capacities, it is impossible to test all students at a given date with expectations that said test will show equal amounts of specific subject knowledge. What often develops from over-testing is that teachers and school districts fall into the trap of a "teaching to the test'' curriculum.

We must not over-test, as it sets children up for a failure syndrome. It doesn't take a student long to fear tests and their results. When students face too much failure they will respond with withdrawal or negative behavior. These actions are their security blanket to separate themselves from the whole failure process. Even teacher-made tests can be threatening, but standardized state and national tests are extremely damaging.

I urge educators to take a stand on this issue and demand a halt to the headlong plunge we seem poised to make into the testing abyss.

Donald Neal Thurber
LaSalle, Mich.

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