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To the Editor:

As the father of four daughters, one of whom graduated from Barnard College as a biology major, and as the principal of a public elementary school, I was somewhat disturbed by the Commentary by Meg Milne Moulton and Whitney Ransome ("Helping Girls Succeed,'' Commentary, Oct. 27, 1993). While I am familiar with the research relating to the problems they point out, I have doubts about some of their conclusions. I am referring particularly to two statements:

  • "Teaching girls to learn like boys is not the answer.''
  • "Patterns at all-girls schools prove these strategies work'' (referring to collaborative and cooperative teaching).

What proof is there that we should not teach girls to learn like boys? Of course we should. Successful patterns of learning should be taught to all children--boys and girls. The competitive mode, as well as the collaborative and cooperative modes, can and should be used as one of the strategies to motivate pupils to learn.

What proof is there that the patterns at all-girls schools are more cooperative and collaborative than the patterns at coed institutions? The essay was written as if there is a clear-cut correlation between the success of females at all-girls schools and use of teaching strategies that do not foster competition. The reading I have done indicates that more likely the opportunity to more readily engage in competition is what has enabled the female students to better succeed.

I applaud the continued efforts to maximize the potential of all our students. However, if schools continue to avoid challenging female pupils to compete as well as cooperate, the ratio quoted relating to "those judged to be the brightest, who grab for and receive the most attention in a classroom are four-to-one male-to-female in coed settings,'' will never change. Only when highly challenged and taught "to learn like boys'' (where appropriate) will girls begin to make the strides they are fully capable of achieving.

Nathan S. Levy
Principal
Monmouth Junction, N.J.

To the Editor:

In your article "Supreme Court Rules for Parents in Private-Placement Case'' (Nov. 17, 1993), you quote Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's U.S. Supreme Court opinion, which said: "It hardly seems consistent with the goals of the [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act], to forbid parents from educating their child at a school that provides an appropriate education simply because that school lacks the stamp of approval of the same public school system that failed to meet the child's needs in the first place.''

Perhaps Justice O'Connor's view is distorted just a bit. The public school would probably welcome relief from the same regulatory constraints she is accusing them of applying to the private sector. They were imposed on the school by state and federal law. Maybe the real problem here is the government and all the regulatory baggage and case law it places on public schools which constrain the consideration of alternatives.

In essence, the opinion shows a blind bias against public schools, thus making it easier for parents to demand compensation for sending their children to private institutions. The Court's opinion ignores the regulation problem by crediting the private school as being able to do what the public school failed to do. The decision allows for a greater erosion of adequate funding of public schools.

Wouldn't it be more constructive to take a realistic look at the special-education regulations, administrative codes, enrollment policies, and case laws that limit what public schools can do, and either apply them uniformly to all schools--public and private--or reduce them so that public schools can try some of the things private schools currently practice?

Paul R. Hain
Special-Education Coordinator
and Principal
W.C. Petty School
Antioch, Ill.

To the Editor:

Beverly Eakman is mistaken about the methods used to teach reading in 19th-century America ("It's About Mental Health, Stupid,'' Commentary, Oct. 20, 1993). The reading system called "phonics'' is a 20th-century phenomenon, originated by a teacher in a Catholic school, and popularized in a 1955 book, Why Johnny Can't Read, by Rudolf Flesch.

In the 19th-century, the method in general use to teach reading was spelling. Children were taught the letter names before they tried to read (not letter sounds as in "phonics''). Then they were asked to spell words--that is, name the letters in a printed word, on the blackboard or page before them, from left to right. By doing this they discovered that the sounds embedded in the names of most of the letters were the same as the sounds in the word those letters spelled. They also learned that the left-right sequence of the letters on the page was used to indicate the sequence in time of the sounds in a spoken word.

As it happens this "spelling'' method was a far simpler and more effective way of teaching reading than the present "phonics.'' Most vowels in English have many sounds--some as many as eight or nine. A child can easily accept that a letter whose name he knows may have several different sounds. But he cannot understand how a letter that "phonics'' teaches him to identify only by the sounds "ah'' or "oh'' can be found in the words "to'' and "of'' and "dog'' and "one.'' Or why a letter he only knows by the sounds "ay'' or "aah'' can be used to spell "many'' and "about'' and "father'' and "ball.'' It makes no sense.

Phonics may "cover more than 85 percent of the words in our language,'' as Ms. Eakman says, but it is difficult to see how. Every word has a vowel, and it is the vowels which simply refuse to conform to "phonics'' rules. I have been unable to find more than one or two of the scores of "phonics'' rules for pronouncing vowels that hold good more than about 50 percent of the time when they are applied to sentences written in normal English.

It is probably this switch from the logical, easily learned and easily understood "spelling'' methods of the 19th century to the highly complex, inaccurate, and unreliable "phonics'' of the 20th that is responsible for what is surely a decline in general reading ability among children in our century.

Helen B. Andrejevic
New York, N.Y.

To the Editor:

This responds to the letter from J. Robert Coldiron (Letters, Nov. 10, 1993), who, no doubt for good reason, took exception to my Oct. 20, 1993, Commentary, "It's About Mental Health, Stupid.''

As Mr. Coldiron is aware, that essay zeroes in on a primary theme of my book, Educating for the "New World Order'', about the ordeal of one Pennsylvania woman, Anita Hoge. I wrote the book because I couldn't believe not a single investigative reporter was picking up on events in Pennsylvania and the ramifications of the Hoge case around the country.

The furor began innocuously enough. Mrs. Hoge asked to see a copy of the assessment test her son had taken. She was turned down on the grounds that it might compromise test validity. So she asked to see an old version, and was refused again. With that, Anita Hoge stepped into an Orwellian world of which Mr. Coldiron was a part--the pivotal element being the contents of Pennsylvania's Educational Quality Assessment.

As Mr. Coldiron is well aware, my book is a virtual testament to documentation. If it hadn't been, I'd have been sued many times over by now for what I said. The so-called "noncognitive items'' referred to by Mr. Coldiron are not taken out of context--because there is no context. It's just page after page of questions like the samples I gave in the article. As for the term "retarded,'' which Mr. Coldiron claims I substituted or made up, I'm sitting right here looking at the 8th-grade test. The complete question, which has no context, as it is number 28 in a list of 35 similar ones, is: "You are asked to sit at a table with retarded students in the lunchroom.'' The student is asked to blacken the circle that corresponds to one of the following: "I would feel very comfortable; I would feel slightly uncomfortable; I would feel comfortable; I would feel very uncomfortable.''

Secondly, the term "cognitive'' does not mean "academic,'' although the latter is always implied, just as Mr. Coldiron does in his letter. "Cognitive'' means "belief system'' in educational jargon, as per James P. Shaver's 1986 paper, "National Assessment of Values and Attitudes for Social Studies,'' located through the ERIC network. The significance?

Do you believe that two plus two is four? Do you believe that George Washington was the first President of the United States? Do you believe that someone is following you? Do you believe yours is the only "true'' religion? And so on.

See what's been done? Since every question is essentially just another belief, test-makers can pass off values-laden, personal questions as "academics.'' So the sanctimonious business about "some states using similar cognitive tests'' and testing "only the cognitive areas'' is moot. By the 1990's, tests and goals of most states were clearly copycats.

Mr. Coldiron admits that the Educational Testing Service "was involved in the initial design'' of the E.Q.A. So who cares whether "the questionnaires were developed with the assistance of committees''? It was still the E.T.S.'s baby, and they were free to take, or not, any suggested questions they pleased. That the test was over half opinion-oriented was their decision. And the E.Q.A. program, which Mr. Coldiron states "was initiated by the state board of education and administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Education''--of which Mr. Coldiron was a part as chief of the department of testing and evaluation--was accepted and endorsed by the state education hierarchy.

Giving Mr. Coldiron his due, however, he is correct that scores were aggregated at the school level. The key word is were, as in "initially.'' When this whole business started, apparently analysts were after trends. Then computerization took a quantum leap, especially the micro-recording capability. One-day whizzes like Dustin Heuston of the World Institute for Computer Assisted Teaching (WICAT) stopped dead in their tracks and realized "the computer has the capability to act as if it were the 10 top psychologists working with one student.'' "Won't it be wonderful,'' Mr. Heuston commented, "when no one can get between that child and that curriculum.''

And so education and computerization were married and lived happily ever after in the Common Core of Data, the Universe Files, the Longitudinal Studies, the now-renamed Elementary and Secondary Integrated Data System, the Schools and Staffing Survey--and, recently launched in Pennsylvania, the Community Learning and Information Network (CLIN), which just turned national with the first out-of-state pilot in Fort Worth. It's uplinking information and downlinking curricular programs. And you'd better believe no parent is going to get between that child and that curriculum.

Which brings me, gratefully, to the last point I will make in this "diatribe'': I am sending to Education Week copies of "evidence to substantiate'' that follow-up curriculum was indeed devised to improve scores on these opinion-oriented tests. The proof is right on the covers: "E.Q.A. Resources for Improvement.''

C'mon. Did you think Anita Hoge threw out her copies?

But, hey, Mr. Coldiron, no hard feelings. If I'd been in your shoes back in '84 and '86, I'd want to cover my behind, too.

Beverly K. Eakman
Director
National Education Consortium
Washington, D.C.

To the Editor:

Concerning your Nov. 3, 1993, story "Council Votes Spur New Round of Questions in Chicago'': While that article praises the reforms in place in Chicago and discusses certain schools as successful, measured by the number of parents and citizens who participated in the local elections; and while it does discuss an increase in the number of graduates, teacher and student attendance, and enrollment in one school (Kelly High School), improved facilities and strengthened teaching strategies in another (Hefferan Elementary), there was no discussion of student achievement or performance as measured by criterion-referenced tests, standardized tests, or authentic assessment.

Each of the schools discussed in the article performed below the state average in reading and mathematics for the grades tested in 1992. Each of the schools with the exception of Haugan is nearly 100 percent low-income and minority. The questions we need to raise are those around the provision of staff development for the teachers and principals of those schools so that they can more easily and more rapidly accelerate and elevate student achievement.

Education Week need to raise its expectancy level for schools that educate minority students and students from low-income families. There are schools which are predominantly low-income where the children, even when from crime-ridden neighborhoods, are learning at or above the averages of white and/or middle-class children in their school systems.

When are we going to say that we can educate low-income children by promoting strategies that work with them and by giving their teachers and principals the resources they need to do this job?

In the long run, parents and citizens cannot do the teachers' jobs in the classrooms. Teachers must do this. They do need help. The emphasis cannot be on elections. It must be on the classroom. If nothing happens there, nothing else is even important. Is it?

Barbara A. Sizemore
Dean
School of Education
DePaul University
Chicago, Ill.

To the Editor:

Several recent reports and comments claim that the Chicago school reforms are succeeding ("Student Performance in Chicago Up, Study Finds,'' Nov. 24, 1993). After four years of reform, however, we think the progress and prospects are hardly rosy.

It's true that several magnet schools have done better, but they draw upon bright, motivated students from educationally interested families. What about the school system as a whole?

The purpose of the reform legislation was to increase attendance, achievement scores, and graduation rates. Simply put, the changes for all schools on average are minor and mixed.

Since reforms began, attendance rates stayed about the same until last year, when they fell. Last year about 20 percent of the high school students were absent on the typical day. This fall's failure of the board of education to open schools on time and schedule classes properly seems unlikely to improve attendance.

Reading- and mathematics-test scores improved in some grades and years, but fell in others. It remains true that the longer students have been in the Chicago public schools, the worse their achievement by national standards.

High-school-graduation rates are now about the same as when school reform began. Typical graduates, however, lag far behind national achievement standards. Low achievement remains a threat to their future and to Chicago's economic prospects.

The Chicago board of education had to postpone elections to the local school councils because only a fifth of the required candidates registered. After intensive recruitment, nearly 100 schools still had vacant slots. Single candidates for election slots, moreover, can hardly be called success, since contested elections with several candidates would be far more desirable.

Relatively few Chicago teachers send their own children to Chicago public schools, and the board president recently withdrew her daughter. Do they know things the public doesn't?

With so little accomplished in four years and another poor start for this final year of the five-year evaluation period, the prospects for Chicago reforms seem far less bright to us than others have claimed.

Richard P. Niemiec
Teacher
Chicago Public Schools
Herbert J. Walberg
Professor of Education
University of Illinois at Chicago
Chicago, Ill.

To the Editor:

I am compelled to ask what possible educational good you hoped to accomplish by including the item on the teenage son of a district superintendent being accused of rape (Districts, Nov. 10, 1993, and Update, Dec. 8, 1993).

By focusing on the child of an educator, and insensitively ignoring this man's right to privacy, your paper has shed a stratum of professionalism and dignity that previously distinguished it from other common media.

Robert H. Sigler Jr.
Jamestown, N.Y.

To the Editor:

I fail to see why news of someone's tragedy is "education news.'' All kinds of people have problems; superintendents and their families are not immune. Are we supposed to draw some kind of conclusion about this particular superintendent's competence as a professional and a parent? About his school district?

What possible motives could you have had in publishing this item? Embarrassment? Revenge? Titillation? Sensationalism? What was your point? Why would you think that I, or any of your readers around the country, need to know this?

I suggest that you stick to reporting authentic news about education and not sink to the level of supermarket tabloids to attract attention.

Concetta Duval
Rochester, N.Y.

To the Editor:

I fully agree with the premise of Reed Markham's letter ("How Parents Can Reduce TV's Negative Impact,'' Letters, Dec. 1 1993) that we need to do everything possible to reduce the amount of mind-numbing time children spend in front of the TV. His letter nicely complements the Commentary in that same issue by Archie LaPointe, "To Learn or Not To Learn: Opportunity Vs. Desire.''

I worry, however, whether many readers might accept without question Mr. Markham's statement that by the time a youngster reaches age 18 the child has "spent about 165,000 hours in front of a TV set.'' I suspect there's a decimal point out of place here: 165,000 hours divided by 18 years averages out to 9,167 hours per year. Dividing that number by 365 days gives about 25 hours of TV each day. Only in a media mogul's dreams can this happen. Perhaps Mr. Markham meant to say 16,500 hours of TV viewing during a child's lifetime.

If 16,500 hours is the number, it's still a frighteningly large number. Let's see now (since I still have my calculator out), 16,500 hours of TV divided by a 40-hour workweek comes to 412.5 workweeks of TV--almost eight years! I wonder how much more I'd know if I had the luxury (fantasy, fantasy) to pleasure-read at work for the next eight years?

About a decade ago, Marie Winn succinctly summed up TV's effect on children when she titled her book The Plug-In Drug. The addiction continues.

David W. Hoyler
Director, Middle and Upper Schools
Portledge School
Locust Valley, N.Y.

To the Editor:

Regarding your story entitled "Goals Panel Ponders Criteria for Student Standards'' (Nov. 24, 1993), can it be just coincidence that the standards being "left out'' (social studies, economics, health and physical education) are the same ones that have had little or no funding behind them?

The eight subject areas that have been recommended to receive approval for national standards have all had huge chunks of money to develop those standards. One example is that the arts are included, while economics is not. Economics has had virtually no funding, while the arts has received at least $750,000. I fear that the experts have used the wrong criteria in deciding which subjects are "in'' and which are "out.''

The National Education Standards and Improvement Council should not accept this particular recommendation. It should give its stamp of approval to any subject area that submits appropriate standards.

Jill Goldesberry
Project Coordinator
The Stanley Foundation
Muscatine, Iowa

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