To the Editor:
Freda Schwartz's essay, "The Myth of the Model Developmental Lesson'' (Commentary, Feb. 23, 1994), prompts me to respond, not necessarily in criticism of her well-written article but rather in defense of those of us who have, as administrators, supervised high school instruction.
The difficulty in responding is that the author's experience may actually have led her to believe that 1) all administrators who supervise use the Model Developmental Lesson as a criterion, and 2) administrators have little understanding of classroom instruction. If such is true, then she is probably quite justified in her remarks. (On the other hand, in all fairness, we need to hear from her New York City administrators.)
My experience as a teacher and administrator, including superintendencies, in California leads me to believe otherwise. I can attest to strong depth of instructional understanding on the part of my fellow administrators and their easy acceptance of a great many delivery styles, including classroom activities that could be termed drill. I know, too, that they recognized that a lesson did not always have to come in a neat package.
What was sought in classroom observation was strong evidence of lesson preparation and sound delivery, whether in such things as clarity in the presentation of "to be learned'' skills or for the acquisition of concepts; insuring, through checking or reinforcement, that pupils were grasping the skills or concepts; or appropriate follow-up to see that the skills or concepts were not immediately forgotten. (This did not necessarily mean homework.)
Lest this respondent fall into the same overgeneralization trap that Ms. Schwartz has evidently fallen into, I will simply hope that she, on reflection, will realize that there are other administrators in other places (perhaps even New York) that subscribe to her feelings about classroom instruction and make judgments accordingly.
John W. Myres
To the Editor:
In 1988, FairTest was one of the organizations supporting the creation of an independent body to oversee the National Assessment of Educational Progress. We did so because we recognized the need for public oversight and participation in shaping the goals and direction of NAEP.
Unfortunately, the National Assessment Governing Board, which the House Education and Labor Committee sought to abolish and which Mark D. Musick defended in his recent essay ("Why NAEP Needs Its Independent Governing Board,'' Commentary, Feb. 9, 1994) has failed to provide high-quality oversight. Rather than being "shielded from partisan politics,'' NAGB often acted as an arm of the Reagan and Bush administrations. As those administrations called for national exams, NAGB adopted as its primary agenda the expansion of NAEP--to make state score comparisons permanent, to introduce district-by-district score comparisons, to do more testing more frequently.
Mr. Musick says NAGB has worked together well on such things as setting achievement levels. But the achievement-levels-setting process and the resulting levels are deeply flawed, according to a series of independent studies by highly respected researchers.
The one exception to NAGB's lackluster record seems to be the consensus process for setting goals for NAEP assessments, a process carried out mostly by the Council of Chief State School Officers. Even there, NAGB has had to be pushed and pulled toward better assessments.
The House committee was right to eliminate NAGB and the full House should not have restored it ("House Poised To Clear E.S.E.A. Reauthorization, March 9, 1994). Unfortunately, even as the committee tried to eliminate NAGB, it adopted the worst of the governing board's recommendations and dropped some of the most positive aspects of NAEP. Thus, the committee accepted NAEP district-by-district comparisons and continued the misleading, misguided process of labeling achievement levels, but it eliminated both the consensus process for developing frameworks and the requirement that the assessment be unbiased.
What should be done to meet the original need, solid public oversight, and eliminate the problem, poor oversight? Retaining NAGB is not the solution. Restoration of the consensus process, which enabled real public participation, would be the most important step. Expanded independent research studies of NAEP should also be required. These studies should also carefully examine whether NAEP has been unbiased.
There should be an oversight board to help insure that NAEP is a good national monitor--but not one that will lobby to turn NAEP into a de facto national test that effectively controls state and local curriculum.
The Senate can improve on the House bill by refusing to resurrect NAGB, stopping district assessments, restoring the consensus process and the bias-free testing requirements, insuring extensive independent reviews, and creating an accountable oversight board that will help NAEP fulfill its original purpose, to monitor national educational progress.
National Center for Fair
& Open Testing (FairTest)
To the Editor:
Concerning John Merrow's Commentary, "'Don't Offend': Our High-Level Policy of Cowardice'' (Commentary, Feb. 16, 1994): I agree with his major argument that schools must find a way to teach values, but I do not believe that it is possible to teach values in a common school without causing serious offense to someone's beliefs.
This problem has been demonstrated throughout the history of American public education. Nineteenth-century schools taught morality and virtue from an essentially Protestant perspective, and backed it up with prayer and Bible reading. Roman Catholics bitterly opposed such content, started their own schools, and demanded that the government support them on an equal basis with the Protestant public schools.
In more recent years, the schools have become increasingly secular and conservative. Protestant parents have found their values increasingly undermined by the public schools. Their concern is not to force everyone to adhere to their values but is rather to protect their own children from having opposing values forced on them. Unfortunately, the common-school system leaves them with no means of protecting their own children without changing what everyone else learns as well. Indeed, both of Mr. Merrow's examples of "right-wing zealotry'' merely describe efforts by parents to prevent schools from undermining their own values. Unfortunately they had to protect everyone else's kids as well. Jews, feminists, atheists, Marxists, various minorities, homosexuals, and other groups have also at various times complained that public schools teach the wrong values.
Of course, concerned parents do have the right to send their children to private or home schools, but they must still pay taxes to support the $70,000-per-child public education system ($5,300 per year for 13 years). Our nation's Constitution guarantees everyone the right to freely exercise his or her religion while preventing the government from establishing its own. How then can a state offer a $70,000 benefit on the condition that children be taught the state's value system even if it violates a family's religious beliefs?
This problem is inherent to public schools and has been an issue in many countries. Most have resolved it by allowing parents to choose a school with acceptable values without forfeiting a state-funded education. It is time that America allowed its families to make such a choice.
Eric C. Bohnet