Letters to the Editor
To the Editor:
Iris C. Rotberg ("Separate and Unequal,'' Commentary, March 9, 1994) supports the Jonathan Kozol theory that money is the answer to poor schools and low student achievement. Yet how do you explain the Kansas City, Mo., district? Close to $50,000 per pupil in expenditures and little or no improvement by students on standardized tests and other types of assessment. The school that I last taught in had every advantage and yet low S.A.T. scores and high dropout rates.
No, Iris, it is not money. It is school organization and community which enable students to learn and go on to lead good and productive lives. (Read Catholic Schools and the Common Good, Harvard University Press, 1993, or the "Blue Ribbon Report on Catholic Schools in the State of New York,'' New York State Department of Education.)
If you want to give more money to education, that's fine, but to insure that the system has the motivation and incentive to be responsive to parents and children you need the competition and accountability that come with parental choice. Remember, those affluent school districts you mentioned are schools of choice. Money only matters if the system spends it wisely and has the necessary dynamic to do the right thing.
Ronald T. Bowes
Director of Educational Planning
Diocese of Pittsburgh
To the Editor:
On several occasions in recent months, Education Week has published articles implying that Pennsylvania's effort to shift to performance-based education had failed.
We at the Pennsylvania Department of Education found those statements puzzling, but we took no action to correct them. After reading your March 2, 1994, issue, however, I decided that your repeated inaccuracy compelled me to set the record straight. In a Reporter's Notebook item about Peg Luksik's appearance at the National Association of Secondary School Principals' meeting in New Orleans ("Growing Violence in Schools in Convention Spotlight''), you wrote: "Ms. Luksik, who led the successful battle to defeat Pennsylvania's proposed outcomes-based system last year. ...''
Where have you been? Obviously, you haven't been in Pennsylvania, at least not with your eyes open.
Our proposal was not defeated. On July 24, 1993, Pennsylvania's new curriculum regulations went into effect. Those regulations contain 53 student learning outcomes--definitions of what students are expected to know and be able to do in order to graduate from public schools. The regulations eliminated Carnegie units, the credit-hour system mandating that all students spend a specified number of classroom hours in particular subjects.
The regulations went through several drafts between the time they were proposed and the time they were adopted. It is true that the opponents of the reforms had input into the changes that were made, which is entirely appropriate. The legislative and regulatory process in this state, as in most, provides for public hearings and public-comment periods before new laws and regulations are passed. Inherent in that process is an opportunity for governmental bodies to respond to the suggestions made by members of the general public. We listened and responded.
But the bottom line is this: The system of accountability in Pennsylvania is no longer credit hours, it is student academic achievement as defined by the learning outcomes.
Several dozen districts are already using performance-based education in the classroom on a voluntary basis. More than 150 districts are developing their implementation plans this year as required by the regulations. The rest of the state's 501 school districts will develop plans in 1995 or 1996.
If Pennsylvania's new curriculum plan was defeated, then someone has done an extraordinary job of confusing school administrators, principals, teachers, and parents who are preparing to carry out those reforms in the classroom.
You need not take my word for it, though. If you have doubts, you can rely on the opinion of Ms. Luksik and her most prominent allies.
This is what Ms. Luksik said to reporters when the final revision of the plan--the one that eventually went on the books, word for word--was announced by Gov. Robert P. Casey last year: "This newest effort to placate the people is a sham.'' She also said: "The latest proposal does not address the concerns expressed by parents, teachers, and taxpayers about proven effectiveness, cost and implementation, instead relying on semantic shell games to create the illusion of change.''
This is what State Sen. D. Michael Fisher, a leading legislative foe of the reforms, had to say about the final product: "It appears that the Governor has made an effort to revive a dying program by renaming it and by shifting around some of the controversial language.''
This is what William Sloane, the legal counsel to State Rep. Ron Gamble, the other leading legislative opponent, said: "It doesn't look as though the changes are all that significant. It's still O.B.E.''
Representative Gamble, on the day when the state attorney general gave final approval to the new regulations, said he was disappointed, and added: "It heightens the odds against our defeat of O.B.E.''
Does this sound to you like people declaring victory? If the opponents' public comments were sincere, they must be as mystified as we are by your stories indicating that they won the battle in Pennsylvania.
If, on the other hand, they have had a change of heart and are satisfied with the reform plan in its current form, then we are pleased indeed--because schools throughout Pennsylvania are beginning to use performance-based education to improve student academic achievement, and we're proud of it.
Donald M. Carroll Jr.
Secretary of Education
To the Editor:
In the Jan. 26, 1994, issue I read about the Philadelphia truancy program ("Police To Apprehend Truants in Philadelphia''). The March 9, 1994, issue contained a short report on New York City's truancy plan in the News Roundup section. I'd like to tell you about Utah's Salt Lake City School District Truancy Program, which was implemented in January of this year.
A cooperative program with the city police department, the Department of Youth Services, and the school district, this new effort has already proven to be successful. A Truant Receiving Center, located in the district's alternative high school, is staffed with an off-duty police officer who is paid by the school district. At least two volunteers from the community, selected by the district, assist the officer at the center.
During school hours, city police officers are authorized to pick up school-age youngsters who are in the shopping malls, on the streets, or in neighborhoods, and bring them to the center for violating the mandatory-attendance law. The officer at the center and the volunteers contact the students' parents and request that they pick up the students from the center before it closes at 3 P.M. Students who are still at the center at closing time are transported by the police to the Department of Youth Services, where they remain until the department staff can contact a parent.
Counseling is offered to the parents by the schools when they are informed that a truant student has been detained. Data are kept on each student who is brought to the center and a follow-up is done with the school to determine if there is an improvement in attendance and academic performance following the truancy incident. To date, a number of students who had dropped out of school have been re-enrolled after being apprehended by the police and brought to the center.
A similar program is in place in an adjacent school district, Murray, Utah, and the county schools are working with the sheriff's department to implement a truancy program as well.
Utah school districts don't employ truant officers, but with the cooperation of the law-enforcement agencies, this program seems to be more cost effective and successful in reducing juvenile crime, increasing school attendance, and encouraging active parental involvement.
The strength, and possibly the uniqueness, of the Salt Lake City program is the mandatory parental participation. To date, over 250 students have been brought to the center. About 50 of them were taken to Youth Services; the remaining 200 were picked up by their parents before 3 P.M. Only one parent has expressed any negative reaction to the program, the staff, or the police. The parents generally express appreciation for being informed and thank the officers for helping them in their efforts with their youngsters.
A similar approach to truancy was in effect in Salt Lake City in 1983. During that year the residential burglaries decreased in some neighborhoods by as much as 50 percent. Police are currently examining data to determine if a similar impact on residential crime has occurred in the city since the new program began.
At the end of the school year, we'll have statistical information which will help us determine additional ways in which this program can benefit our city and our schools.
Salt Lake City School District
Salt Lake City, Utah
To the Editor:
Your article "Education School Links With K-12 on the Rise, Survey Finds'' (March 2, 1994), which briefly describes the eighth Research About Teacher Education report released at the annual meeting of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, was informative and corroborates what many practicing teachers have known for years: that K-12 classroom teaching experience is not high on most education professors' list of priorities.
Schools of education should be applauded for their efforts to reach out to the K-12 schools. Practicing teachers have a great deal to offer them.
I was most struck by the reported fact that, on average, the professors surveyed at the 88 schools of education who teach methodology courses had been out of the precollegiate classroom for 15 years. As a practicing teacher, I would like to ask these professors how they can possibly justify taking on the role of training future K-12 teachers, having been out of touch for so long with the realities of the classroom setting.
I strongly believe that only the highly accomplished, practicing teacher can effectively teach teachers how to teach, and that teacher training must take place in the K-12 schools. The highly accomplished teacher brings the credibility and relevance of current classroom experience to teacher education which, assuming the study is correct, the average education professor lacks.
We must end the process whereby teachers are taught how to teach by nonpracticing "educationists,'' mainly in a university setting, with curricula that are largely removed from and unrelated to the K-12 classrooms of the present.
This is not to say that educationists and schools of education do not have crucial parts to play in teacher education. They have important roles in theoretical, research, administrative, management, and support functions. But until educationists' roles, in and out of the university setting, are expanded to include concurrent, continuous, and significant K-12 classroom teaching in the schools, they should not be teaching teachers how to teach.
Since, as the article notes, a "whopping'' 62 percent of the methods faculty members at the schools of education surveyed were "very confident'' they could be successful teachers, we should send them back to the K-12 classroom for a little reality check and relocate their students to the classrooms of highly accomplished practicing teachers--where they all really belong.
John I. Swang
National Student Research Center
To the Editor:
The current clamor about youth violence is reminiscent of the public outrage that surrounded the proliferation of drug use by young Americans in the early 1970's. An examination of the learnings, interrelationships, and "coming of age'' of drug- and alcohol-abuse prevention will surely assist this country in the reduction of violence, while avoiding the expense and frustrations of reinventing the "prevention wheel.''
The American Psychological Association's recently released publication, "Violence and Youth: Psychology's Response,'' makes 39 recommendations calling on schools to develop "coordinated, systematic, and developmentally and culturally appropriate programs for violence prevention beginning in the early years and continuing through adolescence.'' Of course, it requests funding initiatives from government to support positive alternatives for at-risk youths as well as staff development to enable professionals to better deter and prevent violence.
Does anyone realize that the students in need of direction to prevent violence are also the same students in need of the prevention hierarchy of services designed to prevent drug and alcohol abuse, H.I.V./AIDS, teenage pregnancy, and school dropouts?
Recently, the Johnson Institute in Minneapolis conducted a survey of 32,000 students across 11 states that concluded "for the first time precisely how drug use is related to school violence, vandalism, truancy, and other behaviors that have not usually been considered 'drug problems.''' Problem youths do not operate in a vacuum. They tend to be risk-takers. They buy and use drugs. They buy and use alcohol. They buy and use weapons. They drop out of high school. They are more likely to engage in early sexual activity.
As time passes, surely someone must surmise that policy based on the generic prevention of high-risk behaviors makes the best sense for government investment.
Drug Education Program
Staten Island Public Schools
Community School District 31
Staten Island, N.Y.