Letters to the Editor
To the Editor:
This is in response to the May 18, 1994, article "Chapter 2 Fate Is Subject of Hot Debate'' about the U.S. Education Department's study "How Chapter 2 Operates at the Federal, State, and Local Levels.'' The article inaccurately reports the date the Education Department sent the study to Congress, and falsely implies that the department withheld the report from Congress.
Specifically, the article states that "department officials began quietly using the report as rhetorical ammunition earlier in the year, and made it available at a conference of state Chapter 2 coordinators, but did not send it to Congressional education committees until early March.'' The article goes further to suggest that "while department officials were lobbying members of the Education and Labor Committee back in February and March ... by the time they sent the report to Capitol Hill, it was too late to influence the debate.''
The Education Department's policy is to share all of its evaluation reports with Congress before releasing them to the public. This policy was followed in transmitting the evaluation of Chapter 2 to Congress on Feb. 8, 1994. Moreover, the department made available preliminary findings of the study to Congress through the testimony of the study's contractor in May of the previous year.
A chronology follows:
1. At the request of the Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education of the House Committee on Education and Labor, Joan Ruskus, the study's contractor, appeared before the subcommittee on May 25, 1993, and presented preliminary findings from the study in question. The presentation included data from tabulations of the state and district surveys, and, based on these findings, addressed issues pertinent to the reauthorization of Chapter 2.
2. On Feb. 8, 1994, the final report in question was sent to 86 members of Congress, including the education committees and subcommittees.
3. This release of the report to Congress allowed Ms. Ruskus and her associate, Christine Padilla, to make a presentation on the study's findings at the State Chapter 2 Coordinators National Conference here in Washington on Feb. 9, 1994.
4. At that conference, the department announced that additional copies of the report would be sent to the state Chapter 2 coordinators and anyone else requesting copies. Copies of the report were mailed to the state coordinators on March 4, 1994.
One final point needs to be corrected. Your article implies that department officials were "lobbying'' the Education and Labor Committee. This is a misleading characterization of the department's fully lawful efforts to explain its reauthorization proposal and its position on the issues to members of Congress. As you may know, some forms of lobbying by department officials--not involved here--are prohibited by law. Your misleading terminology does the Education Department and your readers a disservice.
Alan L. Ginsburg
Planning and Evaluation Service
U.S. Education Department
Editor's Note: The information contained in the article that the Chapter 2 report was sent to Congress in early March was obtained from an Education Department official. It was not disputed by other department or Congressional sources. We regret the error in the reporting of the chronology.
For the record, the statement in the article that the report was sent to Congress "too late to influence the debate'' was attributed to a House Republican aide.
To the Editor:
Your May 18, 1994, article, "The Plot Thickens,'' on Kentucky's education-reform law and the 1994 session of our legislature, included several points of either misinformation, misunderstanding, or misrepresentation regarding the Kentucky School Boards Association.
While school boards are initially acknowledged in the article as part of a coalition of education-reform boosters, the article then separates the K.S.B.A. from "KERA supporters'' over a bill seeking to clarify the roles of community-elected boards of education and school-based-decisionmaking councils of two parents and four educators.
The writer of this report offers his opinion (it must be his opinion, because he cites no source despite quoting 20 sources throughout the article) that the K.S.B.A.-sponsored bill would have rendered the school councils largely advisory. Nothing could be further from the truth, which is that contradictory opinions on the board-council relationship had been offered up by two levels of Kentucky's judicial system and a legislative watchdog committee on education-reform regulations.
The article again offers an unsupported opinion when it states that the K.S.B.A. continues to fight against establishment of school-based councils. The K.S.B.A., both as Kentucky's largest organization of elected officials and as individual members in the overwhelming majority of the state's local school districts, supports and works with the existing school councils.
However, the K.S.B.A. does continue to fight for the right of the taxpayers who support our schools to maintain a high degree of accountability for anything and everything that occurs in the education of our children and the operation of our schools. Our legislation did not propose reducing the authority of councils, relegating them to "advisory'' status.
One wonders how the reporter came to express "surprise'' that the Kentucky Farm Bureau endorsed the K.S.B.A's bill. In fact, in a widely publicized vote at its convention last December, the Farm Bureau membership had given high priority to placing accountability of schools clearly with the elected school board. No one was "surprised'' by the endorsement by the Farm Bureau or any of the other organizations supporting the bill.
If you are to continue to portray the K.S.B.A.'s role in the history of education reform in Kentucky, we encourage you to at least make an attempt to contact our organization. After all, if you could cite 20 different sources in this story, how tough would it have been to have made that 21st call? We promise to comment.
David L. Keller
Kentucky School Boards Association
To the Editor:
I am extremely concerned about the findings of the National Education Commission on Time and Learning ("Longer Year, Day Proposed for Schooling,'' May 11, 1994). While I applaud the commission's recommendation to lengthen the school day, I question its decision to relegate English-as-a-second-language instruction to the secondary, nonacademic time.
In recent years, the number of limited-English-proficient students in U.S. schools has risen dramatically; language-minority students actually make up a majority in some school districts. English-language instruction is crucial for these children. To remove E.S.L. classes from the "academic day,'' lumping them with sports and other optional classes, penalizes E.S.L. students--and denies them a chance to participate in many of the same activities as their peers.
Separating E.S.L. classes from "core'' academics, moreover, weakens both areas. We know that the most effective programs are those which integrate second-language learning with content material--mathematics, arts, history, etc. A student's language skills and subject knowledge support one another. By divorcing English-as-a-second-language instruction from the rest of the curriculum, schools will reduce both students' skills in English and their knowledge of other subjects.
The commission includes both English and foreign languages as a part of their core curriculum--yet they fail to connect the two to meet the needs of the diverse population in our schools today. Such a shortsighted perspective dismays me. I hope that any policies implemented on the commission's recommendation will carefully consider the many E.S.L. students that this study may marginalize.
Teachers of English to Speakers of
Other Languages Inc.
To the Editor:
The following is a reply to Stephen Barone's opinion piece, "Does Ms. Kleinhopper Really Run the School?'' (Commentary, April 27, 1994).
Dear Mr. Barone:
How refreshing it was to read one man's--one boss's--reclaiming of power from the undereducated, lazy women who serve as America's school secretaries. What a relief to find a man brave enough to repudiate those overrated, modern notions of teamwork and respect for one's co-workers and their skills. (We must stop the proliferation of these dangerous ideas in America's schools! I hope it's not too late!)
How egregious it is that school secretaries, whose attentions are so consumed with answering telephones, preparing letters, payroll, purchase orders, and work orders, and working with finicky fax machines, copiers, and computer programs, may be unable to respond immediately to your very humble requests. Thank you also for setting a fine example of a man--an administrator--who is capable of composing deep thoughts and actually typing them (or perhaps word processing) them with no secretarial aid.
Perhaps it was wise to type your article yourself, Mr. Barone. Had your secretary read it (she can read, can't she?) and your low opinion of the work she presumably does, she would probably have taken the coffee machine and left. How wounded you would be, Mr. Barone. And then who would dole out the Band-Aids?
To the Editor:
As an executive secretary to a very busy administrator, I volunteered to read each Education Week as it arrived in our office and note any articles of interest for my boss. That is how I came to read "Does Ms. Kleinhopper Really Run the School?''
As a secretary, I find this Commentary disturbing. Stephen Barone seems to have a problem recognizing that there are some secretaries considered "key'' people in their buildings. I have not heard a secretary say that she ran the building. Rather, I hear from administrators that they know who holds things together and gets things done. If this is "running the school,'' then so be it.
I do not consider my administrator "superfluous to the educational enterprise'' and I would think that she does not feel that way about me. We work as a team on many projects, but I recognize she is the boss and I am the subordinate.
I do not believe it serves any purpose in education to belittle anyone who works to advance the education of children. I am sure Mr. Barone's negative attitude probably does not enhance his working life. Perhaps he needs to re-evaluate his own situation.
Meanwhile, I would hope that you would reconsider running negative essays such as this in the future. We are all a team, working together to try to make this a more positive world for our students.
Cherry Creek Schools
To the Editor:
In our district, we are not so concerned about who does what as we are about getting the job done the best way possible. Sometimes, this means that a "secretary'' might compose a professional report. Heaven forbid!
As a "reasonably intelligent'' person, I can operate word processors, run office machinery, and speak pleasantly into telephones. I can also compose professional reports, develop policy, make decisions, and assist those with whom I work. I would love to hear from Steven Barone's coworkers. They must have stories better than any I could tell.
Sanger Unified School District
To the Editor:
I could not believe that a publication I have come to value for its coverage of important educational issues would take up a topic such as radio talk-show hosts who criticize and malign educational efforts and their leaders in order to advance their ratings ("Talk-Radio Hosts Turn Up Volume on School Politics,'' April 13, 1994).
Radio-show hosts are not paid for their knowledge or expertise, but according to their ratings. So they do whatever it takes to hike those ratings, including fostering controversy and airing misinformation.
The Fort Wayne (Ind.) Community Schools, whose superintendent's resignation was used in the lead paragraphs of your story as an example of talk-show influence, is an exemplary urban system and is getting better every day. It is a pioneer in many educational programs that directly affect student achievement. Much of the credit for the school system's success is due to the leadership of William Coats, the man maligned by the Fort Wayne radio host Paul Phillips.
Educational leaders like William Coats do not come along very often and Fort Wayne was lucky to have had him.
I challenge you to do an article on our schools and our programs. It would be much more interesting than reading about talk-radio hosts who tear down education and misinform the public for self gain.
Lindley Elementary School
Fort Wayne, Ind.
To the Editor:
It is unfortunate that schools are being used to generate ratings for radio talk shows. The draw is not a real discussion of the challenges facing educators, but a negativity that makes schools the scapegoats for problems in society.
The criticisms that make up the substance of many of these shows focus mainly on money and do little useful to improve the climate, to educate the public, or to work toward solutions for bettering our schools.
There is little to be gained from the kind of malicious personal attacks that have been featured on the main show you cite in your story about this phenomenon, the Paul Phillips show in Fort Wayne, Ind. The ridicule Mr. Phillips has aimed at school board members and school officials would be intolerable if the people doing the finger-pointing were subjected to the same scrutiny themselves.
Mr. Phillips is personally responsible for squandering thousands of taxpayers' dollars as he inundated the school system with information requests almost weekly in a fruitless attempt to discredit the administration. His "concern'' about education was particularly evident in a show in which he and members of his audience discussed the uselessness of a formal education, citing a handful of individuals who had managed to succeed without having graduated from high shool.
We are thankful to have had the leadership of Superintendent William Coats for as long as we did. With his commitment to improving the lives of young people, it was not surprising that he would be tempted by the Kellogg Foundation with its offer to head the philanthropy's youth division. Through this position, he said, he could reach out to help children across the country. What have Paul Phillips and the other talk-show hosts done for our children?
James H. Easton
Curriculum and Instruction
E. Sharon Banks
Fort Wayne Community Schools
Fort Wayne, Ind.
To the Editor:
Barry McGhan ("Keeping the Net Higher for Some,'' Books, May 18, 1994) commends to us the 1970's revisionist doctrine that our capitalist system structures the schools to reproduce economic inequality. Mr. McGhan's essay is noteworthy for its explicit enunciation of the fundamental "zero sum'' premise underlying so much extreme egalitarian ideology.
"The advantaged classes,'' he writes, "naturally want to preserve their place in society for their offspring, which in this zero-sum game comes at the expense of the disadvantaged.'' In this "zero sum'' view of capitalism, wealth is not created--it falls like manna from heaven equally on all, only to be expropriated by "the advantaged classes.''
Similarly, the egalitarian critique of grouping at the heart of Mr. McGhan's piece sometimes flirts with a "zero sum'' view of knowledge as well--high-achieving children appropriate more than their fair share of a seemingly fixed pool of knowledge, and should be forced to return their excess share through cooperative learning, heterogeneous grouping, and the like.
Perhaps a mathematician such as Mr. McGhan will appreciate the reductio ad absurdum implication of his very dubious premise. If schools are indeed a "zero sum'' institution, which provide no value added to economic productivity, but only reproduce an unequal division of a fixed economic pie, then the conclusion is obvious: Abolish the schools. In this way, all distinctions will be eliminated--everyone will be equally ignorant, and share equally in the fruits of our economic system, which, by the zero-sum assumption of Mr. McGhan, will remain undiminished.
Of course, the same end can be achieved in slow motion by the gradual erosion of standards. Though nobly motivated by the condition of the have-nots, this "zero sum'' egalitarianism produces a "negative sum'' result: It impoverishes us all.
Robert M. Costrell
Professor of Economics
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
To the Editor:
I read with great interest your story on the introduction of salary-deferral plans in two U.S. school districts ("Two Districts To Allow Teachers To Defer Pay To Finance Leaves,'' April 8, 1994). It was a surprise to discover that the concept originated in Canada.
As a former employee of the Lakehead board of education in Thunder Bay, Ontario, I twice participated in the program.
For four months in the fall of 1980, between leaving the role of principal and becoming a supervisory officer, my wife, two daughters, and I first traveled by motor home in Europe and finished the leave with a monthlong stay in Hawaii.
In 1988 and 1989, I took a second leave of 18 months.
During the first eight months, my wife and I traveled around the world as back-packers, with a three-month stay in New Zealand as a secondary-school inspector.
Following a period of camp renovations, we spent the winter in the Southern United States, wandering about in our small camper van.
The employees of the Lakehead board could write volumes on their deferred-leave experiences. The positive impact of the innovation on the lives of the teachers and of the resulting enriched curriculum on the learning of their students can never be measured.
As my wife and I formulate our retirement plans for late 1995, we are forever grateful to the innovative attitude of Wally Beevor and the school trustees of the day.
Best wishes to those American school districts as they embark on this worthy endeavor.
John A. Cottenden
Director of Education
Espanola Board of Education