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California Testing Proposal And Curriculum 'Frameworks'

To the Editor:

Your recent report "Fate of California Testing Unclear After Wilson's Veto" (Oct. 5, 1994) omitted some important details in its description of Gov. Pete Wilson's proposal for a revised state pupil-assessment system.

Specifically, while Governor Wilson has proposed that one part of the system provide individual results from basic-skills achievement tests administered by school districts, it is absolutely not true that any existing commercially available test would suffice for this purpose. Rather, under the Governor's proposal, districts would receive funding only for administering tests that had been approved by the state board of education. State board approval, in turn, would be granted only to tests that were aligned with California's curriculum frameworks and were capable of providing valid, reliable, and comparable individual student results.

Thus, the fear expressed by Michael Kirst--that the proposal would introduce "a major element of incoherence" into California's school-reform agenda through the use of tests that were not aligned with the state's curriculum frameworks--is clearly groundless.

Over the past three years, Governor Wilson and I have publicly and consistently expressed our support for a state testing system that contains all of the elements of the original vision for the California Learning Assessment System (clas): valid, reliable individual student scores; objective, world-class performance standards; and an appropriate mix of questions designed to assess students' mastery of basic skills, as well as more sophisticated abilities to apply knowledge, in the areas covered by California's curriculum frameworks.

We are hopeful that the California legislature, when it convenes in January, will enact a program that strengthens and reaffirms its commitment to this original vision.

Maureen G. DiMarco
Secretary of Child Development and Education
State of California
Sacramento, Calif.

Can Prison Population Be Blamed on Schools?

To the Editor:

I enjoyed reading the Commentary "To Build Places of Joy: Re-Creating High Schools," which appeared in your Sept. 28, 1994, issue. I have never met an educator who would disagree with the author's premise that high schools should be places of joy rather than sad places. However, Marcella Spruce, the author of this Commentary, makes the following statement: "We willingly build prisons to house the failures our education system creates."

Statements like this cannot be left unchallenged. If the moral decay that has led to the surge in the prison population can be laid at the steps of any one institution, it is that of the family--not the educational system. To assert that the educational system is "creating" the prison population is both irresponsible and absurd.

Bruce De Young
Superintendent of Schools
Ramsey, N.J

Seeing Voucher Movement In 'Parable of Scubation'

To the Editor:

I was fascinated by Lewis J. Perelman's "The Parable of Scubation" (Commentary, Sept. 14, 1994). Mr. Perelman has drawn an uncomfortably clear picture of the effects of public education's sprawling bureaucracy. As he notes, government ownership, operation, and regulation of the entire enterprise of education ("scubation" to Mr. Perelman) is accepted as "normal and reasonable" by "a general public that [can] neither remember nor imagine that [education can] be supplied any other way."

In Mr. Perelman's ocean-bottom society, the schools were not responsive to technological advancements which would allow its inhabitants to "breathe on their own," on islands and continents above the surface of the water. Instead, the "scubacrats" insisted on maintaining the society's dependence on the scuba technology which held them captive in their ocean-bottom world. The inhabitants were forced to confront "inescapable political choices."

This type of political choice is paralleled most recently in our society by many grassroots school-voucher campaigns nationwide. However, as in Mr. Perelman's mythical society, the educational bureaucracy has used its "prodigious finances to counter the threat to its survival with self-serving propaganda." In Mr. Perelman's ocean-bottom world, persons who would choose to threaten the existence of the "sacred institutions" by introducing technological advancements were termed "greedy capitalists."

In the parable, there was a last-ditch effort to save public "scubation." "Business and other civic leaders were diverted into 'partnerships.' " Taxes were raised and more money was spent on schools which needed revolutionary, institutional change. In desperation, families who could afford it "bought their way into airships or acquired their own." In some places, where "the poorest, most disadvantaged citizens ... were deprived of the technology needed to escape," there were "furious rebellions of people demanding their equal opportunity to breathe free."

Mr. Perelman's parable presents a compelling argument in favor of the dismantling of public education "as we know it." Private schools, with their lack of a cumbersome bureaucracy, have a stunning advantage in their political ability to implement broad, even revolutionary change. In a private school, parents empower teachers and students to accommodate changes and advancements according to vision, needs, and values.

Their responsiveness to the needs of parents and the community and their freedom from the burden of the public treasure allow private schools the potential to make unprecedented changes heralded by the technological age. In addition, technological advancement has made it possible for a student to receive a superior education at home. Home-schooling groups are beginning to experiment with the limitless possibilities of telecommunications and networking.

Concurrently, the public has signaled its mistrust of bureaucracy in its rejection of centralized health care. In some inner-city school districts parents have begun the unprecedented task of taking back the schools to community control.

Flying in the face of these developments, the bureaucracy of public education sprawls to even greater proportions as some bureaucrats suggest that the schools take on even more responsibilities: health care and the teaching of morality and values. In addition, the new "standards," demanded by some bureaucrats, will spawn more bureaucrats in the ever-deepening sea of public education.

Will public education reform itself from within and rise to the challenge of the times, or will the bureaucracy continue to demand more money for more programs to do more students more disservice? I look forward to a response which takes advantage of technological advancements, which serves the needs of the community, the parents, and the students, and which is a wise and just use of the funds earned by the citizens whom the school districts purport to serve.

Ann Kalayjian
San Rafael, Calif.

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