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Goal Is Fair Competition, Not a Minority Handicap

To the Editor:

As an African-American and an educator who has taught for the past 30 years in true inner-city schools, I find the opposition of the Amherst, Mass., chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. to ability grouping hypocritical and wrong strategically ("Amherst Schools Urged To Drop Ability Grouping," Oct. 5, 1994). It is hypocritical in that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has never opposed ability grouping in athletics. It is wrong strategically because it will force black and white parents who can afford private school tuition to take their children out of the public schools.

It was William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, a founder of the N.A.A.C.P. and a resident of Great Barrington, Mass., who pushed for ability grouping when he eloquently spoke of the "Talented Tenth." Historically, black leaders have fought only for opportunities to compete fairly--not for handicaps in competition.

Black colleges and universities are again competing for the best high school students to attend their institutions. These schools understand that serious students, those who work extra hard, must be given opportunities to reach their real potential, not artificial academic goals. This cannot be done if they are in schools that do not "teach to the top."

Until we blacks treat our academic students as we treat our athletic students, we will continue to see mass academic failure, and we will continue to blame others for these failures. Ability grouping is as necessary in the academic world as it is in the world of athletics.

Louis A. DeFreitas Sr.
Brooklyn, N.Y

'Ruler-Toting Nuns' Quip Offensive to Some Readers

To the Editor:

The fact that Catholic schools are either ignored or get a "bum rap" irritates me enough, but your interview with Ann Brown ("Beyond Behaviorism," Oct. 5, 1994) takes the cake. That Ms. Brown can impute such base motives for her obvious success to what you call the "ruler-toting nuns" is an insult to all of us nuns who have and continue to work very hard to realize the high expectations we have for all the children who are entrusted to our care.

Ms. Brown received "free" private education by women who recognized that she had a reading problem, but who worked with her to overcome that problem, even going so far as to hire private tutors for her. What public school would have done this? Who does she think paid for that education? And to what does she attribute their persistence? Ingratitude has to be one of the most grievous errors of our time, and Ann Brown does very well at it.

Your article does nothing to exalt Ann Brown. Rather, it is a reminder of the adolescent scorn heaped upon Catholic schools and religious sisters, who, for a pittance, have imparted excellent educations to some of our most honored teachers. This profile denigrates Ms. Brown's achievements, in my estimation, reducing them to a spiteful whining about her past. It does not belong in Education Week, and is offensive to many of us.

Sister Mary Anne Brawley
Executive Director
Catholic School Administration
Association of New York State
Troy, N.Y.

Start Talking to the P.T.A.; You Might Be Surprised

To the Editor:

I am writing in response to your article "Who's Minding the Children?" (Sept 28, 1994). As a P.T.A. leader in Anchorage, Alaska, I had a very difficult time relating what I have experienced in the P.T.A. to what you reported.

I am constantly surprised by attempts by other educational groups to diminish and to underrate the P.T.A. The fact is, at the national, state, and local levels, the P.T.A. has been in the forefront of working toward legislation to reduce television violence, address the needs of underprivileged children, and include parent involvement in Goals 2000. Without the efforts of the National pta, I can assure you that parent involvement would have been overlooked again.

A lot of our educational partners give lip service to wanting parents at the table, but from my experience few actually invite parents to participate in a meaningful way. The latest school-reform effort is a good example. If parents aren't as supportive as they should be, perhaps it is because the reforms, in large part, have been developed in a parental vacuum. Being presented with goals that have been developed by others and mandated "or else" does little to elicit support.

As for the cookies-and-milk image used in your article, let me tell you about issues recently discussed by the Anchorage Council of P.T.A.'s. A resolution about parents being involved in the interview process for principals and teachers, districtwide test-score performance, equity of alternative and traditional programs in our district, violence in our schools and the creation of a safe-schools policy for the district, and a review of graduation requirements are only some of the issues we've addressed this month, mainly due to the fact that we've had to prepare the membership for a teachers' strike. Cookies and milk? I don't think so.

As an interesting side note, I received your subsequent edition as I was completing this letter and read the section of Commentaries titled "A Family Plan: Involving Parents in Education." In it, you publish the views of policymakers and practitioners, but you appear not to have asked for comment from the P.T.A. If people aren't asked, they can't come to the party. I'd like to issue a challenge to Education Week. Start asking the largest child-advocacy group in the world, the P.T.A., about issues of substance. You just might be surprised.

Kathi Gillespie
President
Anchorage Council of Parent-Teacher Associations
Anchorage, Alaska

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