Letters to the Editor
Have Schools of Education, Business Schools Collaborate
Marsha Levine writes persuasively about the need to reinvent approaches to professional education ("21st Century Professional Education," related story, 02/01/95). The subtitle of her essay is intriguing--"How Education Could Learn From Medicine, Business, and Engineering."
She talks about the New Pathway program at the Harvard Medical School and its interdisciplinary curriculum. She describes how business schools encourage teamwork and leadership development. She talks about the need to "prepare professionals who are well-equipped to practice in a 21st-century world." Another quote: "Knowledge does not get used in discrete subject-area packages, therefore, curricula should emphasize relationships among disciplines."
All this and more builds the reader up to the expectation that Ms. Levine will challenge schools of education to find new ways to prepare all who pass through their doors, including those who will be the future managers and leaders of public education--principals, superintendents, and others. Instead, the total focus is on teachers and curriculum-based issues--vital, to be sure, but the writer seems to have overlooked a major building block in her argument.
The Committee for Economic Development report "Putting Learning First," issued last September, has this to say:
"Good leaders are more often made than born; leadership skills can be learned and nurtured through training and experience. Teachers traditionally become principals by taking a program of administrative courses at a graduate school of education that generally teach little about fostering collaborative relationships. Few districts provide prospective principals with opportunities to develop the kind of leadership skills that are required for decentralized collaborative management."
One very simple extension of Ms. Levine's thesis is to have schools of education and schools of business collaborate to offer a combined M.Ed. and M.B.A. degree.
There is ample precedent for this--for many years schools of public health and business schools have offered combined M.P.H./M.B.A. degrees to train the future managers and leaders in the health-care field.
And at Harvard, it isn't just the medical school that innovates. The Harvard Project on Schooling and Children, led by Katherine Merseth, is a major effort to achieve significant collaborations of all the schools of the university around K-12 education.
The National Executive Service Corps has for the past two years given a series of manage-ment/leadership seminar-workshops for high school principals in Washington and New York City. The program evaluator had this to say about the 1993 experience: "I got a strong image of a group of people who are isolated, professionally lonely, under siege, and hungry, hungry for meaningful contact. They loved the respect shown them and loved the time and attention to critical thinking. They were like elementary school children who have discovered the joy of learning and being together with people they like and trust. It was in some way sad because they are so needy for what this seminar did. It was also a helluva indictment about the dearth of educational-leadership support and education."
Marsha Levine has started a useful dialogue. Let us hope it doesn't end there.
Gerald D. Levy
President, Education Group
National Executive Service Corps
New York, N.Y.
Cincinnati Pay Policy Tied to Consent Decree
Your front-page story on Jan. 25, 1995, describes a new "pay for performance" policy in the Cincinnati public schools, says that it is "believed to be the first of its kind in the nation for school administrators," and attributes the policy to a 1991 report by a business group calling for restructuring of the schools (related story, 01/25/95 ").
The 1991 report may have been a spur to change, but the new accountability policies are more directly a result of a consent decree entered last year by a federal judge to settle a desegregation lawsuit, Bronson v. School Board of Cincinnati, filed by black parents and their children. That decree calls upon the school district to implement in the 1994-95 school year a set of goals and incentives for educational improvement that will "help insure that schools will be accountable for educational progress."
The story also says that the contract with the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers links teacher pay to performance. The union may have taken a few halting steps in that direction, but it is fiercely resisting another provision of the Bronson consent decree that calls for rewards and a system of accountability for good student behavior management.
Despite the fact that some schools in Cincinnati have established learning environments in which poor and black students achieve well and few are suspended, the union president continues to insist that it is unfair to hold teachers and administrators at other schools accountable for creating the same positive conditions. Indeed, instead of devoting its energies to making a settlement that the rest of the community has accepted work, the union is seeking at the last minute to force a reopening of the negotiations.
The Cincinnati school system and its superintendent, Michael Brandt, deserve credit for the steps they have taken to establish an accountability system. But your readers should know that reform does not ordinarily spring full blown from the brows of school authorities and business leaders. In this case, a dedicated and persistent group of parents and community leaders has been the moving party in bringing about change. They intend to persevere to see that the change is implemented.
William L. Taylor
Attorney for the Bronson Plaintiffs
R. Freeman Butts Responds To Civics-Essay Critics
When Harvard University's Harold Howe 2nd takes the trouble to comment on an article of mine (related story, 02/01/95 ), I stop, look, and listen. In his letter to the editor he gave me high marks for dealing with the content of the new national standards for civics and government, but he lowered my grade from "three cheers" to "one and a half cheers" because I did not deal with the pedagogy required for students to relate the knowledge of civics to their actual behavior.
He is correct that my essay ("Antidote for Antipolitics," related story, 01/18/95) and the standards do not deal with the pedagogy of the classroom. However, the reason is that the contract to develop the standards provided only for formulating content standards. Classroom pedagogy is left to the inventive genius of local teachers and to the many reform projects now engaged in making the learning process more effective for all students. The civics standards concentrated on what most reformers are neglecting: knowledge of the civic values and principles of constitutional democracy and effective citizenship.
I agree with Harold Howe that teachers must try to link what students learn with how students learn--once it is agreed on what it is important for them to learn. The civics standards outline the significant and enduring questions that teachers and students should be studying together as they face the urgent tasks of making government and citizenship work better.
The civics standards were written before the "Republican revolution" of November 1994. Newt Gingrich, Bob Dole, Al Gore, and Bill Clinton are now impelling the American people to debate the very purposes as well as structure of government, a debate seldom witnessed in our history. As a result, once-boring topics like "federalism" and "separation of powers" are being played out in living color every day. How better to motivate students than to get them involved in the decisions posed by the "Contract With America"--decisions that are bound to affect them directly as students, as job-seekers, and as citizens?
As for Ruth Beechick's letter of Feb. 1, in which she expresses suspicion about what is politically hidden in the details of the civics standards, I invite her to note (a) that the standards are framed in the form of questions to be studied, not answers to be learned, and (b) that students are asked to "describe," to "explain," to "identify," and ultimately to "evaluate, take, and defend positions on the issues" regarding the topics under study. They seek to help students arrive at reasoned conclusions on the basis of scholarly knowledge, not unexamined opinion.
For example, Topic II asks: What are the foundations of the American political system? The sub-questions are: What is the American idea of constitutional government? What are the distinctive characteristics of American society? What is American political culture? What values and principles are basic to American constitutional democracy?
As to her charge that the standards seek to "indoctrinate students with socialistic ideas," I cite Mr. Howe's letter, which noted that conservatives as well as liberals have endorsed the standards. In the same issue in which those two letters appeared, Chester E. Finn Jr. described the national civics standards as "good standards ... that every state should take seriously."
And at about the same time, Albert Shanker was quoted in the official publication of the American Federation of Teachers as praising the standards for offering "a solid framework for teaching students about the ideas that underlie American democracy--such as the rule of law and individual rights--and for conveying to students an appreciation for democracy and steps necessary to sustain it."
The authors of the civics standards must have been doing something right. In fact, the standards are right for American education right now.
R. Freeman Butts
How Many Americans Know What Their I.Q.'s Are?
In all of the pro and con reaction to The Bell Curve, I question how many average Americans even know what their I.Q.'s are. Aren't the "professors" trying to keep alive a discredited idea for purposes of deepening the discord among Americans?
Executive Director Emeritus
National Alliance of Black School Educators
On Achievement Data: What the Evidence Shows
Unfortunately, Gerald Bracey's rosy portrait of U.S. achievement is contradicted by the data ("The Right's Data-Proof Ideologues," related story, 01/25/95). As a progressive educator who has spent a decade researching national achievement, I believe we should evaluate the evidence fairly, and squarely face the bad news when we find it. The evidence shows:
- Test scores are not at all-time highs. Our best barometerthe National Assessment of Educational Progressshows that 17-year-olds' reading, math, and writing scores have been basically level for 25 years. Their civics and science scores remain well below 1970's levels.
- The S.A.T. decline cannot be fully explained by demographic changes in test takers. Today's college-bound students score at only the 35th percentile of their mid-1960's counterparts. Half to three-fourths of this drop was demographic. The S.A.T., however, with its rapid-fire testing of math and verbal conundrums, is a poor measure of academic achievement.
- International achievement differences have often been
substantial, and the United States has done poorly in math and high
school science. In recent years, for example, the United States has
trailed by 15 to 18 percentage points in math. Mr. Bracey used
decade-old data to claim our top half is world class. Back then, our
top 8th graders matched the Japanese only in arithmetic. They lagged
substantially in algebra, geometry, and measurement. He didn't
mention that our seniors fared poorly in the sciences or that they
were among the world's worst in math by a large margin.
Our math problems are not confined to minority students and the urban poor. In 1992, only 30 percent of white U.S. 8th graders demonstrated proficiency in the NAEP math assessment; over a quarter did not even make the basic level. In 1990, NAEP analysts concluded that fewer than half our seniors clearly understood 7th-grade material.
Although the good news is that the United States has done well internationally in reading and elementary school science, problems remain. Our high school students report little interest in science activities and spend far more time watching TV than reading or doing schoolwork.
- The public has doubts about its local schools. Only about a
quarter feel their eldest child's school deserves an A; 42 percent
grade community schools C through F (related story, 09/00/94
High school seniors lack general knowledge and critical reading skills. NAEP assessments show students are often misinformed in literature, history, civics, and geography. In 1992, only 37 percent were rated proficient in reading.
- Conclusion: Conservative critics in the 1980's exaggerated the test-score decline. In spite of enormous changes in society and school populations, U.S. achievement has been remarkably stable for three decades. But it remains inadequate and at dismally low levels. Ignoring this evidence or arguing it is a right-wing fabrication hampers much-needed school reform.
Interested readers can find an in-depth and balanced treatment of the NAEP data in the November 1993 Phi Delta Kappan, the S.A.T. data in the January-February 1994 Journal of Educational Research, and the international data in the October 1994 Educational Researcher.
Lawrence C. Stedman
Assistant Professor of Education
State University of New York
Wisconsin Voucher Plan For the Poor, Not Church
In the article about Wisconsin's proposed expansion of the Milwaukee voucher program to include religious schools (related story, 01/25/95 ), Anne Nicol Gaylor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation demonstrates an anti-Catholic bigotry when she is quoted as saying that "what this is designed to do is aid the Catholic Church."
No, the bill is designed to empower the poor by giving them the same options that the rich already have, namely the opportunity to send their children to the school of their choice. There is no conspiracy at work here, just old-fashioned common sense, a property that is unfortunately not a staple among those who sport a phobia about religion.
William A. Donohue
Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights
New York, N.Y.
'Federal Stranglehold' Could Devolve to States
I hope you have quoted William J. Bennett out of context (related story, 02/01/95 ). I agree with his support of the "principle of subsidiarity"--getting rid of the "federal stranglehold on education," but am alarmed at his suggestion to turn control and money over to the states. I could be enthusiastic if he advised giving control to local boards, and establishing some standards.
In our state, the state department of education, the teachers-standards and -practices commission, and the legislature, which funds and empowers, are the problems, not the answers. They control textbook selection, teacher training, teacher-certification standards, and time apportionment in the classroom--the four primary factors that determine what happens between students and their teachers.
Oregon sets no measurable standards for teacher training or student achievement, approves no published student assessments, and ignores the Bennett-compiled research in "What Works," the elementary-level blueprint of "First Lessons," the admonitions of "Becoming a Nation of Readers," etc., etc. The state insists that primary-level students learn about the intricacies of some third-world leftist government and the rain forests in the Amazon before they have learned to pen their own names legibly (protectionism for multi-million-dollar publishing houses?) in all above categories, and fights any choice, charter, voucher, or contract-school proposal.
Instead, Oregon is spending millions to force implementation of outcomes-based education and other grand schemes opposed by informed board members, teachers, administrators, parents, and two or three professors of education. Do they dare say so? Not many, but the professors are speaking up--finally. The new Republican-controlled legislature is an interesting place these days.
I agree with Chester E. Finn Jr.; we need to set comprehensive and measurable academic standards in all disciplines, but we will not get them from the architects of the present failure. To save money and get what we truly need, I suggest we go back about 70 years (before Dick and Jane) and appoint a bipartisan committee of Fortune 500 C.E.O.'s, juvenile-court judges, and college presidents to sift through the various state "courses of study" to see what literacy was thought to be when virtually all the children who went to school acquired the necessary basic skills, including an understanding of the "principle of subsidiarity."
Myrna T. McCulloch
The Riggs Institute