Letters To The Editor
As a high school classroom teacher, of both English and Latin, who reads Education Week, I have been struck by the limitations of the publication and its audience. Seldom do I see opinion articles written by actual classroom teachers. The authors are usually the vice president of this or the professor of that, and many of their articles discuss problems in education but offer no respite.
In particular, the noxious essay by Peter Rutkoff, "Reading a School Like a Book," was a diatribe (related story). He equated walking through an inner-city high school to reading a book, but if he scanned and skimmed the book for his own courses as cursorily as he looked at the school, he would fail.
His superficial comments on how the students looked -- "exhausted," eyes "glazed with ennui" -- were so belittling that I can scarcely hold my contempt for his patronizing attitude. He said that these African-American kids "can't begin to read the books in their hands. They are the wrong books, the wrong environment, the wrong story." What, then, are the right books, the right environment, and the right stories? The professor does not say. He just ends his article.
It is so easy to wander through any public school and find faults, just as one may walk down any street and point out garbage, shrubbery, and decorations one does not like. As long as professors and vice presidents only point out problems instead of picking up the trash or helping the kids read, public education will continue to be the scapegoat for society's problems.
It would have been far better had the professor stopped in his stroll and taught for a while in a real school, instead of in his ivory tower with his "well-educated and elevated college students." I wish such pedants would stay in their rarefied air if they have no specific suggestions on how to change the conditions they so blithely point out.
Marshfield High School
Coos Bay, Ore.
Clearing Up the Wording On College's 'Paradigm'
Thank you for sharing with your readers the story of the development of Audrey Cohen College and the Audrey Cohen College Schools (related story). Your article will help people across the country understand the "purpose-centered system of education" developed here.
The article did touch a very sensitive area, however, when it equated a "purpose" (in our sense of the word) with a theme, and a "constructive action" with a project. The college's "purposes," however, are not analogous to themes. Themes generally cover topics like "War Through the Ages," or "The Wolf." All knowledge can naturally relate to one of our purposes, whereas a theme requires intellectual contortion; and often some of the knowledge--such as math or science--is difficult to relate under a theme.
Similarly, the "constructive action" is not the same as a project. A constructive action, unlike a project, integrates learning across the curriculum and relates it to the world. As I described in a June 1993 Phi Delta Kappan article: "The Constructive Actionsic gives children the opportunity to see how this world operates and to learn within it. It allows them to see that they can use what they learn to affect institutions around them. The Constructive Action is the bridge between classroom learning and life outside the classroom."
Purpose and constructive action are the centerpieces of our educational paradigm. It is essential that their meaning be clear.
Audrey Cohen College
New York, N.Y.
Atlanta Public Schools LedDropout-Definition Efforts
Recently, Richard Fossey and Jim Garvin wrote a Commentary titled "Cooking the Books on Dropout Rates" (related story ). Though they cite various facts concerning the dropout rate in Louisiana and its various parishes, they also refer to the Atlanta public schools as having a 4.7 percent dropout rate as reported in Gary Orfield and Carole Ashkinaze's book The Closing Door. They further noted that the authors reported an attrition rate of 39 percent.
In September 1987, the Atlanta public schools adopted the following dropout definition: "A dropout is any person who does not complete a planned educational program for any reason other than death." This definition is implemented through administrative regulations which require the reporting to the Atlanta board of education in the late fall of each year the annual and cohort dropout rate for students in grades 9-12 for the previous 12 months. As such, the Atlanta schools preceded all other Southern states as well as the nation in adopting an annual dropout rate, rather than one which only counts those students who exit between the first and last day of school each academic year as dropouts.
Because of its leadership role in accurately assessing the dropout rate, the Atlanta public school system has been intricately involved with the state of Georgia as well as the National Center for Education Statistics as each studied and changed its method of computing dropouts.
The Atlanta school system has not had an official dropout rate of 4.7 percent in seven years. The lowest official dropout rate in that period was in 1992-93, with an annual dropout rate of 12 percent and a cohort dropout rate of 34 percent for the same year.
I hope this helps clarify the errors in the Commentary by Mr. Fossey and Mr. Garvin.
Benjamin O. Canada
Atlanta Public Schools