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Principal Sharpens Focus On Photo Caption Of School

What is a "sound basic education"? (related story ).

Is it one where newly arrived, immigrant children with limited or no formal schooling are taught reading readiness and simple mathematics? Is it one that provides an introduction to the democratic system with its privileges and responsibilities? Is it learning the skills to resolve conflicts in a socially responsible manner?

Is a sound basic education one in which children learn sportsmanship through team-building exercises and physical activity? Where a child's affinity for art or music is developed and nurtured? Or, even further, where children practice with musicians from New York City's professional orchestras and sing from the stage at Carnegie Hall?

Is a sound basic education one where middle school youngsters perform service in elementary schools, nursing homes, and even day-care centers? Is it one where 8th graders have been accepted to the most competitive high schools in New York City, both private and public, where, in fact, a 1994 graduate is on the honor roll at Fordham Prep, a nationally recognized school of excellence?

Is a sound basic education one where children have the benefit of business executives' interaction with them in the classroom? And where renowned professionals like the fashion designer Oscar de la Renta and the band leader Skitch Henderson come to school to perform or talk with the students?

A "yes" answer to all of the above would describe Eleanor Roosevelt Intermediate School in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City. However, the photo caption that accompanied your article stated that a "New York City suit suggests that city schools like Eleanor Roosevelt Intermediate School do not provide a sound basic education."

The fact that our school was singled out in a negative, and apparently random, way was shocking and most distressing to all of us connected to Eleanor Roosevelt Intermediate School--students, teachers, administrators, parents, and community members.

Who from Education Week came to see and observe our youngsters learning in their classrooms with as many as 38 students? Who came to watch teachers teaching French to students whose native language is Spanish? Who even spoke by telephone to anyone at the school? Unfortunately, the answer to each of these questions is "no one."

While I would like to be able to say that all 1,700 youngsters at our school are reading and computing at or above grade level, I cannot. What I can say is that, with very limited resources, overcrowding, and all the problems of an urban population center, we are getting positive results. All of these results and those who are working so hard to get them should be recognized and rewarded, not thoughtlessly denigrated in a national professional newspaper.

Phyllis Casolaro Williams
Principal
Eleanor Roosevelt Intermediate School
New York, N.Y.

Achievement-Data Debate: Attacking the Messengers

Gerald W. Bracey has resorted to personal attacks and severely distorted the research on the condition of education (related story ). Contrary to popular belief, achievement is not in free fall, though it remains low in many areas; U.S. international performance is not uniformly poor but mixed--strong in reading, uneven in science, and weak in math; and the S.A.T. decline was largely, not entirely, demographic, but is a questionable measure of school quality. How was that being selective? Note Mr. Bracey did not challenge the accuracy of any of my evidence.

I also cited my recent research reviews because they comprehensively covered the data and presented the good news and bad about student achievement. Mr. Bracey prefers rosy, one-sided portraits. He described National Assessment of Educational Progress reading, writing, and mathematics results as reaching "all-time highs." Anyone who sees the graphs will realize this truly mischaracterizes essentially flat trends. He sidestepped the major declines in high school science and civics.

Mr. Bracey labeled my S.A.T. estimates "pure speculation," but they came from detailed technical studies, including the College Board's. He has claimed there never was an S.A.T. decline, yet his own mini-analysis showed much of the large verbal S.A.T. decline was not demographic!

Mr. Bracey has repeatedly asserted the United States matches leading countries, even Japan, in math. When I noted how much we actually lag behind them--I did not pick just one country--he cynically charged me with making "misleading" comparisons. Who is "confusing" ranks and performance? I have pointed out this distinction in several articles, but our math scores typically fall well behind those of most countries, not just the top ones. Mr. Bracey's example of bunched scores came from younger students in science, not math, and he ignored the large spreads at the high school level.

My conclusions about low performance were not based on NAEP criteria or official interpretations; I even criticized these in Mr. Bracey's home journal, Phi Delta Kappan (November 1993). Independent math educators have found "superficial learning" and "major deficiencies" at all grades. A majority of seniors have trouble with simple algebra and basic math--fractions, decimals, and percents. Although writing trends have been stable, few high school students write well. Many lack basic historical and constitutional information. Most cannot identify Jim Crow, the Scopes trial, Magna Carta, or the dates of the Civil War. Over half are unfamiliar with the Federalist Papers and the constitutional division of powers. A majority do not recognize classics by Shakespeare, Chaucer, Conrad, and Whitman; they are unfamiliar with important women and African-American writers.

In 1988, the Gallup organization repeated a 1947 survey and concluded that "Americans' geographic literacy has gotten worse in the last 40 years." Respondents could identify only four European countries and fewer than three South American ones. Finally, national literacy studies show 20 percent to 30 percent of adults struggle with everyday reading tasks.

It is unfortunate that Mr. Bracey has chosen to attack the messengers rather than heed the evidence.

Lawrence C. Stedman
Assistant Professor of Education
State University of New York
Binghamton, N.Y

Reassuring Children Earth Is Not Coming to an End

To the Editor:

I have received a number of calls from readers who have had to track me down to order the poster you mentioned in the "Take Note" column in the March 29, 1995, issue. I am very grateful for the publicity, but I am hopeful you may want also to tell interested readers where they can secure a copy for their classrooms.

The poster--"The Earth Is Fine! Save Yourself!"--costs $2.50 (including postage and handling) and is available from the National Anxiety Center, P.O. Box 40, Maplewood, N.J. 07040.

As I write this in advance of Earth Day (April 22), the gist of what I'm hearing from callers is that they wish they had some kind of educational aid to reassure students the earth is not coming to an end and that global warming and ozone holes do not represent an immediate threat to their lives.

Alan Caruba
Maplewood, N.J.

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