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'Eight-Year Study' Offers Insights on College-Going

To the Editor:

I missed Joe Nathan's Commentary on improving schools by reforming college admissions (related story ) but I caught Ronald D. Thorpe's response in "Schools, Colleges, and Mending Reform" (related story). The schools, Mr. Thorpe argued, may have to do it themselves. He refers to the "Eight-Year Study," begun in the mid-1930's, which gave clear proof of the superiority of progressive education. A recent and generally similar progressive experiment in Littleton, Colo. (related story ) has already failed. Another in LaSeur, Minn. (related story) needs encouragement.

For the Eight-Year Study, over a wide spectrum of colleges, admissions offices waived all entrance ~requirements but the principal's recommendation for 1,500 candidates from 30 participating schools. The Rockefellers poured in money; a peripatetic staff of John Dewey's converts assisted; the assessment Nestor, the late Ralph Tyler, led the evaluation; and a watchdog committee of conservatives added their endorsement to a five-volume report, ~Adventure in Education (1941), edited by Wilfred Aikin. The progressive group had done better than an otherwise comparable 1,500 students from conventional schools.

World War II wiped the episode from the memory of everybody, including educators. During the flurry of reform in the 1960's and today's excitement over "excellence," I've encountered only two references in the literature of education to the Eight-Year Study: by Ronald Thorpe, in the letter cited, and by Theodore Sizer in a recent issue of his newsletter, Horace.

The study had two advantages, however, which are lacking today: The lifting of college-admissions formalities helped protect the project from sabotage by competitive parents, and the economic experimentation of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the New Deal had opened both heart and the mind of America.

Richard M. Gummere Jr.
Barrytown, N.Y.

'At Risk' Observations From One Who 'Beat the Odds'

To the Editor:

Thank you for your article "Beating the Odds" (related story ). I am a former foster child from San Bernardino County, Calif. I am now 25 years old and work for a political-consulting firm on Capitol Hill in Washington. I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and a master's degree in public administration. I have worked hard for these achievements and thank heaven every day for being "resilient."

I have two observations about the article. First, I would like to venture an opinion on why adults with adverse childhoods may seem "aloof" or "detached." The reason I don't keep close ties with some family members or friends is because they constantly complain about their tough lot in life. I'm not worried about them bringing me down; it is more that I resent their whining. It angers me when people don't appreciate what they have and make the most of it.

My second observation is a hope, really, the hope that research on at-risk youths is not a fad. While it is worthwhile to recognize why some kids make it and some do not, it would be even more worthwhile if a practical use could be found for such information, other than to justify programs such as Head Start and AmeriCorps. The truth is that these programs should not have to be justified. What does need justification is why we cannot find a way to reduce the number of at-risk kids in the first place.

Lee Ann M. Petersen
Legislative Assistant
The Dutko Group
Washington, D.C.

Too Many 'Educateers,' Too Few Classroom Teachers

To the Editor:

"Getting Real About Leadership" (related story ) misses the main point: We have too much nonteaching staff, and too little focus on the classroom teacher. In 1700, 95 percent of the people working in education were teachers. In 2100, 5 percent will be, at the rate we are adding nonteaching staff to the education enterprise.

The gap between the proportion of school employees who are classroom teachers and the proportion who are nonteaching staff members is widening. With all good intentions, we are looking upon "education" as employment, as our industrial production moves to the Pacific rim. Society preoccupies itself with jobs--not just the jobs that get legislators re-elected, but the jobs that keep us busy and vainglorious as well.

The computer industry makes its way to the superintendents' and the principals', and other buyers' offices. Nobody is knocking on the door with better teachers--or with ways to improve the working conditions of the good ones we have. Working to make our schools full of better teachers does not give jobs to anybody else. But what i~t does do is turn kids on to learning, give them a chance to see the best and to say, "At last, that's what I want to be like."

Your page-one lead story in the same issue (related story ) did hit the mark, in quoting from the U.S. office of technology assessment's latest report: "In the process of acquiring hardware and software for student use, teachers--perhaps the most valuable part of the education equation--often have been overlooked."

"Overlooked." Think of it! We have plenty of heavy-duty "educateers" who will explain it all to us and tell the teachers to go to another after-school meeting.

Let's think simple: The teachers and the children are the school. It is no mistake that charter schools have been established for learning. Usually, they have been started by teachers who want to teach. They want to have the community keep its child-care and therapy services and all the rest. They want to teach.

Henry Bissex
Montpelier, Vt.

Inhalants, Toxic Vapors Present Real School Risks

To the Editor:

Bravo for the American Federation of Teachers in recommending appropriate measures to safeguard teachers' health (related story ). There are very serious dangers associated with inhaling chemicals, especially solvents and volatile vapors. These toxic vapors have the capacity to cause what is known as "sudden sniffing death," to replace the oxygen in the bloodstream, and to damage brain cells and body organs. In spite of the dangers, some children and adults deliberately inhale these vapors. In fact, inhalant substances are the third most commonly abused substances for middle-age-range youths, behind alcohol and marijuana.

Aside from duplicating-machine fluid, there are other chemical vapors that can be dangerous. These include butane, propane, varnish, petroleum products, and cleaning products.

Important safety measures teachers and other school personnel should keep in mind regarding inhalable vapors include: Read and follow all label directions, wear a nose/mouth mask and gloves during use, do not use the substances in the presence of a flame or spark, and keep them away from direct contact with the skin, eyes, or mouth.

Because of these products' potential for abuse, educators need to be good role models when using them, and to make appropriate opportunities to discuss good respiratory health and disease prevention.

Your readers can obtain more information and resources for an inhalant-prevention program in their school or community by contacting the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition at (800) 269-4237.

Isabel Burk
Regional Drug Education Coordinator
Regional Health Education Center
Yorktown Heights, N.Y.

Need for Remediation Is Ancient, Amenable Problem

To the Editor:

Your article on remedial classes in universities examines an ancient problem (related story ).

I started teaching university classes in the mid-1950's and I can certainly assure you that at that time, and every year since, I have heard some august professor, or some learned academic report, complain about the unpreparedness of the students they are getting in high school these days, or in college these days, or in graduate school these days.

These complainers apparently never learned two important facts:

Students' academic abilities and students' previous learning follow the normal distribution curve. Some students are excellent and some are not so good. That is just the way students came 40 years ago, and the way they come today. Furthermore, that is the way they will come next year and the year after that.

I could lament that these complaining academics need a "remedial" course in beginning statistics or educational psychology, but I won't.

The second point I would like to make is one we often try to make in education courses. But then again, most university professors would not be caught dead in an education course. The point is this: The job of any teacher is simply to take any student and move him or her ahead a notch. That is all Albert Einstein did in his seminars on theoretical physics, and all any 1st-grade teacher does with a 6-year-old.

I won't deny that every teacher wants well-prepared, bright, eager students. But complaints about unprepared students (those who need "remedial" help) come at any level. Look at some 1st-grade teachers who complain about the poor quality of home background or the poor teaching in kindergarten. I suspect that Einstein probably complained about some of the university-graduate dolts who couldn't successfully do even the fundamental mathematics of his theory of relativity.

So let the Florida legislature, or the California State University board of trustees, or authors of learned reports complain all they wish when they find the normal distribution curve exists, but let the administrators and professors follow the old education principle: Take your students wherever they are and move them ahead a notch. It's hard work called teaching, but that is what society pays you for.

To call any course "remedial" because it doesn't meet some subjectively set standard or idealistic expectation is just to use a pejorative term.

Edward Fry
Laguna Beach, Calif.

Mr. Fry is a Rutgers University emeritus professor of education.

On Holding Different Groups To Different Standards

To the Editor:

Your story on San Francisco's Lowell High School (related story ), points out the folly in what has happened to schools. Holding different ethnic groups to different standards for admission is absurd.

Would this be a problem for a high school basketball or football team? Would a school hold different ethnic groups to different standards for a spot on the team? Can anyone imagine O.J. Simpson (a San Francisco-area high school alumnus) being told he would not be on the high school football team because it had too many blacks and not enough Asians?

Isn't it interesting that schools want diversity in academics, but want to present the best when it comes to athletics? Why not simply accept the best? Holding different ethnic groups to different standards for admission is a slap in the face because it covertly says certain groups can't measure up. What a terrible message to send to the community.

"I want to be accepted on merit and not on the basis of the bubbles I check on a sheet," states a student in your story who has black, American Indian, Irish, English, and Scottish blood. What a novel idea!

It is obvious that the San Francisco community wants more schools like Lowell. It is just as obvious that more San Francisco schools should emulate the qualities of Lowell.

Barry Koestler
Dayton Public Schools
Dayton, Ohio

N.Y.C.'s 'Talent Unlimited' Led to Enrollment Options

To the Editor:

I am writing with regard to the article "Thinking Small" (related story), in which you refer to the fact that Julia Richman High School, while "technically open to students in its zone and to Manhattan residents ... included students from Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx." And, further, that "the school took in students to keep up its enrollment and preserve teaching positions, as suggested by Stephen Phillips, the superintendent of alternative high schools."

The students from the four boroughs other than Manhattan were accepted to the Talent Unlimited and nursing programs by the board of education for the purpose of enabling students citywide to participate in these two highly successful programs.

It was the success of Talent Unlimited, culminating in its participants' performance for the President of the United States, that encouraged the board to establish Talent Unlimited High School in the Julia Richman building. To state otherwise is to imply that the board does not act out of concern for the students and for high-quality education, but only when pressured to do so.

Arlene Lieberman
Brooklyn, N.Y

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