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Recognizing Good Teaching Without Causing Resentment

To the Editor:

Your front-page article "What Price Success?" (Nov. 22, 1995) describes the experiences of teachers from different parts of the country who have received certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and other honors. As you point out, some of these teachers are resented by their colleagues, with this resentment often stemming, as you phrase it, from "the general lack of recognition for good teaching [which] creates so much frustration that teachers denigrate--rather than celebrate--those who stand out."

Based on 10 years of experience developing and implementing a program that does discriminate bad, mediocre, good, and exemplary teacher performance in a system with over 10,000 teachers, I both agree and disagree with your analysis.

Ten years ago, the Fairfax County, Va., school board began developing a program to evaluate the performance of our 10,000 teachers, reward the best, help the marginal, and terminate the ineffective. This program--called the Teacher Performance Evaluation Program, or TPEP--has now been in place for nine years. Performance-based 9 percent bonuses were paid to 2,100 exemplary teachers for three years, between 1989 and 1993, and smaller, variable bonuses were paid to a larger number of teachers in the 1994-95 school year; political and budgetary events resulted in the bonuses' being cut.

Nevertheless, TPEP identifies the best teachers, results in approximately 100 ineffective teachers leaving the system each year, and does much good for the morale of all teachers--especially the best.

The coming and going of performance-based pay in Fairfax County has been partially the result of the resentment you cite in your article, and the smaller of our two major teachers' unions has always opposed this program to differentiate performance (with or without differentiated pay).

Recognizing good teaching throughout our school system has not yet entirely eliminated resentment. It appears that it will take many years for the resentment to disappear entirely, even though TPEP reliably identifies and recognizes the best (as well as the worst). The experiences of our own Rick Wormeli, as described in your article, are testimony to this enduring resentment. Despite this, TPEP has demonstrated that teacher differentiation and recognition are possible and are beneficial to teachers and students.

Robert Spillane
Superintendent of Schools
Fairfax, Va.

To the Editor:

Your article "What Price Success?" was painful reading. Recent research shows that many bright and motivated students "dumb down" in order to avoid the opprobrium of their peers and be more accepted. This situation has been decried by educators throughout the country. However, the analogy here is inescapable--teachers who excel are also implicitly and explicitly discouraged from doing so by their colleagues. The opposition to merit pay by teacher associations is yet another aspect of this unfortunate situation.

The comment by the teacher that her certification is an affirmation of what she does well was particularly disheartening. Certification is simply verification of meeting minimal standards. It is an entry pass into the field of teaching. One becomes a good teacher over a period of time, always becoming (we would hope) better and better. Success is not determined by the issuance of a certificate.

We complain frequently that we are undervalued and not sufficiently appreciated. We are our worst enemies in this regard. Until we shed our "regression toward the mean" mindset, we will continue to be so regarded by the public.

Norman E. Bowers Evanston, Ill.

Taxpayer Vs. Bureaucrats: Keep Education Money Local

To the Editor:

Your discussion of education's role in the 1996 presidential election ("Education Seen a Litmus Issue in '96 Election," Nov. 29, 1995) is correct, but this debate will be taking place within the larger context of the proper role of the federal government in our system of federalism.

It is vital for anyone concerned with education, especially teachers, to understand that there is a vast difference between cuts in education and cuts in the U.S. Department of Education. Indeed, anyone who wants spending to increase on the former should be a staunch advocate of totally eliminating the latter.

Taxpayers today send money to the Internal Revenue Service, where the portion dedicated to education is then shuffled off to the U.S. Department of Education, where it is then sent to state capitals, where it is then sent to state departments of education, where it is then sent back to local communities, with a little more skimmed off at each level.

Every dollar sent to Washington for education comes back to a community as a quarter for the local schools.Wouldn't it make more sense simply to keep that dollar in the community and spend it on local schools?

Tell the federal bureaucrats to get a real job, and use the money that maintains their empire to boost the salaries of local teachers instead. After all, has the American education system improved in the 16 years since the U.S. Department of Education was created?

Kim Weissman
Longmeadow, Mass.

Newfoundland Vote Signals Warning on U.S. Vouchers

To the Editor:

Education Week somehow missed an important story. On Sept. 5, 1995, the Canadians in the province of Newfoundland voted 54 percent to 46 percent to end church control over elementary and secondary education. They voted to consolidate the church-controlled but tax-supported schools into a more efficient, less costly school system.

At present, there are separate Catholic, Pentecostal, Adventist, and Protestant (representing five denominations) schools.

The Toronto Globe and Mail praised the vote as an important step toward improving the province's "lamentable record of scholastic performance." The change will also save taxpayers about $31 million a year.

The Newfoundland vote is significant for Americans because sectarian special interests in the United States are pushing Congress and state legislatures to approve voucher plans for tax support of nonpublic schools. Here we have a provincewide electorate rejecting what amounts to a universal voucher plan after never having had any other system.

Edd Doerr
Executive Director
Americans for Religious Liberty
Silver Spring, Md.

Unorthodox-Science Insights: Defending Waldorf Education

To the Editor:

Without taking a position for or against Waldorf education, I feel that additional response to Dan Dugan's critique of Waldorf (Letters, Nov. 15, 1995) is necessary.

It is all too easy to dismiss the thinking that underlies science, while continuing to propagate our own current myths that pass for knowledge. Mr. Dugan himself has unfortunately pitted "normal" science against the innovative and unorthodox science that challenges itself through epistemological scrutiny, the latter hosting some of our deepest scientific insights. One needs to mention the research of Drs. Kolisko and Husemann in Europe as well as the U.S. engineer Ralph Marinelli's work on circulation, which provides astounding evidence of the ram (not pump) effect of the human heart. One can also discover that earlier in this century proprioception was largely regarded as an additional sense and many researchers today are finding evidence of sensing capacities for movement, balance, and even well-being as classifiable additions to the "standard" five senses.

As for Mr. Dugan's statement about light and refraction, no less a personage than Goethe formulated an even more compelling and contradictory color theory to Isaac Newton's. Indeed, white light can be divided into colors with a darkening agent (such as a prism) but itself is not composed of an additive color principle.

One could suggest that Mr. Dugan supplement his long shelf of Waldorf publications with additional research, not only normative, scientifically approved hypotheses, so as to "look into the subject more deeply."

Andrew Franck
Woodstock, N.Y.

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