Letters To the Editor
Michigan Partnership's Goal Is 'New Public Schools'
To the Editor:
The Michigan Partnership for New Education and the professional-development schools it has nurtured over the last five years have been much more successful than your readers would realize from the article that appeared in the Dec. 6, 1995, issue ("Michigan Partnership To Promote Charter Schools").
Professional-development schools, which partner universities and public schools to improve teaching and learning, have been effective in their goal of bridging the gap between practice and theory and have prepared a great number of teachers for tomorrow's schools. One measure of proof is that funders have extended the original five-year plan for creating such schools at least another year to allow these exemplary schools to continue. It is then up to the districts and universities, as was originally proposed, to continue these valuable experiences.
The original concept in creating these alliances was not "a network of 300 teacher training centers," as your article states, but a critical mass of schools to prepare teachers in the state in a working-learning environment that would enhance teachers' professional development and universities' understanding of classroom needs.
These schools have been important in public education in Michigan and are not faltering in their ability to continue in their role as one model of reform.
Your article was not well researched. Only one critic was quoted, while broad and sweeping indictments were made and attributed only to "some" people. Those directly involved in professional-development schools could offer some direct observations that would contradict those perceptions. We invite anyone to visit one of our professional-development schools, or to contact the partnership directly for more substantive information about our mission and our real goals.
The partnership's mission--to be a catalyst for education reform--has not changed. We simply have added to the specific ways in which we believe that mission may be accomplished, and believe charter schools are another mechanism to open up the public education system to changes and reforms that will make learning more effective for children.
We believe strongly that our nation's accomplishments have come about because of strong public schools, not in spite of weak ones. The organization's purpose is to effect change within this system where change needs to occur--in those schools and districts that are not able or willing to keep pace in meeting the different needs of today's children. We know children by the thousands are falling through the cracks of our current educational system. Reform is imperative.
Our goal at the partnership is simply to help create innovative new public schools.
President and Chief Executive Officer
Michigan Partnership for New Education
East Lansing, Mich.
Are Teacher Honors Worth Extracurricular Price?
To the Editor:
I enjoyed your recent article on the "scorn and ridicule" teachers who win honors sometimes receive from their less honorable cohorts ("What Price Success?," Nov. 22, 1995). While the behavior you chronicled was indeed petty and discouraging, your article failed to mention one aspect of the process that may account for some of the lack of enthusiasm: Teachers who win honors usually do so by spending a tremendous amount of time filling out forms and writing essays. While the nominations for honors are presumably based on the work the teachers do with their students and in their schools, the awards themselves are based primarily on extracurricular horn-blowing.
A case in point: My wife, an excellent, even beloved, science teacher and a spark plug for the entire school, was nominated to be Idaho Teacher of the Year by our principal. That meant that he dumped on her desk a thick packet of forms and requirements for her to fill out. Being moderately ambitious for prestige, Irene began the paperwork, but after a few hours realized the weirdness of the procedure. Applying for this "honor" would take time away from her students and would test her ability to praise herself more than it would celebrate a good teacher for her years of service. "I already have a full-time job," she told me as she tossed the forms into the wastebasket.
Our district has several teachers who are widely praised and nationally honored. More than one of them are felt to be primarily interested in their own status and are notorious for their unwillingness to share their knowledge or time with teachers in their own buildings.
You might want to look more closely at what is actually being rewarded with these "honors."
Michael P. Healy
ADD Paradigm Not Focused On Lives of Whole Children
To the Editor:
I read with interest Colleen Russell's Dec. 6, 1995, letter ("Mother of ADD Sufferer Knows Syndrome's Reality") in response to my recent Commentary ("ADD as a Social Invention," Oct. 18, 1995) and wish to respond to some of her comments.
Ms. Russell argues for a neurological (and not social) basis for ADD by citing evidence that "adults with ADD utilize glucose ... at a lesser rate than adults without it." I assume that she's referring at least in part to the 1991 Zametkin study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine. What she didn't point out, however, was that the Zametkin research team failed to replicate the study with teenagers (see Archives of General Psychiatry, 50(5), 1993, pp. 333-340), suggesting at the very least that the evidence is conflicting.
Researchers now seem intent on finding brain abnormalities, genetic defects, or neurotransmitter problems in the so-called attention-deficit disorder. What researchers may be finding (when and if they do find something) may be much more like differences than disorders. This would be quite compatible with my contention that kids who think and attend in different ways from the average worksheet-successful student may be saddled with a deficit label to shore up societal norms concerning the importance of listening to teacher's voice and circling the right answer. We can indeed find neurological reasons to rationalize our social judgments.
I don't question the experiences Ms. Russell has had with children (her own and others), and I respect her expertise in this area. My own years in special education convinced me that some children have tremendous difficulties paying attention to what we want them to pay attention to or behaving in ways we want them to behave. My quarrel is with a rigid disease-based paradigm that attempts to explain in a highly mechanistic way why this occurs. The ADD paradigm simply doesn't seem to account very well for the lives of whole children.
Ms. Russell writes that she agrees that "those with the ADD syndrome have much to contribute to society with their intuitiveness, enthusiasm, creativity, and usually high intelligence." If she will look into the standard ADD literature, however, she'll realize that there is virtually no extant literature on the strengths, talents, and/or abilities of children who are labeled ADD. This suggests to me that ADD researchers are stuck in a disease model that obscures their ability to see the tremendous vitality and creativity that many of these kids have.
Finally, I am quite amazed at Ms. Russell's interpretation of "dynamic" and "exciting" learning environments as "a lot of noise--kids talking all at once, mechanical noise ... noise from other kids in the hall." My sense of these words has more to do with internal factors, such as a child's wonder or awe at a subject, his or her enthusiasm during a lesson, or level of absorption or engagement in a project. It's rather funny, and terribly sad, that when kids labeled ADD actually show some of this engagement, they are accused of "hyperfocus" and get another X marked on their ADD warning-signs checklist.
A 'Sesame Street' Memory Recalls the Power of TV
To the Editor;
Your news story on changes in "Sesame Street" ("'Sesame Street' Incorporates Theories on Cognition," Dec. 6, 1995), in mentioning more celebrity cameo appearances for this year's programs, had me remembering a very charming moment of my then 5-year-old's childhood. On a short trip to Manhattan, I took Geoffrey to lunch with me at the Russian Tea Room, promising something about the Christmas "look."
We were seated and right away started on the menus. I told Geoffrey about bleenies, which he agreed to try, but I noticed him staring over my shoulder. I looked further at the menu's borscht choices and didn't really seriously hear Geoffrey ask, "Dad, can I go over and say hello to Van Cliburn?" and responded with a half-hearted, "Sure."
But when I looked up again he was gone from his seat and his question and my "sure" sank in. I started a slow turn to the left and a few tables over he was sitting across Mr. Cliburn's lap--chatting away with him.
In a few minutes he returned, sat himself down again and said hello to the waiter. But I couldn't contain myself--I had to ask, "Wait a minute, Geoffrey, how do you come to know Van Cliburn?"
"Come on Dad, he's on 'Sesame Street' all the time."
May all celebrities who share their talent with children in cameo appearances on "Sesame Street" (or anywhere) become rich beyond their wildest dreams.
Oglala Lakota College
State Open-Enrollment Plans Differ, But Are Numerous
To the Editor:
You are in error in stating that "a few states, such as Minnesota and Massachusetts, have enacted programs that allow parents to choose among public schools statewide. But those are the exceptions. Most states are seeing the enrollment barriers between districts become stronger" ("Districts Erect Barriers to 'Out of Zone' Students," Dec. 6, 1995).
Actually, at least 13 states had adopted some form of choice as of mid-1994, when I researched the question for a Phi Delta Kappa book, How America Views Its Schools. Massachusetts wasn't one of them, having rescinded its 1990 legislation to allow districts the choice option.
In 1994, open-enrollment states were Arizona (1994 special session), Arkansas (1989), Colorado (1994), Idaho (1990), Iowa (1989, refined in 1991), Minnesota (1988, refined in 1990), Nebraska (1989, refined in 1990 and 1991), North Dakota (1993, limited plan), Ohio (1989, refined in 1991), Oregon (1991), Tennessee (1992, but choice practiced for second decade), Utah (1990, refined in 1992), Washington (1990).
Chris Pipho of the Education Commission of the States supplied this information and added: "Mandated state open-enrollment plans differ in many respects from state to state--in application deadlines, processing of applicants, capacity definition, handling of handicapped students, discipline concerns as a condition of enrollment, desegregation/racial background issues, transportation issues, support for low-income families, athletic eligibility and recruiting, and the like."
Persons desiring more complete descriptions of state activity and in-depth discussions of open-enrollment and voucher concepts can obtain a publication titled A National Review of Open Enrollment Choice: Debate and Description, published in July 1993 by the Morrison Institute, School of Public Affairs, Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz.. Write to Louann Bierlein, assistant director of the institute.
Also, Peter Cookson's excellent book School Choice (New Haven and London: Yale University Press) includes an appendix summarizing the status of parental-choice plans in all the states, current through June 1993.
Daytona Beach Shores, Fla.
The writer is a contributing editor of Phi Delta Kappan.