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Public Agenda Report Uses Recycled Data

To the Editor:

Interpreting data is a tricky feat on a good day under perfect conditions. There is no shortage of horror stories among educators regarding data that are misused or misinterpreted--by the public, the media, and even the data providers.

To that end, I am troubled by a fact disclosed in your article on Public Agenda's latest re-port, "Given the Circumstances: Teachers Talk About Public Education Today" ("Teachers Agree Stress Needed on 'the Basics,' " Feb. 21, 1996).

Surveys of public school teachers for this report were conducted by Public Agenda in May 1995, and again during October through November 1995. But you report that "[d]ata from the general public were drawn from the two earlier Public Agenda surveys." The interviews for the first of those surveys, "First Things First: What Americans Expect from the Public Schools," were completed in August of 1994. Thus, "Given the Circumstances" compares teacher responses to general-public responses that were surveyed as much as 15 months earlier.

Such a comparison ignores a critical factor in any polling or survey process: the possible fluidity of public opinion. In Vermont, at least, much has changed in 15 months. For example, the annual school meetings and budget votes in our district have been considerably more positive this year, with increased public support voiced for the educational priorities of our schools.

I applaud Education Week for its thorough reporting; how and when data are obtained are as important as what those data may suggest. In the age of the sound bite, however, some media outlets will undoubtedly feature inflammatory headlines--"Teachers Out of Touch" is just one possibility--and more implication than information.

The credibility and clout built by Public Agenda in recent years comes with much responsibility. "Given the Circumstances" will generate significant attention and discussion that may affect the public's perception of teachers. With that in mind, I question the validity of making comparisons using recycled data. I hope that Public Agenda did not cut corners--ultimately--at the expense of our schools.

Jill Wylie
Director of Communication
Windham Southeast Supervisory Union
Brattleboro, Vt.

Seeking Advanced Placement Data From Small Schools

To the Editor:

I am doing research on strong Advanced Placement programs in smaller public schools. I would love to hear from your readers about any public high school that gives fewer than 450 AP tests a year, but whose senior class (my benchmark for the size of each school) is smaller than the number of AP tests given.

I can be reached at 29 Church Lane, Scarsdale, N.Y. 10583; telephone (212) 445-4884; e-mail jizhejay@aol.com.

Jay Matthews
Reporter, New York Bureau
The Washington Post
Scarsdale, N.Y.

Salt Lake City Teachers Can Aid Gay Students

To the Editor:

Congratulations to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Teachers Alliance in Salt Lake City, a group whose members put children first ("Firestorm in Wake of Salt Lake City Vote Continues To Grow," March 6, 1996).

When boards of education won't make the right decision for the right reasons--for the sake of the children--teachers will. The students in Salt Lake City are safer today because of the actions of educators in forming a group so that the Gay-Straight Alliance, a student-support group, can meet.

My only concern is whether the board of education or state legislature will be able to stop this group from helping children.

Susan Maurer
Neshanic Station, N.J.

Indiana Law Does Not Give Teachers Suspension Right

To the Editor:

Your article "New York Bills Give Teachers Power To Oust Pupils" (March 13, 1996) erroneously states that teachers in Indiana were given the "power to punish students by imposing suspensions." Indiana's law allows teachers to remove a student from the teacher's classroom for five class periods in middle or high school or one day in elementary school if the student is assigned regular or additional schoolwork to complete in another school setting.

In addition, Indiana teachers have the right, subject to rules of the governing body and the administrative staff, to remove a student for a period that does not exceed five school days from an education function supervised by the teacher.

The law, however, does not give teachers the right to legally suspend students from school.

Gail Pluta
Indiana Federation of Teachers
Indianapolis, Ind.

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