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California Math Framework Has Grassroots Support

To the Editor:

Your article "California Parents Target Math Frameworks" (April 24, 1996) just didn't add up.

There is significant grassroots support for the California mathematics framework. In every California school district where new textbooks are being adopted, parent volunteers on selection committees have supported the new approach to mathematics education based on the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics' curriculum and evaluation standards for school mathematics. Textbook adoption is an open process, with many opportunities for public input, and the new books are well received by all the stakeholders in education--parents, students, administrators, teachers, etc.

You fail to mention that there are also parents' groups that are actively supporting the mathematics framework and the textbook-adoption process. For example, you cite Palo Alto, Calif.'s HOLD group, but fail to mention Parents and Teachers for a Balanced Curriculum, which has 450 supporters in the very same city.

You write that most of the parents in groups which challenge the California mathematics framework and textbook adoption are "well educated" as well as "middleclass and affluent professionals, including engineers and scientists." I question what you are basing those conclusions on. You failed to mention that there are probably many more professionals who are strongly supportive of mathematics literacy, including professors from prestigious schools such as Stanford University and the University of California, scientists, software engineers, and thousands of members among the 13,000strong California Mathematics Council.

Thank you for covering mathematics-education issues in the state. We hope the next article will include a more balanced view of the other side of this story.

Victor Cary
Director
California Alliance for Mathematics and Science
Oakland, Calif.

Essay on Grade Inflation Draws Heated Responses

To the Editor:

As a veteran teacher and administrator with 22 years' experience in a variety of schools, I was appalled at the sensationalism in Gregory J. Cizek's Commentary ("There's No Such Thing as Grade Inflation," April 17, 1996). Several of his statements are surprisingly careless coming from a professor of educational research and measurement.

First of all, Mr. Cizek seems to have a limited understanding of the multiple meanings of "inflation," using an economic definition in an educational context and building his case upon that error. In addition, he states at one point that "students rightfully assume--like nearly everyone else--that their A's and B's mean that they have successfully mastered rigorous academic work"; but on the same page he contradicts himself by saying that "[s]tudents have often come to see grades and real learning as dissociated."

Furthermore, statements such as "an A student who has mastered fractions would usually not be downgraded for being pessimistic, silent during discussions, or 'coasting'" and "[parents] might not readily comprehend the logic of giving Johnny an A in reading for keeping his desk tidy" ignore the more typical practices of computing class participation and effort into the grade and trivialize teachers' attempts to comment on many aspects of learning.

Finally, it is disconcerting, to say the least, to find generalizations such as "[e]veryone has jumped on the A train" and "[e]verybody still gets A's" in the writing of someone whose field is research and measurement.

Grade inflation is certainly a serious problem (when it does in fact exist). Articles such as this, however, play into the hands of those who make wholesale, uninformed criticisms of American education and thus obscure the real issues.

Terry R. Clark
Director of Educational Resources
St. Peter's School
Philadelphia, Pa.

To the Editor:

Gregory J. Cizek's Commentary accurately pinpoints the deplorable, yet widespread practice of awarding high grades to undeserving students. His list of the educational people who are delinquent in this regard conspicuously omits the name of one group of key offenders, however. These miscreants are professors of education, such as Mr. Cizek.

Professors of education are notorious for the shameless manner in which they award would-be teachers the highest grade-point averages on campus. At the same time, the complexity of knowledge they expect their students to attain pales in comparison with that usually demanded in other university departments.

Professors of education thus set a distressingly bad example for future teachers as to how to be responsible in awarding grades. Nonetheless, like Mr. Cizek, they are prone to find many enemies of educational reform to single out for blame, while conveniently excusing themselves from any part of this misconduct.

Patrick Groff
Professor Emeritus
School of Teacher Education
San Diego State University
San Diego, Calif.

On 'Consequences of Choice': Some Readers Take Exception

To the Editor:

Willis D. Hawley's Commentary ("The Predictable Consequences of School Choice," April 10, 1996) is a graphic reminder of one of the major problems in public school education: the failure of teachers of teachers, like other institutional adult defenders of the status quo, to be part of the solution to improving public education and, instead, maintaining a position that is part of the problem.

Each and every criticism of choice in his Commentary is far more applicable to schools as we know them than to schools as they could and should be. Mr. Hawley has obviously spent far too little time in the schools of his own city and county and far too much time pandering to the people he has always taught and served: the adults who run public schools for their own benefit rather than the students'.

Most choice is being exercised in public schools. The demonstrable success of charter schools is a fine example of innovation for the betterment of students. In fact, these new forms of public schools produce far better results for the dollar than the traditional schools that are the employers of Mr. Hawley's students.

And if these new forms of public schools continue to evolve and flourish, then the need to rely on private schools (in contrast to private vendors of public education) will significantly diminish. Mr. Hawley would be well advised to scrap his current curriculum and replace it with one that allows his students to go into public education with the skills necessary to make learning happen.

John A. Cairns
Briggs & Moran, P.A.
Minneapolis, Minn.

To the Editor:

Dean Willis D. Hawley suggests that school choice eliminates the opportunity to define public welfare. What he really means is that school choice prevents teachers' unions, deans of colleges of education, and leftist politicians from continuing to enjoy a monopoly on the definition of public welfare.

As former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said: "In a socialist society, parents are to be seen and not heard."

Mack R. Hicks
St. Petersburg, Fla.

Fundamentalists' Nod to Religion Class a Surprise

To the Editor:

I enjoyed your article featuring classes on religion ("Old-Time Religion," On Assignment, March 27, 1996), but I was surprised by the appeal of these courses to fundamentalist students. It would be my expectation that the courses would appeal to liberal Christians.

My personal studies suggest that a study of Hebrew poetry undermines a literal reading of the Bible. Take, for example, its use of formulaic hyperbole for discussing the ineffable--and the original audience's understanding of this approach. Similarly, issues of translation and mistranslation (the possibility of "virgin" replacing "young girl" for example) or historical context (the eye of the needle is the night door to walled cities, a door so short a camel must go through on its knees) encourage a nonliteral reading of the Bible.

Are these important academic considerations ignored in these classes, or do the parents of conservative Christian students not object to them? If possible, I would very much like to know what your reporter encountered in regard to such issues.

Mary McFall Axelson
Moderator and Editor
The Edubiz Executive Panels
Steamboat Springs, Colo.

Phonics, Spelling Are Not Sum of Language Arts

To the Editor:

William Rieck's letter (April 10, 1996) in response to your previous article on reading instruction, "The Best of Both Worlds" (March 10, 1996), may mislead your readers, since he does not officially identify the "student research project" of which he writes, but does identify the "Spalding" method for teaching it employed. The Spalding method was used with basal readers in a research project conducted and funded by the Louisiana Department of Education a few years ago. However, I do not recall the same results Mr. Rieck reports. Could he be referring to the same project?

Considering the vital importance of the national "best of both worlds" debate, the fact that the Riggs Institute is on record as promoting use of "The Writing Road to Reading" (the "Spalding" method) as a skills component for use with whole-language programs, the fact that we placed a two-page position paper on that subject in a "Forum" piece in your newspaper as early as Feb. 28, 1990, and the fact that you have consistently failed to use our very detailed information in the many subsequent articles on the phonics-vs.-whole-language debate, we think it would be journalistically fair as well as of specific help to your readers if you would print this letter of protest and clarification.

Professor Rieck and others should be aware that not all "Spalding" proponents think that phonics and spelling are all there is to teaching the language arts, even though the California Reading Task Force is now on record as dubbing them "the missing pieces." You and your readers are invited to visit our web site at: http://www.riggsinst.org to find our current paper, "Phonetics, Spelling, Whole Language: How We Put Them Together for the Best of Both Worlds," reprinted from the University of Oregon college of education's 1994 monograph.

Myrna McCulloch
Director
The Riggs Institute

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