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Attack on History Standards Misrepresents the Facts

To the Editor:

In "An Exercise in Government-Approved Truth," Robert G. Morrison ("The Politics of Standards," Special Commentary Report, June 5, 1996) claims that the revised voluntary national history standards advance a liberal political agenda by championing Goals 2000 and school-funding equalization. Mr. Morrison has misrepresented statements in the revised standards.

First, the reference to Goals 2000 occurs in the preface of the document. The purpose of this section is simply to explain the inception of the voluntary national history standards out of the bipartisan support for the Goals 2000 legislation. This hardly represents championing Goals 2000.

Second, the reference to school-funding equalization is not entirely accurate. The exact phrase says that one purpose of the national [history] standards is "to promote equity in the learning opportunities and resources to be provided all students in the nation's schools. ... Every child is entitled to ... equal access to excellence in the goals their teachers strive to help them achieve." While standards cannot solve all our problems in education, they can serve as an engine of change.

Finally, contrary to Mr. Morrison's assertion that the document promotes a "government-approved truth," the standards ask students to "consider multiple perspectives, compare and contrast differing sets of ideas, and propose alternative ways of resolving a problem or dilemma." The ultimate goal of the history standards is to educate a citizenry that can think independently and carefully about events in the past as well as current issues and problems.

Gary Nash Director National Center for History in the Schools University of California at Los Angeles Los Angeles, Calif.

Editor's Note: The National Center for History in the Schools developed the voluntary national history standards.

Digital Portfolios Enhance Community-Building Efforts

To the Editor:

A recent Commentary by Thomas Naylor and William Willimon ("Digitizing America's School Kids," May 22, 1996) claimed that computer technology, particularly digital portfolios and the Internet, are "top-down, high-tech fads" imposed by the powers that be and are thus incompatible with the idea of "a strong sense of community ... which binds effective schools."

Our research on digital portfolios in member schools of the Coalition of Essential Schools shows just the opposite. We have been working with six schools during the last two years in developing digital-portfolio systems, and, among other things, have found that schools can use this technology to regularly engage their students, teachers, parents, and communities about how students can fulfill a vision of what they can achieve.

The Commentary authors certainly echo our sentiments when they call for schools to take control locally, and to raise concerns about how information about students is used. But digital portfolios not only can be an "effective tool to help us make sense of all this information," but can be used--in conjunction with low-tech solutions such as civil discourse, respect for student abilities, and the sheer will to open the school doors to the public--to enhance the strong sense of community that is at the center of school reform.

Interested readers can contact the Annenberg Institute at (401) 863-3384 for additional information on our work. (I should note that the research is funded by IBM, though we approached the company with the idea of digital portfolios--not the other way around.)

David Niguidula Manager, Technology Applications Annenberg Institute for School Reform Brown University Providence, R.I.

Don't Send a Newsletter; Invite Media To School

To the Editor:

As a former educator and journalist, I think David Marshak's call for "truth in school commentary" is a good idea ("Require 'Truth in Commentary' Disclosures," Commentary, May 8, 1996). We would all benefit if editorial writers, columnists, and others who "make a living telling us how things in our society should be" were required to reveal their level of actual classroom experience before being allowed to present their riveting analysis of our educational system.

However, this policy would by no means put an end to all of the "ignorant hyperbole flying around in the media" about education, as Mr. Marshak asserts. It will continue to fly high until we realize that the media are not the only culprits--schools must take some of the blame as well.

If the media only hear about low test scores and teachers' strikes, can we blame them when they publicly question the quality of our educational system? The media are uninformed, in part, because the school systems have not taken the time to educate them. For example, superintendents and principals routinely tell me that they communicate with their communities and the media by sending a newsletter home with their students. Given that almost 80 percent of the population (including the media) does not have children in school, a newsletter is not the answer.

Mr. Marshak asks the media to "tell us when you were last in a school." I ask, "When was the last time Mr. Marshak or his colleagues invited a member of the media to visit their school?" I challenge all schools nationwide to invite their local media representatives this fall to a briefing to discuss the most pertinent issues facing the school in the coming year. While this is only one small step, it is an important first step toward bridging the gap between the perception and the reality of our education system.

Schools have a responsibility to educate more than the children in their classrooms. Communicating schools' issues to the media--the people who influence voters and taxpayers of all ages in the community--should be a priority.

Susan Silk Chicago, Ill.

All-Girl Math Classes Won't Solve the Problem

To The Editor:

Schools searching for ways to level the educational playing field by offering single-sex classes ("Number of Single-Sex Classes on the Rise, GAO Says," June 12, 1996) should be applauded for their effort. But unless educators change the larger culture and include boys in the equation, little progress will be made.

Girls are not the problem. The problem is a society that makes being a girl a disadvantage--a society that believes that adding all-girl math classes alone makes a school gender equitable. We will know that educators finally have gotten the message when we see schools taking steps to change boys' attitudes about girls and women. Truly gender-balanced schools are places where, when students are asked to draw a scientist, girls and boys are just as likely to draw a woman as a man.

Meg Milne Moulton Whitney Ransome Executive Directors National Coalition of Girls' Schools Concord, Mass.

Promote Bilingualism as 'Asset Driven' Approach

To the Editor:

I am deeply concerned about the reported proposal of the Los Angeles Unified School District to provide financial incentives to schools that speed the transition of students out of bilingual programs ("L.A. Mulls Rewards for Shifting Students Out of Bilingual Education," May 29, 1996). Quality bilingual-education programs should be given recognition not on the basis of exiting students, but on results while students participate in the program.

Bilingual education makes educational sense. Cognitive development must profit from the linguistic and cultural experiences children bring to the classroom in order for meaningful learning to take place.

Bilingual education does not promote separatism or cultural and linguistic isolation, as some detractors argue. On the contrary, students and their families repeatedly tell us that proficiency of English-language skills is an absolute necessity.

We must shift the emphasis and the energy in this debate to the quality of bilingual education instead of hammering on its defense. Bilingualism makes sense socially, it makes sense educationally, and it makes sense economically. Yet for too long it has been presented as a deficit, give-and-take model that would drive students limited in English away from their cultural resource.

We need to promote bilingualism as an asset-driven instructional approach. Its importance is not only for students who need it, but for all students who attend our schools. Bilingual education exposes students to the rich diversity of people in this country, and promotes the maintenance of democratic principles.

Let us promote unity in this country by recognizing linguistic and cultural diversity as an asset to be shared in our public institutions.

Carlos Azcoitia Director, School and Community Relations Chicago Public Schools Chicago, Ill.

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