Published Online: March 5, 1997

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On Single-Sex Science: Ideals and Complications

To the Editor:

Jeffrey Weld asserts that girls learn differently from boys partly because of biological differences ("Separate Sex Science Shortchanges Students,"Commentary, Feb. 5, 1997). As a result, he says, girls need to be taught with greater emphasis on cooperative learning instead of the individual, competitive study which boys prefer.

I am at a loss to understand, however, how he can also insist that schools can emphasize cooperative learning without harming boys, whom Mr. Weld asserts have a deep-seated, and perhaps biologically based, need to learn competitively.

Marc D. Stern
Attorney
Clifton, N.J.

To the Editor:

Jeffrey Weld's Commentary, which suggests the need to change the way science and math curricula are taught and to work with teachers regarding behavioral issues, is valid. The suggestions of moving science and math curricula forward to encompass less competition, more emphasis on cooperative work, and increasing use of real-life applications are excellent. Not only will they benefit student learning, but they will better prepare all students for actual experience in the workplace. Such changes would not only benefit young women, but also a number of students from various cultures. Certainly moving toward bias-free curricula and instruction is the ideal.

I was dismayed, however, to read Mr. Weld's assertion that "segregating students on the basis of sex in order to close this chasm is a simplistic and dangerous Band-Aid approach." Since the late 1700s, single-gender independent and private schools have been providing excellent and successful instruction for young women in all curricular areas, including math and science. Students in girls' schools consistently take more math and science courses, are more likely to declare a college major in math or science-related areas, report after graduation that they feel more self-confident, more able to meet the demands of college (primarily coed colleges are chosen by single-gender school graduates), and more able to balance the demands of career and family than their peers.

Single-gender classes for young women in middle and high school grades offer an opportunity for them to receive the type of instruction best suited to their needs. Many coeducational settings have not yet moved forward in the areas of multiple teaching styles and approaches which engage and encourage young women.

Perhaps in some future time, Mr. Weld's ideal situation will be met, and the need for single-gender learning opportunities may come to an end. However, taking Doreen Kimura's research to heart that there are inherent differences in the way men and women solve intellectual problems might lead to continuation of single-gender instruction for both boys and girls, so that in the middle and high school years each student may receive instruction which is focused to meet his or her needs.

K. Michele Clarke
Head of School
Convent of the Visitation School
Mendota Heights, Minn.

Poor Taste Shown In Drug-Test Slang

To the Editor:

I am disappointed with the word choice you used to describe the order for a urine sample in "Up in Smoke" ("Up in Smoke," Jan. 29, 1997). It is especially surprising in this era of political correctness, let alone the poor taste shown.

This detracted from an otherwise well-written and interesting article.

Kathryn Brunoehler
Holy Cross School
Mendota, Ill.

Rebuild K-12 Education, Reduce Higher Education

To the Editor:

We have seen the foundations of the bridge to the future ("Clinton Gives Top Billing to Education Plan," Feb. 12, 1997). President Clinton is focused on his "new reality." Except it is reminiscent of Roman times. Give them circuses and bread. Translation? Give them a show, promises that cannot be kept, and lull them with tax breaks.

Virtually every national survey points out categorically that Americans want better education for their children, for themselves, and for the country. So let's jump on that bandwagon. Let's say we are building a bridge to the future and the girders are our educational infrastructure.

But let's give Mr. Clinton the benefit of the doubt. Let's say he does want to do something about education. Well then--let's do it.

Unfortunately, the president has it backwards. We don't have to water down the first two years of higher education to grades 13 and 14. The first two years of college should not be more of the same. College is not an add-on to high school.

What is really needed is an entirely restructured, reformed, properly financed K-12 system. Put the spotlight there, Mr. President.

My friends and colleagues in higher education are going to hate me for this, but I suggest we reduce our national higher education budget and invest instead more heartily in our K-12 system. That's were the problem is, and we know how to correct it. It's neither magical nor mysterious. Thousands of schools have already done so; hundreds of successful models exist. Let's rebuild K-12 education.

Luckily, the president knows intuitively that should be our main target. He has begun to speak out on the issues of national standards, academic rigor, and a true renaissance of learning in our schools.

Let me go one step further. Not everyone has to go to college. But every single American should be guaranteed a first-class high school education. If they are provided a solid high school education, well-prepared millions will come to our colleges and universities. And they will succeed, for they will have a solid foundation upon which to build.

Gustavo A. Mellander
Dean
Graduate School of Education
George Mason University
Fairfax, Va.

New Milwaukee Choice Study Misread by Commentator

To the Editor:

Bruce Fuller of the University of California, Berkeley, is quoted in a recent article as saying that the new Princeton University study of the Milwaukee school choice program "is definitely a corrective on the grand claims that Paul Peterson [of Harvard University] and Jay Greene [of the University of Houston] were making last fall" ("Math Gains Noted for Students in Voucher Program," Feb. 19, 1997).

Mr. Fuller apparently has not read the Princeton study, authored by Cecilia Rouse, who conducted a secondary analysis of data released in early 1996 by the Milwaukee program's initial evaluator, John Witte of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Nor, perhaps, has he read the Peterson-Greene study and subsequent papers from Mr. Witte and Messrs. Peterson and Greene.

A reader of Ms. Rouse will find that: She agrees with Messrs. Peterson and Greene that Mr. Witte used the wrong control group to measure whether academic achievement had occurred among choice students; she finds strong math gains for choice students (as did Messrs. Peterson and Greene), even when she uses a more demanding threshold than they did; and she replicated the Peterson-Greene findings, something Mr. Witte (initially) said could not be done. Ms. Rouse does not agree that the Peterson-Greene reading findings achieve statistical significance; she has not yet reviewed their new data which indicate otherwise.

In 1995, Mr. Fuller, while at Harvard, edited a collection of articles on school choice which prominently featured Mr. Witte's findings, even though no secondary analysis had confirmed them, nor had they been subject to peer review. In contrast, Ms. Rouse's study, and that of Messrs. Peterson and Greene, will be submitted this year for peer review and scholarly publication.

George A. Mitchell
Milwaukee, Wis.

Quality and the Arts: More Readers React

To the Editor:

Your special supplement, Quality Counts: A Report Card on the Condition of Public Education in the 50 States, was extremely interesting and will have a significant impact on legislation and funding for education as states struggle to amend their weaknesses (Jan. 22, 1997). Because of that, I am concerned that music and the other arts were not included in any of the criteria statements either in the "Standards and Assessments" or "School Climate" sections.

In a front-page story in your Dec. 11, 1996, issue ("Districts Pare 'Electives' for Core Courses"), you outlined the jeopardy the arts, foreign language, and physical education are facing as schools once again focus all their attention on the "core curriculum" at the expense of a comprehensive education. The lack of any reference in your criteria to the arts being a part of "quality" in schools reinforces the position that the "core" is all that matters in providing a quality education for young people.

Education Week has published many excellent articles about the importance of the arts in a comprehensive education, and so their omission in the survey is especially puzzling. In the above-mentioned article, you quoted John Mahlmann, the executive director of the Music Educators National Conference, as saying: "Music is not the handmaiden of education. Since Plato's time, it has been critical to education. Only recently have we failed to realize the value it has for education."

I am afraid that the lack of any reference to the elective program or the arts in your survey will reinforce the lack of value currently placed on a comprehensive education as opposed to core education. Surely you do not believe that schools can offer a quality educational experience to young people without music and the other arts.

June M. Hinkley
President-elect
Music Educators National Conference
Reston, Va.

To the Editor:

I offer congratulations and thanks for your excellent Quality Counts supplement. But, at the same time, I must express profound disappointment at the near-total neglect of the arts in your report.

It would appear that you do not consider the arts among the core disciplines that should be a part of the education of every young American. If that is so, your views are sharply at odds with those of the late Ernest L. Boyer, John I. Goodlad, the Council for Basic Education, and virtually all of the most thoughtful and influential contributors to the current education-reform movement. Not only are the arts included in Goal 3 of the Goals 2000 Act, but they are recognized by business leaders and by the public as an essential component of a balanced education.

I hope that your omission was inadvertent and that the arts will be included appropriately in future discussions of the state of American education.

Paul Lehman
Professor
School of Music
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Mich.

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