Published Online: March 26, 1997

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California Math Battles: Looking for Balance

To the Editor:

I am a subject of your recent front-page article titled "Facing Deadline, California Is Locked in Battle Over How To Teach Math" (March 12, 1997) and am correctly labeled therein as "anti-reform." But I wish to make it perfectly clear that I did not enter and persist in this fray in order to prevent students from receiving "innovations such as conceptual understanding, mental computation and estimation, and problem-solving." I even don't mind a little careful use of cooperative work and calculators and computers at appropriate times.

But I can't imagine why anyone would think that I or my colleagues would put so much effort into a drive to prevent students from understanding mathematics. Believe me, had I seen any evidence that the extreme reform programs actually produced these desirable results, I'd have happily given this up long ago.

All I want is what I believe every member of the framework committee wants--a balanced, workable mathematics program for the children of this state. We're a spirited bunch, and we'll wrangle a lot about just where the fulcrum of that balance lies. But I have every hope that this educational wrangling will be productive.

If we work hard enough, we'll see something wonderful come from this state.

Martha Schwartz
San Pedro, Calif.

Revealing Applicants' Names Drives Away Top Prospects

To the Editor:

As a search consultant who helps boards of education find superintendents to fill existing vacancies, I found your article titled "In Public Glare, Top Job Candidates Feel Burned" (March 5, 1997) extremely timely and interesting. I concur with those who were quoted as saying that the hiring process has become more open in recent years and that, by opening up the process, we make public what was formerly private knowledge--most importantly the names of applicants.

But while I applaud recent changes in the hiring process, I am one consultant who tells local boards I will not work with them if they want to publicize any applicants' names other than the top two or three finalists. Further, the process I recommend using is one in which only the board interviews candidates until a final slate of three has been determined. Then the process is opened to the various stakeholder groups. I do this for two reasons.

A search coordinator can best serve a board if potential applicants feel confident in applying to a search he or she is coordinating. If the coordinator's reputation is such that searches with which he has been affiliated typically expose applicants' names prior to their becoming finalists, potential applicants will think twice about applying. When this happens, a board may end up losing many of the best candidates available. This is because the most sought-after candidates are usually people whose services are highly coveted by their own districts.

Credibility with one's board is critical for every superintendent. It can be severely damaged when news that the superintendent is considering another position gets out. I remind every board I work with that only one individual will get the job--all the others will remain in their present positions and districts.

I could tell horror stories about boards that have violated this trust. In almost all cases, they are in the districts that turn over superintendents every two or three years. In fact, I would counsel superintendent candidates not to apply to boards that make a practice of releasing applicants' names. That is usually a good indication of how they will deal with other issues.

We hear a constant lament about the lack of high-quality superintendents; yet some districts, through their hiring processes, send messages that drive away superior candidates.

Fortunately, the sunshine laws in New York state still allow local boards to deal with personnel matters--including hiring their superintendents--in executive session. Those that exercise this right and treat all applicants humanely usually end up with a prize.

William D. Silky
Professor of Education
State University of New York at Oswego
Syracuse, N.Y.

Unlike Its Governor, Maine Supports First Charter

To the Editor:

Your article on the Maine School of Science and Mathematics focuses on the negative opinions that Gov. Angus S. King Jr. and his press secretary have of a school neither has even visited ("Maine Lawmakers Mull Phasing Out State Aid to 2-Year-Old Magnet," March 5, 1997). Conspicuously absent from your account is any input from the students, their parents, and teachers.

Fortunately, the appropriations committee of the Maine legislature hears the voice of the people. It has reversed the governor's death sentence for the school in a life-sustaining 11-2 vote. Citizens of Maine have shown overwhelming support for their first charter school.

Robert Brennan
South Freeport, Maine

Lack of Religious Doctrine Still Home-Schooling Spur

To the Editor:

The "Issues Page" regarding Home Schooling on your Web site states that "a new breed of home-schooler is emerging ..., motivated not by religious doctrine but by very real concerns such as school violence, poor academic quality, and peer pressure."

Not to denigrate "school violence, poor academic quality, and peer pressure," but religious doctrine or lack thereof is a very real concern also. It may surprise you to know that it is a real concern to many people of various faiths and religions, not just Christians. It may also surprise you that the lack of religious doctrine (the mere mention of which seems to send public educators scurrying to hide) is a concern of many parents who still send their children to public school.

James Drummond
Frederick, Md.

A Student-Teacher Defends 'Self-Esteem' Awareness

To the Editor:

As a teacher-in-training and a black woman, I was disturbed by Shelby Steele's Commentary on the "ebonics" controversy ("Indoctrination Isn't Teaching," Jan. 29, 1997).

It saddened me that someone of Mr. Steele's academic background did not realize that some black students suffer under the current but out-dated curricula to which some public school systems subject their students. To answer his question, "Why turn to something so trivial as 'ebonics' as a way of perpetuating self-esteem?" I can say this: Black students no longer need to feel incompetent because of language they have picked up in an environment comfortable to them.

I do not advocate teachers' enrolling in a workshop to learn ebonics or the federal government spending tax dollars to fund an ebonics class. But I do believe that black students need not be ridiculed or denigrated for speaking what has now been labeled "ebonics." What these students need to be taught is when and how to use proper English--how to write a clear and concise essay, for example. If they succeed in mastering this, and educators succeed in teaching them, then they will know that there is a right time and place for "ebonics".

Educators can no longer afford to be apathetic and falsely idealistic in their views of education and educating. The previous generation's ideas of integration, though hopeful, were misguided when it comes to teaching black and white together. How could we expect to educate both equally while hatred and racism were running rampant in the public schools? All students--black and white--have been affected by the racism, however subtle, espoused by some teachers and some teaching materials.

One race need not be made to feel superior to another to educate all students. They should be exposed to one another's varying cultural aspects and thereby be allowed to learn the value of differences.

Self-esteem is not a part of ebonics. Being human comes before being black or white. Knowing one's human worth, which includes one's ethnic background, contributes to self-esteem. This should be used to develop students' sense of self--not ebonics.

Stephanie E. Holmes
Hampton, Va.

Ed School Critic Decries 'Reckless Experimentation'

To the Editor:

Poor Frank Murray. In the very same issue in which his essay "Ed Schools Are the Key to Reform" appears (Commentary, March 5, 1997), another article describes a report indicating that education schools are warehousing thousands of young men and women as teacher material for which no jobs will be available ("Report Finds Mismatch in Teacher Supply and Demand," Teaching & Learning, March 5, 1997).

The truth is that history has long since passed by the never very productive Germanic promise that teacher seminaries and a professionalization of the teaching game could provide the nation with a reliable set of agents to indoctrinate children as the state saw fit. Mr. Murray correctly concludes that accreditation, professional associations, standardized tests, licenses, credentials, and advanced degrees have no credibility outside the "profession," or, for that matter, inside it. Some profession.

If this admission weren't damning enough, Mr. Murray also correctly concludes that it is "difficult" to make a strong case for professional education owing to the embarrassing fact that "educational scholarship" does not agree on the theories of teaching and schooling. This after 100 years at the government trough, a virtual monopoly on the lives of children, and abundant reckless experimentation that has crippled millions of lives.

Enough, Mr. Murray. Education schools are the key to fat-cat jobs and illegitimate tampering with the growing-up time of children. Berating some straw creation of the faculty lounge called "natural teaching" and holding up scientific pedagogy in its stead cannot hide the fact that no compelling evidence has been offered that such a phantasm exists.

John Taylor Gatto
Oxford, N.Y.

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