Supreme Court Has Ruled on Diversity as Sound Policy
To the Editor:
May school districts that are not under court order seek racial integration of their schools as a matter of sound educational policy? Your story discussing the issue leaves the misimpression that the question has not been addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court ("Without Court Orders, Schools Ponder How To Pursue Diversity," April 30, 1997).
In fact, in the landmark 1971 decision of Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, the court said the following: "School authorities ... might well conclude, for example, that in order to prepare students to live in a pluralistic society each school should have a prescribed ratio of Negro to white students reflecting the portion for the district as a whole. To do this as an educational policy is within the broad discretionary powers of school authorities."
Although this statement was dicta, not necessary to the holding of the case, the principle has been followed in many lower-court cases including cases where I have served as counsel for black children. In those cases, racial-balance policies voluntarily adopted by school boards have been upheld against challenges mounted by white parents and teachers' unions.
Certainly there may be complications, as in situations where parents complain that magnet schools to which their children have not gained entrance offer a superior education to that available in other public schools. But the basic principle declared in Swann--that schools are entitled to conclude that an integrated education helps all children prepare for life in an increasingly diverse nation and world--remains sound and is supported by a wealth of educational research.
I hope the day will not come when the courts become so activist and ideologically driven that they will override the rights of minority students and the judgment of educators and take us back to the racially isolated days of Plessy v. Ferguson.
William L. Taylor
Visiting Professor of Law
Stanford University Law School
Tirozzi Voucher Essay Draws Spirited Raft of Responses
To the Editor:
Gerald Tirozzi's critique of school choice is at odds with actual experience in Milwaukee, location of the longest-running U.S. school choice experiment ("Vouchers: A Questionable Answer to an Unasked Question," April 23, 1997).
Mr. Tirozzi states that "public schools accept all children, regardless of academic readiness ... socioeconomic status ... or special education needs." The Milwaukee public schools' school-selection guide lists 25 elementary schools as "schools and programs with eligibility requirements." Most are "gifted and talented" programs or "programs for academically talented." They follow the practice Mr. Tirozzi claims is prevalent in "a large majority of private and parochial schools," that is, they "use various tests and/or admissions procedures in selecting students." Separately, the Milwaukee school system assigns disruptive and special education students it wishes not to educate--between 2 percent and 3 percent of its overall student body--to privately owned and managed schools.
Mr. Tirozzi continues by asking whether "private and parochial schools" are "ready to make the same commitment [as public schools] to educating all students." About 96 percent of students at private schools in the Milwaukee parental-choice program are from racial or ethnic minority groups. These students are from families with average annual incomes of about $11,000. Most are from one-parent families, and many are receiving public assistance.
"[T]here is no credible evidence that public school students participating in voucher programs are achieving at higher levels than those in public schools," says Mr. Tirozzi. Three academic studies have addressed this issue. Only one finds no achievement gain. When subjected to a secondary analysis by (1) a scholar at Princeton University and (2) a research team at Harvard University and the University of Houston, neither could validate the finding of no gain, a finding yet to be offered for peer review. The Princeton and Harvard-Houston findings, both submitted for peer review, agree that large and statistically significant gains in math scores were caused by participating in school choice. The Harvard-Houston team also found statistically significant gains in reading scores.
After studying Milwaukee's private choice schools, an Education Week contributing writer observed that "the Milwaukee choice plan has ... deeply involved long-alienated parents in their children's schooling. This is of crucial importance, standing as a powerful retort to educators who have long suggested that parents burdened by social and economic problems could devote but minimal attention to educational issues." ("Equity Must Be the Yardstick," September 27, 1995). The feature article further noted: "If choice parents were largely invisible in their old public schools, they are visible everywhere in their new schools--in the corridors, in the office, and even in the classroom, where they sometimes work as aides."
A University of Wisconsin team studying the Milwaukee program found that "the overwhelming conclusion is that choice parents are significantly more involved in the education of their children. ... In all five years, parental satisfaction with choice schools increased significantly over satisfaction with prior public schools."
The only alternative for these parents, Mr. Tirozzi's alternative, is a public school system which has seen real spending rise for two decades yet last year ranked next-to-last among about 400 districts on state achievement exams.
George A. Mitchell
To the Editor:
Public schools are as essential for universal education as horse-drawn carriages are for transportation. Gerald Tirozzi's Commentary against vouchers is the modern-day equivalent of the coachman issuing dire and spurious warnings about the dangers of the automobile. Suppose all of the coachmen, blacksmiths, stable owners, and others working in the horse-powered-transportation business in 1900 demanded that the following "questions" be answered to their satisfaction before further automobile production could be continued:
What impact will cars have on reforming the horse-drawn-transportation industry? What criteria will be used for deciding who gets to buy a car? If car owners can't afford to operate their vehicles, could they return to using horses? What will be the quality of future cars? Will the spirit of competition cause horse transportation to improve? Will cars be restricted to the rich? What alternatives to horses exist besides cars? Will the rate of death and injury increase with more common car usage? Shouldn't all dirt roads be paved to first improve horse-powered transport for everyone?
With folks like Mr. Tirozzi asking irrelevant questions, we can expect GOOFS (government-owned, operated, and funded schools) to continue improving as rapidly as horse-drawn carriages have during the past century.
Education Policy Consultant
Excellence Through Choice in Education League (ExCEL)
Los Angeles, Calif.
To the Editor:
I am worried. Will Uncle Sam come after me?
You see, I figure that I received the most obvious school voucher ever given--my discharge from the U.S. Army. I was given 48 months of free education, a stipend, and even my books.
No one said, "Because you are a Roman Catholic you can't use government dollars to attend a Catholic university. You have to remember the law about separation of church and state."
Conversely, I was allowed to enroll at the University of Scranton, where the Jesuits did their best to teach me the value of God, my faith, and my country.
Is it really fair that tax dollars aided a Catholic to attend a religious school just because he was proud of his country and served in its defense?
If it was right then to allow me to go to a Catholic college supported by tax dollars, what is wrong with giving every child in the United States a voucher for school? Upon birth, a child would receive a voucher with his or her birth certificate.
On the other hand, if it was wrong to assist this Catholic through a Catholic-operated university, will the day come when someone in Washington says that I have to repay the taxpayers' money?
I am worried.
John F. Wheeland
To the Editor:
"What impact will vouchers have on reforming public education?" Gerald Tirozzi asks. His answer: "Almost no impact." Eight times as many children attend public schools as attend private and parochial schools. Public school children will not benefit from charters. Why tinker "on the fringe of reform"?
There is another answer. When Apple Computer introduced the Macintosh with its easy-to-use, graphical interface, the company had about 15 percent of the personal-computer market. Nonetheless, Microsoft rushed to create a graphical shell to make its own clumsy DOS operating system easier to use. That is why we have Windows 3.1 and Windows 95.
A small company had a better idea, the rest of the industry copied it, and the innovation proved itself and endured. There are countless examples of the impact of small organizations on larger enterprises--but not in education. Our method of improvement, instead, is to launch bandwagons. We send one off with much hoopla. We ride it awhile. When it becomes rickety and slow, as it always does, we enthusiastically launch another. More often than not, the new bandwagon will involve the reinvention of a wheel someone discovered long ago.
The bandwagon cycle is fruitless. It is akin in length and effectiveness to the former Soviet Union's famous five-year plans. We don't call our bandwagons five-year plans, but we might as well. That's about how long we can keep one creaking along.
On the other hand, where there is competition, one company, one school, or one school district can change the world. Why don't we give our many talented teachers and principals the chance to do exactly that?
Bayville Intermediate School
Science as Search for Truth: A Proposed 'Evolution' Policy
To the Editor:
Regarding "The Great Non-Problem of Evolution Vs. Creationism," by Evans Clinchy ("The Great Non-Problem of Evolution vs. Creationism," March 19, 1997): As a public school teacher in Canada, I, too, believe in the separation of church and state, and also believe there are ways to build bridges with the religious community without creating church-state conflicts.
Why do so many religious parents view public education as hostile to their faith and values? I would suggest that the teaching of evolution as fact is one of the major reasons.
The following suggested "origins of life" policy, which I first discovered in an article on the Internet titled "Should Evolution Be Immune From Critical Analysis in the Science Classroom?" is a realistic, practical, and legal way for school boards to achieve a win-win situation with regard to the teaching of evolution in the public schools. I should think even the American Civil Liberties Union would not find any portion of it objectionable:
"As no theory in science is immune from critical examination and evaluation, and recognizing that evolutionary theory is the only approved theory of origins that can be taught in the [province/state] science curriculum: Whenever evolutionary theory is taught, students and teachers are encouraged to discuss the scientific information that supports and questions evolution and its underlying assumptions, in order to promote the development of critical-thinking skills. This discussion would include only the scientific evidence/information for and against evolutionary theory, as it seeks to explain the origin of the universe and the diversity of life on our planet."
Meanwhile, the April 28, 1997, issue of Christianity Today features a cover article by Tom Woodward called "Meeting Darwin's Wager: How Biochemist Michael Behe Uses a Mousetrap To Challenge Evolutionary Theory." It's only a matter of time before Mr. Behe makes the covers of Time and Newsweek. Then there is the publication of University of California, Berkeley, law professor Phillip Johnson's newest offering, Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds, geared to high school and college students, slated for a July release.
If science is a search for truth, no scientific theory should be allowed to freeze into dogma, immune from critical examination and evaluation.
Kelowna, British Columbia
A High Schooler's Views on School Finance Equity
To the Editor:
I am a high school student in Meigs County, Ohio. Recently the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the system of funding for Ohio's schools is unconstitutional. Now our state legislature must devise a new way of funding. Some people believe it will take more taxes, while no one wants to raise taxes. My opinion is that they should switch the funding; that is, give the current poorest district the richest funding until it catches up, and vice versa.
But that would not be fair. So I believe that all funds should be thrown into one big lump sum and distributed evenly, and that a three-year statewide levy should be introduced to give extra money to the poorest districts.