Published Online: February 11, 1998

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Without Choice, Reforms Only Maintain the Status Quo

To the Editor:

David S. Seeley's Commentary ("The Best (Only?) Alternative To Vouchers," Jan. 21, 1998) demonstrates the negligence of the education establishment in addressing the fundamental problems inherent to public education. Although he correctly identifies the failed "solutions" offered by reformers following the publication of A Nation at Risk, he proceeds to prescribe similar reforms that will once again fail to produce authentic change.

Blind loyalty to public education has allowed generations of children to graduate without mastering basic skills. Reform after reform has failed to provide real change, and Mr. Seeley's prescriptions cannot work in a system that by design prohibits genuine systemic reform.

The only way in which real reform will occur in our public schools is through the introduction of competition. The bloated education bureaucracy's lack of accountability to the parents and students it purports to serve is innate in a compulsory, government-monopolized system.

If, as Mr. Seeley claims, "public education ... has developed a positive story to tell," then it should welcome the challenge of competing with other schools and see that as an opportunity to prove its responsiveness to the needs of our nation's children. Why isn't Mr. Seeley telling the positive story of public charter schools, which achieve their success through competitive innovations?

The reason public school advocates have mounted a "massive campaign against vouchers" and tuition tax credits is that they know school choice threatens their power over the nearly 90 percent of the nation's schoolchildren who attend public schools. Educational choice is the most potent remedy for improving our schools and disassembling the very un-American monopoly of education.

Across the nation, parents are fed up with the rhetoric and politics of reform and are demanding the freedom to choose the best education for their children. Until choice is implemented, public education reforms will serve only to sustain the status quo.

Matthew J. Brouillette
Mackinac Center for Public Policy
Midland, Mich.

Accrediting Group Threatens Teacher Education's Unity

To the Editor:

During my career in teacher education, I have split my time between institutions accredited by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education and non-NCATE schools, private and public. I have directed teacher education in five states. I think I understand NCATE, pro and con, and appreciate the strides it has made in the past several years regarding the validity and reliability of its accreditation process.

Based on my understanding of teacher education, however, I do not expect the Council of Independent Colleges' putative creation, the Teacher Education Accreditation Council, to be a constructive influence in our field ("Alternative Accrediting Organization Taking Form With Federal Assistance," Jan. 21, 1998).

Here are my reasons:

We have striven since the creation of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education to unify our profession. Unity is worth a great deal in a professional field. TEAC is a vehicle for divisiveness.

The claims of this new accrediting group regarding "outputs" will prove to be empty rhetoric. We are not close to producing affordable comprehensive assessment systems that will permit new teachers to be so evaluated. In the meantime, assuring reasonable "inputs" such as good student-faculty ratios, reasonable faculty loads, and appropriate governance procedures is a sound policy choice for accreditors.

Most ironic is the control of TEAC by presidents of member schools of the Council of Independent Colleges. Only a group of college presidents could endorse professional accreditation controlled by them. In our competitive higher education structure, presidents have to be pressured to provide adequate support for professional schools. Do foxes and chickens come to mind?

I believe that the Teacher Education Accreditation Council will be an escape from real standards, an empty seal of approval that every institution will receive if it pays its dues, a means of further confusing the public about what our profession sees as quality, and a cover for draining teacher education of resources at the central administration's pleasure while touting a school, college, or department of education's accrediting status.

Paul Shaker
Dean
School of Education and Human Development
California State University, Fresno
Fresno, Calif.

Focus on Rubric Scoring Misses Portfolio Benefits

To the Editor:

I feel I must respond to Peter Berger's Jan. 14, 1998, Commentary titled "Portfolio Folly." It is important to make the distinction between rubric scoring and keeping a portfolio. Mr. Berger's concerns are directed at the problems with scoring rubrics objectively. This can be difficult when scoring writing, but in science and social studies, it is very effective for scoring projects. Unfortunately, Mr. Berger misses many of the benefits of portfolios by focusing on his concerns with rubrics.

Portfolios provide a way for students to display the work they are proud of. When a student does this, quality becomes the focus, rather than quantity. To carry this a step further, students can lead parent-teacher conferences by showcasing their portfolios.

Portfolios also provide excellent school-to-work skills. My current position as a magnet coordinator was secured by submitting a portfolio with my resume. That offered me a way to corroborate the skills information I outlined in my resume. Some districts are even beginning to evaluate teachers and administrators based on their portfolios.

Keeping portfolios is one of many ways teachers can provide their students an alternative form of assessment. Tests are often biased and don't give a comprehensive picture of a student's performance. Portfolios, along with other alternative assessments, allow for a more definitive judgment of strengths and weaknesses.

Moreover, portfolios are a unique expression of an individual. There is no single correct way to build one. Students put in the work they feel is relevant or of high quality, and this will be different for everyone.

Our current education model is not benefiting all students. We need to search continually for improvement. Sometimes new ideas are going to be effective, and other times they will prove to be ineffective. Like a surgeon who is always looking for the best technique, educators must also be open to new paradigms.

Gregory Pluim
Magnet Coordinator
North Fork Elementary
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Quality Note: Not Everything That Counts Can Be Counted

To the Editor:

While I commend you for attempting to provide information to educators, policymakers, and the general public about the quality of public education in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, count me among those who express some concern over the quality of Quality Counts '98, Jan. 8, 1998.

In the fine print of the report, you note that "the grades on school climate are not comparable from one year to the next because the data sources have changed." This statement of caution, however, is really needed for almost all of the graded indicators. Under "Standards and Assessment," for example, you have added five measurements since the 1997 report, Jan. 22, 1997, and have subsequently changed the weighting of each one. To assess "Teaching Quality," you dropped four measurements from 1997 and added eight others to the 1998 scale; again, on the ones that remain consistent, the weights differ. Finally, under "Allocation of Resources," the 1997 report uses three measurements for this indicator, while the 1998 report uses only one.

Given these changes to the measurements behind the state report cards, I find it careless on your part to list the grades from 1997 alongside those from 1998 as if to show progress or the lack thereof.

I realize you made use of what information was available, and I would assume you found it frustrating, as I often do, to be faced with incomplete or obsolete data. Nevertheless, to report on the "state of the states" based on data that span 1994 to 1997 is troubling, especially as these data of different years are combined into a single indicator. Furthermore, information from a subsample of students or teachers is used to represent conditions of an entire state: The amount of professional development for 8th grade math teachers is included while that of other teachers is ignored, and "School Climate" is based heavily on 8th grade data. In essence, the status of middle schools is unfairly influencing the grades you have assigned to the K-12 public education systems as a whole.

I am also concerned that you may have allowed whatever data are available to determine what measurements of the indicators are included, and therefore important. Kentucky's school climate grade is slightly lowered by the fact that Kentucky does not have charter school legislation. Perhaps due to the availability of the Center for Education Reform's report and your notion that charter schools are popular, you determined this measurement should be counted without taking into consideration other relevant legislation in each state.

Charter schools have not been an issue in Kentucky. To my knowledge, charter legislation has never been introduced. More than likely, this is because our strong school-based decisionmaking legislation has, as Commissioner Wilmer S. Cody often notes, already "chartered" our schools. Ninety-three percent (1,184) of Kentucky's eligible schools have taken advantage of school-based decisionmaking, which allows parents and teachers to be involved in virtually all aspects of their school's management, including budgeting, curriculum, hiring, and professional development, just to name a few.

Had you chosen to use this information as one of the indicators for school autonomy (as you did in 1997, though the figure quoted was obsolete) or as a measure of parent participation, it is easy to see how Kentucky's school climate grade would improve.

I challenge you to first seriously explore the relevant and research-based indicators of school quality and then contribute in some way to the daunting task of collecting and reporting such information in a timely manner. And please keep in mind this axiom of Albert Einstein: "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."

William E. White II
Research Director
Kentucky Department of Education
Frankfort, Ky.

You Can't Judge a State By a City's Problems

To the Editor:

When your Quality Counts '98 supplement arrived (Jan. 8, 1998), I eagerly turned to see how Wisconsin fared, only to be dismayed that the entire three-page article focused on the Milwaukee public schools.

Few would deny that Milwaukee's schools have great needs, but as a Wisconsin educator for 17 years--both as a teacher and as an administrator--I can assure you, Milwaukee is not representative of the whole state. It would have been much more informative for me if the report had examined the state of education in all of Wisconsin.

Kathryn Roe
Rosendale, Wis.

Education Faculty in Schools: 'What a Fascinating Concept'

To the Editor:

I have just finished reading the Commentary "Where We Are From" in your Jan. 21, 1998, issue. What a fascinating concept, higher education faculty working closely with K-12 teachers! It seems so simple, not to mention logical. Why isn't it happening?

I have often wondered why college and university education professors seldom are licensed or certified to teach in the public schools they serve. I often see medical schools where the teaching faculty are certified to practice medicine, law schools where the teaching faculty have passed state bar exams, but I meet few college of education faculty who are licensed and endorsed to teach in public schools. What am I missing?

Gary Kidd
Director of Information and Technology Services
Littleton School District
Littleton, Colo.

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