Published Online: April 15, 1998



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In Single-Sex Education, Girls Thrive on Their Terms

To the Editor:

While the American Association of University Women's report on its revised position on single-sex education ("Report Casts Doubt on the Value of Single-Sex Schooling," March 18, 1998) actually acknowledges the benefits of single-sex schools, the headlines asserting that single-sex education is not the "silver bullet" are true; there is no silver bullet in education.

A child's development (physical, intellectual, social, and spiritual) is far too complex to yield to a single variable, even one so powerful as gender. Also, the measure of a good education extends far beyond the narrows of standardized tests. However, that doesn't mean that single-sex education doesn't serve girls better than a coed one.

Having taught and lived in excellent coed schools, I am persuaded that, when boys and girls come together, the social imperative prevails, whatever the strength of the academic setting. Life tends to be on the boys' terms, and girls tend to accommodate. In a girls' school, which is for and about them, girls' don't shift their focus to the boys' development, but concentrate on their own. They experience and exercise their potential and power, not theoretically but actually, not in the abstract but in the application. They learn to think, to live, and to lead.

M. Burch Tracy Ford
Head of School
Miss Porter's School
Farmington, Conn.

Weighing Constructivism's Worth to Scientific Literacy

To the Editor:

Sandra Stotsky's essay on the alleged cultural illiteracy of our nation's children captures the essence of an important debate in science education--the value and importance of constructivist approaches to scientific literacy and understanding ("More Teachers, Smaller Classes: Are These Our First Priority?" April 1, 1998).

My reading of her essay suggests that Ms. Stotsky is no supporter of, as she puts it, "personally constructed" knowledge and apparently prefers that children be taught so that they can remember the names of important inventors and scientists, list the accomplishments of each, and perhaps even come up with the dates of their breakthroughs. Now, that's real understanding all right, and I am certain that children skilled in these matters (perhaps I should say, children able to remember these isolated facts) will do quite well on many traditional measures of academic achievement.

Though I was pleased that Ms. Stotsky noted that the people and achievements she deems so important were dominated by white men and excluded the achievements of women and other underrepresented persons, I was disappointed that there was no mention of how achievement in science (or any other subject in school) should be measured.

If we want students to check the correct answer in response to the question "Who invented the light bulb?," then let us by all means teach science in the dry, textbook-based, and utterly disengaging way that it has been and is taught in so many classrooms. If we are interested in other goals of science education (for example, conceptual understanding of scientific principles and synthesis of scientific concepts), then I recommend that we move away from the tired formulas of: person X (undoubtedly, a white male) did X (this great thing) on X (this important day). Now, boys and girls, remember that!

In an attempt to verify the conclusions Ms. Stotsky drew toward the end of her essay, I asked my 7-year-old son who invented the light bulb. He didn't know, but cruised the Internet for about 45 seconds and came up with the correct answer and then asked me who invented the new long-life bulbs we use in our home. I had no idea. I suppose we would both be deemed as scientific illiterates in this particular case.

Sam Minner
James H. Quillen Chair
College of Education
East Tennessee State University
Johnson City, Tenn.

Teacher Tests: Higher Stakes Won't Mean Higher Standards

To the Editor:

Arbitrarily increasing test-score requirements for prospective teachers is not the same as "raising standards" for classroom educators, despite what politicians and exam manufacturers might claim ("States Raising Bar for Teachers Despite Pending Shortage," March 25, 1998).

There is not one iota of evidence that any standardized, one-shot, pencil-and-paper exam can accurately predict who is--and who is not--capable of being an adequate classroom teacher. A journal article that carefully examined the data concluded that these tests served as "Charms Talismanic," equivalent to the ornaments people wore during the Middle Ages believing they would magically ward off the plague.

In fact, the existing evidence is to the contrary. When bureaucratic snafus have forced in-service teachers to retake tests such as the NTE (formerly the National Teacher Examinations) and Praxis, some of those who "failed" turned out to have earned awards for exceptional classroom performance. As a result, local "teachers of the year" have lost their jobs.

The fixation on test scores would simply be bizarre if these exams did not have such a clear, disparate impact on African-Americans, Latinos, and new Asian immigrants. In the face of a severe shortage of teachers from minority backgrounds, it makes no sense to exclude otherwise competent young people simply because they do not test well.

If the nation truly desires high-quality educators who reflect the diversity of the student population, it must move to a system of teacher licensing based on genuine classroom performance, not test-taking skills.

Robert A. Schaeffer
Public Education Director
National Center
for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest)
Cambridge, Mass.

On Gay-Club Settlement: No New Privileges Awarded

To the Editor:

I am writing to correct inaccurate information that appeared in a news item titled "Colorado District OKs Gay Club," March 11, 1998. The item states that the "Homosexual-Heterosexual Alliance Reaching for Tolerance at Smoky Hill High School will be given all the privileges of a club, including a paid faculty adviser and the right to advertise on school property."

In fact, the settlement included no provision for supplementary pay to a teacher who attended the group meetings as a monitor. As a result of the agreement, the HHART group will not be granted preferential treatment and will receive no more privileges than they previously had under the Cherry Creek (Colo.) School District's policies and procedures, and federal law. The agreement maintains the district's authority to specify how meetings of this group--and all other student-initiated groups--can be announced and monitored.

While the teacher may apply for supplementary pay next year, it is the intention of the Cherry Creek district to review and strengthen policies so that district funds are not used to subsidize student-initiated groups. That has been the district's position for many years; it is stated in policy, and it remains our position. The HHART group may continue to operate as a student-initiated organization, as allowed under federal law. Prior to the lawsuit, HHART already existed under this condition. The only change is that HHART will now refer to itself as a student-initiated club instead of a student-initiated group.

Since many districts across the country follow very closely how other districts are handling matters of student-initiated groups vs. school-sponsored groups, it is very important for your publication to get the correct facts.

Monte C. Moses
Deputy Superintendent
Cherry Creek Schools
Englewood, Colo.

Seeing False, 'Racist' Premise In Essay on New Unionism

To the Editor:

Some opinions expressed in "The New Unionism and the Very Old," April 1, 1998, such as the authors' conclusion that building a professional ethos that serves children and their parents may, in cities, "require a major transformation in the stance of predominantly white unions toward the children of color they teach," appear racist to me.

This bias would be more apparent if the authors' thesis were reversed: if it were implied that teachers "of color" could not teach white children without additional administrative and union oversight to ensure success.

To increase the number of minority teachers in a school system made up of mostly minority students may make sense from a social standpoint, but to attribute the poor academic performance of our inner-city children to the racism of their white teachers tells us little about what the real problems are. It does, however, tell us a great deal about the agendas of those who push for vague "reforms" and see teachers' unions as the chief obstacle to that reform. Their agenda will not raise morale among inner-city teachers, nor will it lead to success, based as it is on a false premise and limited perspective.

Roger Meyer
Library Media Specialist
Milwaukee School of Languages
Milwaukee, Wis.

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