Published Online: April 26, 2000
Published in Print: April 26, 2000, as Rural Education


Rural Education

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Dust-up Over ARSI: Stephen A. Henderson was so angry about the article on his program that appeared in the Feb. 21 issue of Education Policy Analysis Archives, he called up the editor of the electronic journal and asked for it to be pulled from the publication's Internet site.

Mr. Henderson, the director of a National Science Foundation-financed effort to improve mathematics and science teaching in rural Appalachia, objected to the article's characterization of the program as "top-down," "routinized," and unlikely to have the desired payoff.

The offending piece was written by Robert Bickel, an education professor at Marshall University in Huntington, W. Va., and two of his colleagues. It focuses on one feature of the Appalachian Rural Systemic Initiative, or ARSI, program: school visits to assess the quality of math and science teaching. The article's punch comes from a first-person account of two such reviews, which the authors portray as mechanical and vaguely arrogant. Among the findings is this take on one reviewer for the program: "It was abundantly clear that the living presence of students in the classroom was not essential to his judgments."

Mr. Glass did not pull the article, but Mr. Henderson and Wimberly C. Royster, the principal investigator for ARSI, wrote a rebuttal that appeared in the March 14 issue of the journal. Citing an outside review of the first four years of the now 41/2-year-old initiative, they call the program a "subtle" effort, well-attuned to the characteristics of rural communities and already reaping some success. They also accuse Mr. Bickel of making "more than 50 misrepresentations and/or false statements" about the program.

"It really was an article written with very little information regarding the project," Mr. Henderson said in an interview.

But underlying the dispute are differing views of what good teaching is and how it is likely to improve.

Mr. Glass, the editor of the electronic journal, said the critique by the Marshall University scholars "had the ring of truth" -not only for him but for the several members of the editorial board who reviewed it.

"We see some of these government-mandated events as too rigid, and there's too much pressure to force the findings ... into highly condensed information," the editor said.

The original article and the rebuttal by Mr. Henderson and Mr. Royster are available online at

—Bess Keller

Vol. 19, Issue 33, Page 18

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