Published Online: September 18, 2002
Published in Print: September 18, 2002, as Letters

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9/11: Questions of What to Teach

To the Editor:

I found the article on what to teach in response to last year’s terrorist attacks, and your reporting of the controversy over this seemingly simple question, to be fascinating ("Educators Split Over What to Teach Come Sept. 11," Sept. 4, 2002). One of the reasons we all love this country so much is because of the frequency of such disputes. Where else but in an open society such as ours would one find such arguments developing so often? Each of us had our own response to the tragedy.

Collectively, as Americans, we have a responsibility to those who died. We owe them every possible effort to help make America into the shining beacon of freedom we all so badly want it to be. We want this country to use its power to achieve the ideals expressed by the great documents of American history and expressed in the Pledge of Allegiance, itself so recently in the news. We want our fellow citizens to become involved in their communities, working to make the principles of democracy into a reality. As President Bush has just suggested, teachers and students can use September as a time to start service projects designed to serve their neighbors and their nation.

More than 30 years ago, James Allen, the former U.S. commissioner of education under President Richard M. Nixon, proposed an alternative to the traditional Pledge of Allegiance that we might well re-examine in light of the anniversary of 9/11. Only slightly modified from the original, Mr. Allen proposed that we pledge “allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and dedicate myself to the principle that the republic for which it stands shall be in truth one nation, under God, indivisible, dedicated to liberty and justice for all.”

Todd Clark
Former President
National Council for the
Social Studies
Executive Director
Constitutional Rights Foundation
Los Angeles, Calif.


To the Editor:

All the teachers and administrators are deciding what to tell my child. Why not involve the parents, since we are the ones who must deal with the questions, and with the sleepless nights when they occur?

Elizabeth G. Schwarz
Glendale, N.Y.

On Voucher Polls, Read the Fine Print

To the Editor:

The polls cited in your recent article on voucher opinion ("Polls Find Growing Support for Publicly Funded Vouchers," Sept. 4, 2002) only scratch the surface of what the public really thinks about this issue. In fact, more detailed opinion surveys, as well as numerous ballot initiatives, make it clear that the more the public learns about vouchers, the less it likes them.

When Zogby International conducted a 25-question poll on vouchers for our organization in 2001, the results revealed that public opinion turns against vouchers when it learns they drain public dollars from public schools ("Poll Finds Support for Vouchers Wanes if Public Schools Affected," Oct. 3, 2001). Two other polls this summer, one by the Associated Press, the other by ABC News—both conducted after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris—also found that the public opposes vouchers by a 2- 1 ratio when considering the negative financial impact on public schools.

The Zogby poll also showed the public's expectations for voucher schools are unmet by actual voucher programs and proposals. Some 80 percent to 90 percent of Americans expect voucher schools to meet basic accountability standards like those for public schools, such as admitting all students, testing students and publicly reporting those results, and disclosing how tax dollars are spent. Yet voucher programs typically fail to meet these expectations.

Given these views, it is no surprise that in states that have held public votes and full debate on voucher proposals, opposition always rises when the public learns more about vouchers. It follows the old adage: "The devil is in the details."

Anne L. Bryant
Executive Director
National School Boards Association
Alexandria, Va.

Easing the Way for English-Learners

To the Editor:

"Born in the U.S.A." (Sept. 4, 2002) identifies an important characteristic of students born in the United States who are not classified as fluent in English: They know social English, "but lack academic skills." As James Cummins of the University of Toronto pointed out many years ago, this is a common problem for English-learners in school.

There are two powerful means of developing academic English.

One is the development of such skills in the primary language. Mr. Cummins and others have argued that academic language can be developed rapidly in the first language: It is much easier to learn to read in a language one understands, and this ability then transfers to English. Evidence includes a number of studies showing that reading ability in the first language is strongly related to reading ability in the second language.

For young children, in fact, first- language reading is typically a stronger predictor of second-language reading than second-language oral ability. The article points out that most of the students with poor academic English "don't read and write in Spanish."

A second way is extensive reading in English. There is overwhelming evidence that those who read more do better on tests of academic English. There is also clear evidence that those with more access to books read more. Most of the students with poor academic English are from lower-income families and have little access to books.

Research done by Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education Susan Neuman and others has shown that children of poverty have little access to books in school (lower-quality school libraries and classroom libraries) and have little access to books outside of school; their neighborhoods have lower- quality public libraries and fewer book stores, and they have few books in the home.

What can schools do to help these children? Bilingual education and improved school libraries.

Stephen Krashen
Emeritus Professor
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, Calif.

Exit Exams and Minority Students

To the Editor:

In your story about the Center on Education Policy's study of state exit examinations, both Billie J. Orr from the Education Leaders Council and Matthew D. Gandal of Achieve express a utopian view of the political commitment of lawmakers to provide the resources for minority students to pass these tests ("Study Says to States: Don't Rush; Provide Support on Exit Exams," Sept. 4, 2002).

Ms. Orr disputes the center's conclusion that many states had not given students the resources needed for success. Mr. Gandal supports testing at earlier grade levels so students who need extra help can be identified in time.

What Ms. Orr and Mr. Gandal skip over is that white lawmakers are not interested in the massive investments needed for children of color to meet the equity standards they have put in place. In a society riddled with inequities in housing, income, jobs, and health care, it will take more than a few hours a week of after-school tutoring or well-intentioned summer school for students to meet the equity results demanded for many exit tests.

In Ohio, a little more than half the African- American students entering 9th grade graduate in four years. White lawmakers have hidden their heads in the sand, ostrich-like, behind the fact that 98 percent of the seniors eventually pass all five of the 9th grade exit tests. Their constituents are not suffering from the equity standard of a graduation exam.

Ohio's Senate Bill 1 requires all students to receive intervention services commensurate with their levels of achievement. In Cleveland, only the students close to the passing score receive what they really need.

White lawmakers are not interested in dramatically increasing revenue and making the graduation rates of children of color a central priority for state policy. True intervention, with small class sizes and overnight summer academies, would require significant tax hikes for voters who seldom concern themselves with high school graduation.

Until the proponents of equity standards are willing to press as hard for a level of investment in the lives of children in poverty as they have been willing to advocate for more testing, their rhetoric will only cover their hypocrisy.

Michael Charney
Professional Issues Director
Cleveland Teachers Union
Cleveland, Ohio

Florida Deals With 'Voucher Diversion'

To the Editor:

Your story on Florida's voucher programs ("Florida Sees Surge in Use of Vouchers," Sept. 4, 2002) struck me because of what it did not mention: the overwhelming number of students remaining in our public schools. That omission is unfortunate, since it cuts right to the heart of this entire issue. The frenzy surrounding vouchers—which go to a mere fraction of our students—takes attention and critical resources away from all the many children who remain, overwhelmingly by choice, in our public schools.

As you note, out of 9,000 students eligible for vouchers because of their public schools' performance on our state test, just 577 students out of 2.5 million public school students in Florida are using vouchers to attend private schools. That means close to 94 percent of "voucher eligible" students prefer to remain in our public school system. This should tell lawmakers something about Floridians' priorities: We believe deeply in our public schools and want our public tax dollars devoted to making them better.

The voucher diversion has a similar impact on our children with disabilities. While some politicians will make much of the estimated 9,000 students in the special education voucher program, what about the ongoing needs of the 484,000 such children who are educated and cared for in Florida's public schools? We cannot lose sight of doing right by all our children, not just a few.

Doing right should also mean holding publicly accountable any school receiving our tax dollars. Unfortunately, Florida officials seem content to send millions of dollars to private voucher schools with virtually no oversight into how the money is spent or the quality of education the schools provide. This past school year, Florida actually sent tax dollars for vouchers to private schools for students who were in the public schools all year. Are the lawmakers so focused on setting up private enterprises, rather than watching taxpayers' dollars and supporting public schools? What a far cry from the ever-rising public accountability our public schools face.

Jane Gallucci
Member
Pinellas County (Fla.) School Board
Past President
Florida School Boards Association
Clearwater, Fla.

Vol. 22, Issue 3, Page 39

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