Published Online: October 15, 2003
Published in Print: October 15, 2003, as Letters

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Preschool Screening: Parents Can't Do It Alone

To the Editor:

Margaret Dunkle and Dr. Louis Vismara's Commentary about early identification of learning problems among young children ("A Different Kind of Test," Sept. 24, 2003) brings together important information that should be available to policymakers. However, it does not go far enough.

Only screening instruments that rely on parent reporting are mentioned. Although parents know their children better than anyone, they are not always able to report what they know with the kind of accuracy that is needed to decide whether to take the next step in the evaluation process. Sometimes a parent's first language (if it is other than English) or lack of education can be a barrier to the effective use of the kinds of tools mentioned in the essay.

The authors correctly point out that we cannot accomplish our goals of early identification and prevention by relying on the clinical judgment of pediatricians to spot children with learning problems. But if we really want to do a good job in this area, we need to change the reimbursement structure of pediatrics and other health-care specialties so that a direct assessment of children's skills and abilities can be conducted. Several highly valid tests of this kind that are brief, easy to learn, and easy to administer exist.

Why not use a technology that will improve the rate of correct identifications, one that has the potential to include a more diverse group of parents and children than is possible with parent-report screening instruments? Our goal should be nothing less than the identification of as many at-risk children as possible, and this can only happen if trained professionals and lay professionals are using high-quality developmental screening instruments that provide direct assessment of children's skills and abilities.

Samuel J. Meisels
President
Erikson Institute
Chicago, Ill.

To Teachers, Pay Is Not A Competitive Concept

To the Editor:

Ted Hipple, in his letter to the editor ("Teachers and Merit Pay," Letters, Oct. 1, 2003), calls it "a real downer" when an ineffectual teacher earns the same salary as his or her peers who are high-quality teachers. This academic's view of the situation utterly contradicts my experience in public school classrooms over 29 years. The truth is that teachers almost never talk about salary in schools, theirs or their colleagues', unless it's a bargaining year. My experience has been that teachers almost never treat salary as a competitive concept.

In fact, in a classroom teacher's mind, pay and evaluation are separate items. In the example Mr. Hipple cites, of teaching next to an "ineffective" teacher, the anger is almost always directed toward the teacher's ineffectiveness and not his or her salary. And because anger must be directed, it's usually toward the supervisor or principal who ineffectively diagnoses, evaluates and remediates, or terminates the ineffective teacher.

I taught for years in a building with a person that I considered a very ineffective educator. I never found her pay to be a personal "downer." I found her continued ineffectiveness, and at times her continued employment, the real "downer."

Alfie Kohn, in the Commentary that prompted Mr. Hipple's letter ("The Folly of Merit Pay," Sept. 17, 2003), has the motivation of classroom teachers nailed. Intrinsic rewards are what motivate teachers, who gave up on pay as a reward when they entered their first classrooms.

Paul J. Phillips
President
Quincy Education Association
Quincy, Mass.

To the Editor:

Having found Alfie Kohn's Commentary and the responses to it very interesting, I wish to make a long-suffering comment. I am one of those "intrinsically motivated" people Mr. Kohn discusses, and have had a very rewarding academic career.

As I see it, the crux of this debate is whether or not teachers' exceptional work should be rewarded not only in terms of the intrinsic value it holds for the teacher, but also through extrinsic forms of recognition as well. These ideas are not mutually exclusive. They coexist in other working environments, so I wonder why they cannot also be entertained in K-12 teaching.

It is interesting, too, that this argument over the suitability of merit pay is often started and sustained by people who make well above the $25,000 to $30,000 beginning salary and $50,000 to $70,000 cap on earnings that a teacher can expect in many states.

It's easy to philosophize about intrinsic rewards if you don't rely on them to sustain your career. I'd like to hear from the many truly dedicated K-12 teachers, now motivated by intrinsic rewards, to see whether they would like to give merit pay a try.

M. Eileen Morelli
Associate Professor of Education
Westminster College
New Wilmington, Pa.

Vol. 23, Issue 7, Page 39

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