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October 02, 2002 7 min read
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In Hiring Teachers, Inconsistency Rules

To the Editor:

Recently, I was asked to attend an informal meeting at a local school district, as I will graduate in December with a Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies degree in elementary education. At the meeting, we education students were told that none of us would be hired until we have passed our Examination for the Certification of Educators Test, or EXCET, because of requirements in the “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001 (“City Districts Seek Teachers With Licenses,” Sept. 11, 2002).

What I am having problems understanding is how the district can continue to hire alternative-certification teachers, who are not eligible to take their certification test until next year, but not be able to hire recent teacher education majors who have gone to college to be teachers and who are going to be taking their test this fall. It does not make sense.

If there is a shortage of teachers, then why not hire those of us who have been through a teaching program, and not people who can’t find jobs in their own fields? Teaching is not an easy job that just anyone can do.

Kara Mendez
El Paso, Texas

Voucher Poll Posed A Flawed Question

To the Editor:

The poll cited in your article about publicly funded vouchers (“Polls Find Growing Support for Publicly Funded Vouchers,” Sept. 4, 2002) posed a fatally flawed question when it described voucher funds for poor parents as coming from “the tax dollars allotted for their child’s education.”

Every year that I have owned property, I have paid taxes whether or not I have children attending the local schools. My taxes represent my share, not of the cost of educating any particular child, but of educating all of my community’s students (including making payments on debts generated on behalf of students long-graduated and on investments for students yet to come).

Even if I were to buy the nonsense that some portion of my $6,900 school-tax bill is an allotment to educate my two sons, with 2,500 students in our district, their fair share would be $2.76 each.

I am willing to pay my portion of our district’s nearly $57 million budget not because I believe my tax dollars will come back to me in a dollar- for-dollar direct benefit (a sandwich in the cafeteria for each of my boys), but because I recognize the long-range benefits to all of our students and to the community as a whole.

What if you turned the question of school choice around? What if parents could opt to “improve” their schools by having officials turn out, with a proper allotment, of course, those students deemed less desirable based on grades, behavior, or other criteria?

Finally, I wonder why articles about vouchers and school choice rarely inquire about the voting habits of those who support such programs. Organizing and maintaining effective schools is difficult work, yet even in a highly motivated community like mine, very few people turn out for school board and budget elections. How many of the voices for vouchers have joined in the task of developing schools that attend to the needs of all children—even if their participation consists of the simple act of voting?

Julia D. Brennan
Sea Cliff, N.Y.

Three Cheers for the Queen of Education!

To the Editor:

Three cheers for LouAnne Johnson’s Commentary, “The Queen of Education,” (Sept. 18, 2002). I have not heard this much common sense since I retired from the Marine Corps. I particularly agreed with her assertion that not everybody can and should be a teacher. Let’s start screening for excellence and get on with being professional.

Jerry Hale
Valparaiso, Ind.

More on Test Scores In Lawrence, Mass.

To the Editor:

In “Big-City Mayors’ Control of Schools Yields Mixed Results,” (Sept. 11, 2002), you cite the work of researchers Kenneth K. Wong of Vanderbilt University and Francis X. Shen of Harvard University when speaking of schools that have been “taken over” by the state: “On the other hand,” you say, “the researchers saw no test-score improvements in Lawrence, Mass., and Compton, Calif., two districts that were taken over by their states around the same time.” This statement is inaccurate in two distinct ways.

First, you fail to define the differences between and implications of “mayoral influence” and “state takeover.” The differences are significant. For example, in a state takeover, all existing contracts become null and void, and the state moves into a city and takes over management of the district.

The Lawrence (Mass.) Public Schools were never “taken over.” In 2000, the city of Lawrence and the state department of education created what is called a memorandum of agreement, which currently provides the district with a partnership and support from the state. This is significantly different from what a district would experience if it were taken over by the state.

More importantly, when you reported “no test-score improvements” in Lawrence, you were relying on outdated statistics.

The research conducted on state takeovers was completed during 2000-01. The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System data used to support the state-takeover research were for 1997-98 and 1998-99.

Since 2000, Lawrence public school teachers and students have worked extremely hard and have experienced significant achievement gains. During the past two years, the district has seen the percentages of students passing the MCAS tests increase, in some cases by as much as 25 percent.

Wilfredo T. Laboy
Superintendent of Schools
Lawrence, Mass.

Classroom Quality

To the Editor:

Thomas J. Lasley II and Gregory Bernhardt make some excellent points regarding the state of teacher preparation (“Mediocrity in the Classroom,” Commentary, Sept. 11, 2002). I’m sure their experience, through talking to many teachers, is more broad and perhaps more representative than my own.

I’m one of those career- changers who decided to go into teaching—from a career in engineering and after a 12-year stint as a stay-at-home mother. I was one of those “bright, promising” students in college. I’m now teaching 2nd graders. To me, the most frustrating thing about being a new teacher is the lack of support services, such as specialty teachers in art, physical education, and music. Perhaps that’s not true nationally, but here in California, high teacher pay and low taxes have spelled disaster for programs.

Requirements for running records sap time and can only detract from the educational mission. Not that keeping records up to date is bad; but the individual testing of 20 students in the first three weeks of school, without help and before procedures and routines have a chance to set, is stressful, to say the least. If you ask what makes me want to leave the profession, this is it.

To me, well-scripted lessons, such as those of Saxon Math, for example, are more of a relief than a burden. Despite (or because of) my expertise in math and my confidence in my ability to teach it, I find the Saxon approach to be truly excellent.

Ann Harris
Lancaster, Calif.

To the Editor:

Your Commentary authors, and U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige in his report on teacher quality that was grist for their Commentary, have crystallized an operational dilemma in teacher preparation.

How can the authors claim with a straight face that the five elements they cite in their Commentary are the real “problems” in American education, when Secretary Paige allegedly overcame all of them in his days as part of the “Houston Miracle,” first as a school board member, and later as superintendent?

Local politics as a determinate of student teaching? Absurd in a noncollective-bargaining state ... unless someone was asleep at the switch.

Scripted curriculum was the lesson plan of choice in Houston. It was how the math scores increased.

Secretary Paige was the dean of a school of education in Texas. Was he brushed aside by the university in favor of the academics? If so, shame on him.

Mr. Paige himself was prepared as a teacher— a physical education teacher. Was that an inferior preparation? If so, he overcame it. How did he do that?

He was a coach. Was his preparation as a coach inferior? What were his Graduate Record Examination scores? Were they too low for “regular academic” programs? Was he shunted into an “education” program because he couldn’t make it in “regular” academics? To suggest so would be insulting, but his own report on teacher quality would seem to incriminate by suggestion. That is unfair, unwarranted, and does a disservice to all those who have completed accredited programs in teacher education because they wanted to become better teachers.

This kind of manufactured polemic does little to solve the problem, but clearly shows a concentrated effort to affix blame on teachers and the way they were prepared.

The next thing the secretary (or various Commentary writers) will be telling us is that alternative-certification candidates for teaching positions are “highly qualified.” That’s absurd, but is part of a national illusion that anybody can teach; that any basic curriculum tests equally; and that any basic content teaches equally among students—no matter what the variations in prior knowledge, English-language facility, and interschool mobility.

When are we going to ask the teachers to identify the problems and frame solutions? And why doesn’t Secretary Paige lay out for us a road map of how he overcame these obstacles?

Thomas P. Johnson
Harwich Port, Mass.

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