Education Letter to the Editor


April 30, 2003 17 min read
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Expression of Faith In Secretary Paige

To the Editor:

Concerning your article on U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige’s recent interview with a religious publication (“Paige Blasted for Praise of Christian Schools,” April 16, 2003):

Secretary Paige is a man of great character and great faith who has triumphed over bigotry and segregation to become a passionate advocate of children and their right to a good education. I have known Secretary Paige for a long time.

His track record of success in Houston, as superintendent of one of the country’s largest and most diverse inner-city school districts, is a testimony to his determination to give every child the opportunity to achieve great things. As secretary of education, he has continued that mission.

He and I share different faiths. I know that his Christian faith is important to him, just as my faith is important to me. And I can tell you that, from my experience with this man, there is no greater champion of tolerance and inclusion in our public schools than Rod Paige.

I have worked with him to find solutions to the many challenges facing our education system. He and I share the belief that access to a good public education is a key civil right. The doors of opportunity in our nation’s knowledge-based economy demand that we provide young people from all backgrounds and circumstances with the education and skills necessary to succeed in a competitive world.

The publishers now acknowledge his recent interview was mischaracterized in their publication and have published an apology and the full interview on their Web site, www.bpnews.net, so that the public can see Secretary Paige’s own words, unedited. I would recommend reading it and hope that your publication would refrain from perpetuating an inaccurate account of the interview. Secretary Paige is a good man who has devoted his life to expanding opportunities for children of all faiths and backgrounds.

Eli Broad
The Broad Foundation
Los Angeles, Calif.

EDITOR’S NOTE: A follow-up story posted April 16 on Education Week‘s Web site and printed in the April 23, 2003, issue of the newspaper (“Ed. Dept. Says Interview Misquoted Paige”) reported on the release of the full transcript of the interview with Secretary Paige and the Baptist Press’ admission of “factual and contextual errors” in its article.

Teacher Retention Is Not That Simple

To the Editor:

Most people write or are cited for what is said. I am writing to commend Joseph DeStefano and Ellen Foley for what they did not say. In their Commentary “The Human-Resource Factor: Getting—and Keeping—Good Teachers in Urban Districts” (April 16, 2003), they never used the word “mentor” as their solution for keeping good teachers.

Teaching is a developmental process, and it takes five to seven years to develop an effective teacher. To do so, a district must have an organized, sustained induction process that, as they say, “emphasizes the growth and development of teachers.” The authors cite the work done by Montgomery County, Md., district and union leaders: “This includes a professional-growth plan for every teacher, a new evaluation system, and a differentiated career ladder for teachers. The district aggressively and successfully recruits new teachers on the strength of its approaches to professional development and teacher support.”

Regrettably, so many educators haphazardly throw out the phrase “mentoring” as the method for developing effective teachers. Mentoring is fine for an initial year of survival. However, to keep a good teacher, what is necessary is a professional- growth plan that helps people to, as the authors put it, “grow in their levels of responsibility and authority.” It is well worth stressing what they say a district must do to accomplish this:

  • Make attracting, developing, and keeping good educators the primary role of leadership;
  • Get the best possible people into roles suitable for them and for the organization, and work to develop the skills of current staff members; and
  • Get the most out of each and every person.

Teaching is a craft that takes time and effort to hone; it is not a simple skill that can be learned from an occasional visit with a mentor. Thanks for not using that overly simplistic term “mentor.”

Harry K. Wong
Saratoga, Calif.

School Budget Cuts: Californians Speak

To the Editor:

In response to your article “Pink Slips: Fear and Loathing in California” (April 9, 2003):

Districts are required to monitor budgets and stay within limits. If large-scale budget cuts are threatened, then what choice do districts have but to notify staff members of potential layoffs?

We are all trapped in this inhumane, bureaucratic system of public education run by political nitwits with little concern for either the staffs of the schools or the students within them. If public education were genuinely a concern of the prevailing powers, then a long-term plan for education (10 years to 15 years) would be made and adequate funding provided to support it.

As it is, we see extensive new demands for accountability while experiencing huge budget cuts. Where’s the reality?

Linda Bonin
Santa Clara County
Office of Education
San Jose, Calif.

To the Editor:

I agree that education should be the one and only primary concern for any government. There is absolutely no price that is too high to be paid for an educated people; the long-term results can do nothing but benefit that which concerns us all, such as health care, international relations, taxes, child care, crime, salaries, as well as political life.

Generally speaking, I do not agree with the politics or philosophies of organized labor; however, teachers should have the strongest and most respected union voice of any industry. If we need to raise state or federal taxes for the sake of teachers and education in our schools, then take my money.

We all know what is happening in our state with respect to the education budget. No one needs to be told that changes are going to happen. Whoever is handing out pink slips to teachers ought to be replaced with someone who is willing to stand up for teachers and education.

I encourage those who are not educators to spend just one hour in a nearby classroom to see for themselves how overworked, undervalued, underappreciated, and underpaid their local teachers are.

We ought to be handing pink slips to politicians who put education on the bottom of our local, state, and federal budgets.

Shane Manley
Long Beach, Calif.

To the Editor:

California is a rich state with a past history of educational innovation and teaching excellence.

Cutting the educational budget is a direct reflection of the current administration’s and legislature’s insensitivity toward the educational process, and not economics.

Robert Beeching
Ahwahnee, Calif.

Missing the Facts On Chicago Consortium?

To the Editor:

I wish to rebut the article entitled “Windy City’s Schools Look to Consortium for Practical Research” (April 9, 2003). The material presented leaves out one fact that discredits all the praise showered upon the Consortium for Chicago School Research and its members. John Q. Easton, Anthony S. Bryk, and at least four or five other consortium members have been either full-time administrators or highly paid consultants for the Chicago Public Schools’ office of accountability (“research and evaluation”) for at least the last seven years.

This fact not only brings into question the objectivity of any “research” and “evaluation” done by the consortium, but it begs the question why such an arrangement was allowed to be created and repeated many times with other local universities and de facto, if not de jure, for-profit educational research organizations.

How much bad news are people liable to give to the guy writing their paychecks? Such arrangements, directed by ex-district Chief Executive Officer Paul G. Vallas, with virtually every university and major educational organization in the Chicago area, allowed such inanity as the belief that “every student in Chicago can score above the national norm on a nationally standardized test” to flourish, as well as the current nonsense about “no child left behind” to become the mantra of educational reform locally and nationally.

One example of the type of work done by the consortium points out the dangers of its cozy relationship with the Chicago public school system. The consortium performed an “equating study” on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills in the early to mid-1990s. The study found that the ITBS was poorly linked to the curricula being offered at the time in Chicago schools. It went so far as to recommend that the ITBS be dropped as the main instrument used to measure student and systemwide progress and curriculum efficacy in the elementary schools.

However, beginning in the late 1990s and continuing to this day, Mr. Easton and Mr. Bryk have been quoted numerous times justifying the use of the ITBS and other, similar tests to measure student progress, and even to justify holding students back from promotion to the next grade. The contradiction here is as disturbing as it is obvious.

How your article omitted this major aspect of the consortium’s dealings with the Chicago school system brings into question your research and objectivity. I hope future articles delve a lot deeper into the facts.

Thomas Sharp
Chicago, Ill.

Teacher Mobility, Pay, Certification

To the Editor:

I read with great interest the essay by Arthur E. Wise regarding the state of teacher certification (“What’s Wrong With Teacher Certification?,” Commentary, April 9, 2003). I agree with many of his points.

However, it seems as if most talk about this subject leaves out an entire category of candidates for certification. I am referring to the experienced teachers, with proven professional track records, who move from one state to another. This entire group, which I suspect is growing, seems to get neglected in the teacher-shortage debate.

The certification process must evaluate these professionals based on their work experience as well as their academic records. It is my understanding that a teacher who crosses a state line and applies for certification in the new state goes through the same process as the new, inexperienced college graduate. There needs to be a mechanism in the process that can evaluate professional history.

Too many states rely exclusively on university-level courses as their basis for certification. The current system is based on the assumption that state residents will go to universities within their state and seek employment within their state. In today’s mobile society, that assumption no longer rings true. As a profession, we must address the issue of teacher certification for those of us who have professional experience in one state and wish to continue teaching in another state.

Becky Stern
Pittsburgh, Pa.

To the Editor:

It’s funny that a teacher “student teaches” and receives no pay for doing this type of “internship.” When I did my student teaching, my friend was making $20 per hour doing his medical internship.

Arthur E. Wise shows in his Commentary that he is out of touch with how teachers’ salaries compare with those of doctors, lawyers, psychologists, and others. He also fails to mention that in some states, teachers must continually complete professional-development hours to retain their credentials. I don’t know whether or not a similar type of requirement exists for doctors, lawyers, psychologists, and other professionals.

While a physician should have expertise in a medical specialty, it is also important that he or she have a good bedside manner. This is similar to why content knowledge is important to being a good teacher, but is not all it takes. Equally important is having the personal attributes that contribute to being a great teacher.

Larry Bush
Corona, Calif.

A Clarification On Bilingual Claims

To the Editor:

In a letter in your April 2, 2003, issue (“Arizona Is Wrong on Bilingual Rules”), Sean Fleming claims that students in bilingual programs do better in “content learning” than those in English-immersion programs. He, along with members of the ideological bilingual machine at our state teachers’ colleges, shows an amazing ignorance of the most recent and comprehensive research in this area.

A study in the Winter 2002 edition of Education Next, a research-based magazine published by the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, shows that English-immersion students outperformed bilingual students, in that: (1) They had more years in school; (2) more of them entered college; (3) they have higher annual incomes; and (4) they exceed bilingual students in entry into high-status occupations by a factor of almost 2-to-1.

This study may be viewed at www.educationnext.org.

Tom Horne
State Superintendent
of Public Instruction
Phoenix, Ariz.

Better Math Classes Through Videotape

To the Editor:

The recent report “Teaching Mathematics in Seven Countries” underscores the value of videotaped evidence as a means of studying teaching (“Taped Lessons Offer Insights Into Teaching,” April 2, 2003). Looking at videotapes of 8th grade math teachers in seven countries from the 1999 TIMSS Video Study, based on the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, researchers had a unique vantage point from which to conduct their analysis.

Among the study’s most important findings was that American teachers spend less time focusing on the conceptual foundation of math in their classrooms, when compared with their foreign counterparts. Instead, American teachers devote much of their time to an outcomes-based approach that stresses problem- solving.

Both the findings and the method of study used for this report draw attention to the important work of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

In designing standards for accomplished mathematics instruction at the middle school level, the NBPTS heeded the advice of experts and practitioners who recognized the need for teachers to have advanced knowledge of math concepts and problem-solving techniques. For example, a middle school math teacher seeking national-board certification is required to demonstrate an understanding of concepts such as symmetry, recursion, and continuity, while also having the ability to apply these concepts in real- world situations. In addition to this, candidates seeking board certification must provide ample evidence that they can convey these areas of math to their students.

Teaching is a complex endeavor that requires individuals to approach their work as both an art and a science. As such, any instrument designed to study this craft must be able to capture its complexity. Videotaping, while not perfect, offers real-time evidence that researchers can use to deconstruct teaching from its most explicit to its most subtle nuance.

This is precisely the reason NBPTS chose to include videotaped evidence as part of the requirements for national-board certification. In analyzing videotapes of more than 40,000 teachers, along with extensive additional information, the national board has been able to make reliable determinations about the degree to which teachers are meeting the highest standards in their fields.

Outside of research, videotaping offers teachers a powerful tool by which to improve their instruction. Teachers who go through the process of national certification consistently identify this experience as the most intensive professional development of their careers. Many point specifically to changes in practice that resulted from analyzing videotapes of their classroom teaching.

While data from the 1999 TIMSS Video Study has allowed for international comparisons of education systems, at home these data highlight the need to adopt comprehensive standards for teaching and learning. Moreover, if videotapes offer researchers a more accurate means to study teaching, they are perhaps of greatest value to teachers themselves, who can use this tool to refine their instruction and better meet the needs of their students.

David F. Lussier
Education Reform Initiatives
National Board for Professional Teaching Standards
Arlington, Va.

A Teacher ‘AWOL': On Rights, Political Dissent, And the Consequences of Our Acts

To the Editor:

Though Education Week claims to take no editorial positions, the article “AWOL” (On Assignment, April 2, 2003) certainly belongs on an editorial page.

It purports to document the story of Janice Sevre- Duszynska, who, according to the large caption on the story’s first page, was “Jailed for her protests against U.S. foreign policy ... then lost her teaching job.” This theme is continued by portraying Ms. Sevre-Duszynska as a saintly schoolteacher, loved and adored by students and parents, who was unfairly arrested, jailed, and later fired from her teaching job simply because she was exercising her right to free speech.

The article goes on to detail Ms. Sevre-Duszynska’s childhood, education, and political beliefs, which were very interesting, but only serve to highlight your apparent attempt to paint a sympathetic picture of her as an innocent victim.

In fairness to your newspaper, the article does devote a few paragraphs to explaining briefly the circumstances of Ms. Sevre-Duszynska’s arrest and the negative reaction from her school board and superintendent and two high school students. From these few paragraphs, I learned that Ms. Sevre-Duszynska was not jailed for protesting U.S. foreign policy as stated at the beginning of the article. Ms. Sevre-Duszynska, you write, “chose to cross a yellow chalk line delineating the start of federal property.” In other words, she knowingly and willingly trespassed on federal property. That is not legal protest guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution; it is violation of law.

I also learned that Ms. Sevre- Duszynska did not lose her job because she protested U.S. foreign policy. She was terminated because she “could not fulfill her contract.” In other words, she couldn’t teach at her high school while she was in jail.

Though the details are sketchy, it seems that Ms. Sevre-Duszynska was arrested in November 2001 and sentenced in May 2002. In all that time, she apparently never discussed her pending court date with her principal and superintendent. Even though she was sentenced in May, she waited until mid-August to notify her principal that she would be going to jail for 90 days, beginning Sept. 10. A “short time” after that, you say, she “penned a letter” to the superintendent asking for a leave of absence.

As a reader, I had difficulty finding enough factual information to form an objective opinion as to whether Janice Sevre-Duszynska was treated fairly or not. I am compelled, however, particularly in light of current events, to remind both Education Week and Ms. Sevre-Duszynska that as Americans we are required to exercise a degree of responsibility along with the wonderful freedoms we enjoy.

While civil disobedience and legal protest have long been used as ways of attracting attention to a cause, civil disobedience is unique because it has always carried with it the obvious risk of arrest and possible imprisonment. The teacher you profile seemed perfectly willing to take that risk in November, but now wants to complain that the consequences are too tough.

I am certain that she, perhaps more than others, appreciates the freedom she has in this country to form her own beliefs and protest “inequities” as she finds them. I am less certain that she understands her responsibility as a citizen and as a public school teacher to exercise her rights in a lawful manner.

Ms. Sevre- Duszynska is quoted in the last sentence of this article as saying, “I regard all of this as a teaching opportunity for the community.” I suggest there is a lesson here for the teacher as well.

David Brothers

To the Editor:

Janice Sevre-Duszynska protested. She was arrested. Her criminal offense turns out to be no larger than stepping over a painted line on a military base. She brandished no weapons and offered no threat. She was peaceful. When she was in jail, she was unable to meet her craven superintendent’s demand that she also be in class at the same time.

Conservatives coldly assert that she is a lawbreaker who deserves to be punished. But in truth, conservatives proliferate work rules, finely crafted contracts, and a multitude of restraints that, among other things, operate in ways to silence employee dissent.

If Ms. Sevre-Duszynska’s issue rested solely on whether employees should obey rules and regulations, no one would raise an eyebrow. But it doesn’t. The question raised by Janice Sevre- Duszynska is how do employees, who are carefully constrained in dozens of ways by powerful officials, effectively protest the policies of their government?

We must balance how much society is damaged by the actual threat to law and order against how much all individuals lose when those exercising their right to speech are stifled by fear of employer punishments. There’s something unsavory about an employer’s firing of an employee who is protesting against policies that have a damaging impact on his or her life.

At a basic level, for the constitutional protection of speech to work, ideas must have a reasonable chance of reaching the minds of the public. Dissenters must have sufficient protection from rules and regulations that they can launch their ideas in ways that can compete with those who exercise enormous political and economic control over them. Otherwise, “liberty” depends solely on wealth and power.

Bill Harshbarger
Arcola, Ill.


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