Education Letter to the Editor


November 05, 2003 11 min read
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Boston Has Had Its Own ‘Maverick’ Curricula

To the Editor:

I have just finished reading about New York City’s “maverick” curriculum (“N.Y.C. Hangs Tough Over Maverick Curriculum,” Oct. 15, 2003). Your article makes it sound as if New York City is treading on entirely new ground, which is not the case. What about Boston?

As a former Boston 3rd grade teacher, I spent many hours in professional development and in deep discussion around curricula very similar to those that are so “against the grain” in New York City. While the 3rd grade team in my school in Roxbury experienced some frustration with the lack of basic skills in the TERC Investigations Math and the Readers’ and Writers’ Workshop approaches, we found that our students rose to the challenges we put forth.

In our school (where every student was eligible for a federal free or reduced-priced lunch), we had circles where the students gathered for discussion, we did read-alouds from children’s trade books, we used manipulatives to explore fractions, and our students went through the steps of the writing process. We did face challenges, such as having to assign times tables and teaching explicitly how to have a discussion about a book, but these were accommodations made by good teachers in order to help their students, most of whom qualified as “at risk” in every way.

This past June, Boston held its first literacy conference to highlight some of the excellent work done by dedicated teachers using Readers’ and Writers’ Workshop in the city. Along with the extensive professional development by teachers in and out of school, the school system is working hard to revise, supplement, and enhance its programs so that students receive the best possible education.

While many Boston schools have some way to go in terms of showing “adequate yearly progress,” teachers there can attest to the progress the students have made in reflective thinking, appropriate listening, constructive comments and criticism, critical thinking, trying, and explaining, as well as in rote, basic skills.

Perhaps your publication will consider examining another urban system that is much farther along in “going against the grain” than New York City. Boston teachers have a great deal to contribute on the issue of using such “maverick” curricula. While frustration does occur, most would probably agree that they prefer such programs to the scripted systems used in other cities.

To put down the basal reader and photocopied math sheets takes energy and courage on the part of teachers, students, and administrators. But many in Boston schools are rising to the challenge.

Lena Sadowitz
Evanston, Ill.

Science, Math Grants Lost to Indirect Costs

To the Editor:

Your article “NSF Hands Out $216 Million to Enhance Math, Science,” (Oct. 8, 2003) identified the total funding that the National Science Foundation would be awarding under its Math and Science Partnerships program, which pairs experts from colleges and universities with state departments of education and individual school districts, and it identified a few of the universities that were the recipients.

What the article did not mention is how much of the total funding went for indirect costs that the federal government allows higher education institutions. My guess is that one-third of the total—some $70 million—went for indirect costs, which is great for the universities, but not great for the cooperating public schools or the U.S. taxpayer.

The NSF has spent millions over the years in developing math and science, so it would be interesting to find out what outcomes were obtained with all the prior investments. I suspect that the NSF is not interested in telling us about past efforts to develop these programs.

Pete Kreis
Retired Educator
Tallahassee, Fla.

Online-Ratings Idea Should Be Expanded

To the Editor:

Re: “How’s Your Teacher? Rate Her Online,” (Sept. 17, 2003).

The Web site www.ratemyteachers.com will never be a useful tool for measuring a teacher’s ability to perform his or her job, because it will always be tainted by the childish comments arising from the facts that children naturally rebel against authority, and that many are not taught at home the values of discipline or respect for others.

As for the comments in your story on “customers” and “customer complaints,” this is not a haircut we’re talking about, or a new car; it’s a child’s education. And the people educating our children are doing their best—just as we all try to do our best in our work. People are employed to make certain that schools are run properly, people involved in activities called administration and governance.

So perhaps the only Web site that would be fair to both the “provider of services” and the “consumer of services” (all paid for by the taxes of everyone, regardless of whether they have children) is one called: rateourschoolboards.com, which would include the detailed issues that need addressing. Only there would we be able to find something worth looking at.

By the way, I visited ratemyteachers.com, looked at several different schools, and read various comments. The following appear over and over again: “boring,” “really fun!,” “too strict and has bad breath,” “ugly,” “fat,” “really cool!,” “he’s (or she’s) mean.”

If one were to look at these comments out of context, written on the side of a building, maybe, what would he think they referred to? An educational system or a professional individual, through a child’s eyes?

The “cooler” and more popular teacher often is not providing the type of learning environment I would want for my child. As someone once said: “A parent is not a good parent unless your kids hate you just a little—that tells you you’re doing your job.”

The same could be said for a teacher.

Carrie Ware
Media Software & Solutions
New York, N.Y.

Vending Ban Is No Cure For Childhood Obesity

To the Editor:

Your article “States Target School Vending Machines to Curb Child Obesity,” (Oct. 1, 2003) demonstrated justifiable concerns about the large numbers of young people who are overweight. Fortunately, school officials are working on many fronts to address this problem, many of them with the guidance of “Fit, Healthy, and Ready to Learn,” a resource developed by the National Association of State Boards of Education in partnership with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National School Boards Association.

Recognizing the need for a comprehensive approach in addressing children’s health problems, the publication offers guidance on establishing a policy framework for schoolwide programs that builds on practices proven to be effective.

This comprehensive approach is also important in addressing the complexity of the obesity problem, which is driven by a number of factors, including the significant decline in physical activity among young people. While it may feel like a “silver bullet” solution, simply banning soft drinks will have little impact on the problem. It is also unnecessary, in that school and district decisionmakers already have the power to determine the beverages that will be offered in school vending machines. They can stock them with 100 percent juices, milk-based products, water, or any of the other drinks that are offered by beverage companies.

We also should not ignore the unintended consequences of restricting schools’ freedom to create business partnerships at a time when cuts in school budgets make every dollar count. School officials who pursue these partnerships are generating critical resources for academic initiatives, extracurricular programs, staff development, and other activities that drive achievement. Educators should retain the ability to shape these partnerships to meet the needs of their students and schools.

Brenda Welburn
Executive Director
National Association of State
Boards of Education (NASBE)
Alexandria, Va.

Reciting the Pledge

To the Editor:

The Pledge of Allegiance is about patriotism and respect and it is, of course, about an allegiance to our country’s flag and what it represents-a country that feeds, clothes, and protects its men, women, and children (“Pledge Case to Go Before High Court,” Oct. 22, 2003).

Patriotism, allegiance, and respect are not attributes that children acquire in the birthing process, nor are they attached to the X or Y chromosomes during conception. They are not automatically bestowed on young men and women who swear an oath to serve in the armed forces. No, they have to be taught, nurtured, and embedded in the minds and spirits of the youths of America during their formative years, and it is incumbent upon the pubic schools to continue to be an integral part of that process.

Kenneth Marang
Weld Central High School
Keenesburg, Colo.

To the Editor:

When a poet’s work is appropriated, without credit, and then revised to fit the needs of the user, it’s called plagiarism. Every school child knows the “under God” part of the pledge, but how many know that Francis Bellamy is the poet? The discussion of whether “under God” suggests state support of religion is secondary to the fact that Congress acted unethically to revise the pledge in the first place.

Laurie Oberg Hadden
Salt Lake City, Utah

To the Editor:

The Pledge of Allegiance is a small part of a school-age child’s day, and it is a predictable and mostly ceremonial moment. It is one of the few times when the class functions as a unified group, which makes it a valuable part of the day.

The phrase “under God” is valuable because it is non-denominational and interfaith, while the pledge itself allows for a short moment of common human dignity amidst the action-packed dynamic of the postmodern public school classroom.

Please do not think that the use of the words “under God” will harm the important work of literacy or injure the common social bonds of our highly diverse school society. Let’s keep the pledge as it has been recited for decades.

Mrs. Weller
McKinley Primary Learning Center
Compton, Calif.

To the Editor:

A more American pledge would state that we strive for liberty and justice for all. The current pledge, in contrast, implies that we have attained these goals, and thus can be complacent.

Will Driscoll
Arlington, Va.

To the Editor:

In regard to the separation of church and state, the framers of the U.S. Constitution were not referring to saying “God” in a public place. They were trying to prohibit the establishment of a state-run religion. In America, everyone is free to choose a religion or none at all. Why should someone’s atheist beliefs stop others’ freedom of religion?

Our school recites the Pledge of Allegiance every day with no problem. It is a state law. If a student does not want to participate, he or she sits quietly until the pledge is done.

Tammie Niffenegger
Port Washington High School
Port Washington, Wis.

To the Editor:

The U.S. Constitution provides for freedom of religion. Our founding fathers believed in God and valued religion, as is evident in almost every document written when our country was founded. Their inclusion in government of the motto “In God We Trust” indicates to me that God was to be a part of our society. The Bible was often used as a primer in public schools, and we still swear on the Bible in our courts of law.

I am saddened by the people who want to remove all evidence of God from our country. When God is removed, it isn’t long until civility is removed. We can see evidence of this already. I believe that the mention of God in the Pledge of Allegiance has a broader meaning than the belief in a supreme being. It also represents the basic principles of honesty and integrity that our forefathers stood for.

I would hope that regardless of anyone’s belief or nonbelief in God, each of us would still desire to have these basic character traits.

Marcia Field
Salt Lake City, Utah

To the Editor:

I strongly agree that requiring the Pledge of Allegiance in schools should be declared unconstitutional. My grounds are both religious and political.

The phrase “under God” was inserted during the McCarthy era, when I was in elementary school; requiring children in public schools to recite these words clearly infringes on our constitutional separation of church and state. The Inquisition and the Salem witch trials were waged in the name of God; today terrorists and government forces in the Middle East (and elsewhere in the world) claim their actions are sanctioned by God. These words in our pledge not only offend those of us who do not believe in supernatural deities of any kind, they should also offend theists.

I am a public school teacher. I stand respectfully and stay silent while the pledge is recited in my school and classroom. Being expected by my school system to lead the pledge makes me feel uncomfortable, hypocritical, even intimidated. I can only imagine what my students think and feel.

Amika Kemmler Ernst
Boston, Mass.

To the Editor:

Why should the atheistic beliefs of one man, Michael A. Newdow, the father who sued California’s Elk Grove Unified School District, deprive the majority of the right to express their belief in the pledge and what it stands for? As President George Washington remarked during the Whiskey Rebellion, “When the rights of the majority are tyrannized by the minority, the republic is lost.”

Nicola Opdycke
Bellevue, Wash.

To the Editor:

I have worked for 35 years in the public schools, as a teacher, coach, counselor, principal, and superintendent. From my experience, I have learned two things. If you do not teach a child to read, then you should reserve the child a cell at the local correctional facility. Likewise, if you don’t teach the child to uphold the virtues of our society and to honor them in their symbolic forms, then save the child a jail cell.

Education is about teaching foundations. And the pledge is part of that. Wake up, America.

Richard L. Deckard
Nathrop, Colo.


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