Education Letter to the Editor


February 04, 2004 8 min read
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Verdict Since Brown: Shame on ‘Us’

To the Editor:

Any progress made from the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education has vanished. We are more segregated than ever before in this country (“In U.S. Schools, Race Still Counts,”Brown at 50: The Unfulfilled Promise, Jan 21, 2004).

Even suburban districts are becoming urban-labeled when they evolve from all-white or integrated to 98 percent African-American demographics. Interestingly, the community, in many cases, still may be very diverse. So the task, in my opinion, is for districts to think outside the box in order to attract families back to their neighborhood schools.

If our schools don’t reflect our society, we are doing a great injustice to our students. Too many school districts that were becoming integrated and equal have slipped back in time and are once again “separate and unequal.” Shame on us.

Diane Milstein
Wayne State University
Detroit, Mich.

Teaching Solutions Miss Scope of the Problems

To the Editor:

Louis V. Gerstner Jr. and the Teaching Commission deserve considerable credit for raising important issues and putting forth a number of significant ideas that could help make teaching a “true profession” (“Business, Civic Leaders Urge Higher Salaries,” Teaching & Learning column, Jan. 21, 2004).

Unfortunately, the commission’s newly released report, “Teaching at Risk: A Call to Action,” includes some solutions that fail to adequately address the scope of the problems at hand. Without a more complete diagnosis of the problems facing the profession, and significant modifications and additions to the commission’s proposed solutions, we doubt that the report will reach its commendable goal, which we all share: ensuring a caring, competent, and qualified teacher for every child, in every class, every day.

Our assessment of the Teaching Commission’s report, including areas where we recommend revisions and proposals we think are worthy of further consideration can be found in “Making Good on What Matters Most: A Review of ‘Teaching at Risk: A Call to Action.’” (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

Barnett Berry
Executive Director
Southeast Center for Teaching Quality Inc.
Chapel Hill, N.C.

Interpreting Minnesota’s Teacher-Quality Data

To the Editor:

Your special report Quality Counts 2004: “Count Me In: Special Education in an Era of Standards,” (Jan. 8, 2004) gave Minnesota a grade of D-plus on its efforts to improve teacher quality. That certainly would be alarming if the grade accurately reflected the quality of the teaching force and teacher preparation in our state. But some understanding of the data compiled and interpreted to arrive at this grade is essential to interpreting the report.

Many of the measures used focused on what the state mandates as minimum requirements for teacher licensure and teacher preparation. Minnesota teachers and teacher-preparation programs meet and exceed the minimums posed in the report, though licensure rules do not state the requirements in ways that match the questions on the Quality Counts report card.

The report card states that Minnesota requires a minimum of 10 weeks of student teaching and no minimum number of hours for other clinical (in-school) experiences. Students in the state’s 29 teacher-preparation programs actually spend 13.6 weeks student teaching. All teacher-preparation programs require candidates to engage in early field experiences prior to student teaching. Those preparing to be teachers spend an average of 700 hours in classrooms with P-12 children before they graduate. All programs maintain partnerships with P-12 schools to assure effective clinical experiences for all teachers in preparation.

The Minnesota Standards of Effective Practice that all teachers must meet to be licensed to teach in the state establish high content and skill standards. The 29 college and university teacher-preparation programs approved by the Minnesota board of teaching must assure that these standards are met and that teacher-candidates demonstrate content knowledge and teaching skill for each license earned.

Teacher knowledge and performance is assessed in a broad range of ways throughout the teacher’s preparation, including but not limited to the required state tests teachers must take to be licensed. Future teachers are observed, videotaped, and measured on a portfolio of indicators demonstrating competence of each of the standards of effective practice.

Minnesota teacher- preparation programs recognize how crucial the support and development of new and veteran teachers is to the quality and effectiveness of their teaching. In 2002-03, over half of the faculty in teacher education programs directly supported new teachers in Minnesota schools through mentoring or other systems and networks, spending an average of 47 hours in schools to provide support. Teacher-preparation programs offer mentoring, coursework, workshops, consultation, degree programs, and specialized programs to meet the needs of teachers for ongoing professional development.

Minnesota does not demonstrate the shortage of licensed and qualified teachers so prevalent in other states that federal legislation is focused on the issue. In Minnesota, nearly all teachers are fully licensed and highly qualified.

More information on the measures of quality of Minnesota’s teachers can be found online at http://mtqm.mnteachered.org/inde x.shtml.

Carol Anderson
Minnesota Association of Colleges for
Teacher Education
Winona State University
Winona, Minn.

EDITOR’S NOTE:Quality Counts 2004: “Count Me In” grades all 50 states and the District of Columbia on key areas of state education policy. While individual teacher education programs may require specific preparation of teachers and provide support once teachers are in the classroom, the report’s grades are based on state-level education policy that allows for valid state-by-state comparisons of data. Some states, like Minnesota, ensure that teachers receive subject-matter coursework, clinical experiences, and mentoring support through teacher-preparation-program requirements, but Quality Counts gives credit only to states that have state-level policies for ensuring and verifying that all teachers meet such requirements, such as individual teacher testing.

Hispanic-Diploma Essay Employed Faulty Logic

To the Editor:

I found the logic in the Commentary by Marcus Winters and Greg Forster (“Meaningless Diplomas Hurt Hispanic Students,” Jan. 21, 2004) to be a stretch. Their essay clearly illustrates the dangers of making assumptions based on data that are not, in fact, supported by that data. The federal statistics cited in the Commentary do not support a “why” statement of any sort.

Without communicating with employers, their perception of what happens to Hispanic high school graduates and why is mere conjecture. As a doctoral student, I would never try to pass this kind of conjecture off as a valid conclusion from research. As a small-business owner, I find exit exams or any other standardized-test scores totally unrelated to job performance. Why would exit exams change the credibility of a Hispanic student’s diploma?

The differences in employment rates between various groups could be explained by any number of cultural, demographic, and housing patterns. The authors are within their rights to express an opinion that exit exams raise the value of a diploma, but the statistics they present don’t justify the conclusion.

Cynthia Alvarado
Media Specialist
Dearborn, Mich.

Barriers to College: Problems With Financial Aid Still Top the List

To the Editor:

The claim by Manhattan Institute researcher Greg Forster that poverty doesn’t affect a low-income student’s college enrollment (“Barriers to College: Lack of Preparation vs. Financial Need,” Jan. 21, 2004) is based on a meaningless similarity between two numbers. “There were about 1,299,000 college-ready 18-year-olds in 2000,” Mr. Forster notes, “and the actual number of persons entering college for the first time in that year was about 1,341,000.” His conclusion: Everybody who is qualified is already going to college. But research that has dug inside those two numbers has found that high-income students who are not academically prepared are overrepresented, and that low- income students who are well-prepared are underrepresented. Inadequate financial aid is one of the reasons. Furthermore, students “enter” college in various ways, some of which are more likely to bring success. For a low-income student, financial aid makes the difference between going to a four-year college vs. a two-year, living on campus vs. being a commuter student, working too much vs. focusing on studying, and enrolling part time vs. full time. All of those make a huge difference in whether students are likely to complete their degrees (whether or not they had adequate academic preparation in high school).

Preparation in high school is of critical importance. But the claim that financial aid (both funding and better information) is not an issue is simply without foundation.

Bob Shireman
Senior Fellow
Aspen Institute
Oakland, Calif.

Financial Resources for Low-Income Students

To the Editor:

First we had the Heritage Foundation’s declaration that poverty in America really isn’t so bad; now we have a researcher at the Manhattan Institute postulating that “lack of financial resources is not preventing a substantial number of students from going to college.” Didn’t they get the memo on the new compassionate conservatism?

Of course lack of academic preparation is a significant obstacle to low-income students, an issue the Century Foundation addresses in our new volume, America’s Untapped Resource, that the Manhattan Institute attacks. But as Lawrence Gladieux’s essay in the volume finds, even controlling for preparation, the failure of financial aid to keep up with significant increases in the price of higher education has taken its toll. Today, he notes, many of even the highest- achieving low-income students fail to attend college; indeed, as he says, “The least bright rich kids have as much chance of going to college as the smartest poor kids.”

Richard D. Kahlenberg
Senior Fellow
The Century Foundation
Washington, D.C.

The writer is the editor of the Century Foundation book America’s Untapped Resource: Low-Income Students in Higher Education.


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