Education Opinion


May 03, 2000 12 min read

Tech Standards and Curricular Goals

In the quote attributed to me in your article on national standards for technology education, the intent of my actual remarks is somewhat misinterpreted as endorsing the idea of standards as “a splendid idea” (“National Standards on Technology Education Released,” April 12, 2000).

In my book Failure to Connect, I do, in fact, support much of the fundamental intent of the proposed International Technology Education Association objectives, but I have serious problems with the idea of cramming yet another set of so-called “standards” into an already overly fragmented curriculum.

The ITEA’s document reflects a thoughtful recognition of important gaps in the current curriculum across all grade levels. I applaud the group’s proposals, for example, to incorporate more relevant, three-dimensional, hands-on learning across subject matter; to initiate discussion from the earliest grades of how various technologies affect human life, culture, and ethical decisions; and to help students become critical consumers of and deeper thinkers about technology products.

On the other hand, since these objectives should be obvious intellectual necessities for students in a “computer age,” we cannot afford to treat them as simply more superficial demands to be grafted onto teachers’ planning, taught “down the hall” in 40 minutes a week, or reduced to a set of multiple-choice test questions—seemingly the all-too-common fate of important ideas that become standardized.

The notion that we need a whole new set of standards to remind educators to create more relevant curricula and reflect more carefully about technology’s impact on our world should be a message that something is seriously amiss in the current frenzy to computerize education.

Jane M. Healy
Vail, Colo.

Intellect Loses Out In Credentials Saga

To the Editor:

Thank you for your article “Districts Targeting Teacher Seniority in Union Contracts,” April 12, 2000. As I read about Meira Levinson and how she, like many others who hold advanced degrees reflecting atypical but highly appropriate training, is required to take equivalency tests, I was reminded of having to complete the same process to become credentialed.

My formal academic preparation includes a baccalaureate and a master’s degree in applied linguistics, with a specialization in teaching English as a second language. To satisfy the California state requirements for a credential to teach in this area, I had to take or test out of classes, the equivalent of which were being taught by my former graduate school colleagues who had completed the same graduate program I had. To add insult to injury, one of these former graduate students was an acquaintance of mine. She had never taught in public secondary education, and did not have the credential required by the credentialing commission, for which her class was a requirement.

In order to augment my credential and be authorized to teach in the public schools, I had to invest over $1,000 and tedious hours of seat time and testing.

Currently, I am trying to add social studies to my secondary teaching credential. My principal asked me to teach social studies, an area for which I was not credentialed, during my first year of teaching. I was told by district personnel that if I earned nine upper-division units in an area applicable to social studies, I would be recommended by the school board for credentialing in social studies. I took the required units, but was then told that the board had discontinued the practice of recommending candidates for credentials. Having invested, again, much money and countless hours, I persisted with my goal.

I decided to take the exams to add social studies to my credential. To date, I have taken and passed two of the three required exams. I have taken one of these exams twice, and have been unable to pass it. This exam requires two essays addressing topics such as, “Describe how the life of African-Americans changed during the 100 years after the end of slavery in America.”

Educated people outside the educational community have offered me several possible explanations for my failure on this exam. They suggest, for example, that since my writing abilities have been formally assessed as above the 97th percentile and my verbal abilities, as measured on the Graduate Record Examination, are in the 93rd percentile, I may be performing at a level above the level of my evaluators’ comprehension. I have been advised to write as if my evaluator were my student (a 9th grade student new to academic, English-language-centered culture).

My efforts represent a career of experiences that support my claim: Testing people who hold degrees reflecting formal, advanced training in order to satisfy credentialing requirements is a form of intellectual discrimination. The fact that this posture is maintained by agencies regulating public education can be attributed to a systemic marginalization and distrust of intellectualism parallel to the open disdain for smart people in American culture. But I wish that weren’t so.

The day a teacher is considered as commercially viable as, say, a professional wrestler like “The Rock,” we can stop worrying about school reforms, teacher qualifications, and the future of our society.

Grace Stell
San Diego, Calif.

Seeing the End of Education as Usual

To the Editor:

What is giving me the post-millennium “blues” is the thought that anyone might believe that “we now know enough about teaching” or learning (“The Post-Millennium Blues,” April 12, 2000).

The new-millennium blues are settling in on all who realize that our education system is an early-20th-century construct wrapped in a 19th-century agrarian casement—and is changing at a snail’s pace.

In what the author and columnist Thomas Friedman calls the “fast world,” our concepts of teaching and learning, as applied in the classroom, are frequently indistinguishable from what existed 50 years ago.

I am frequently amazed that the same topics that drove questions of school reform in 1967 are still alive today. There are new paradigms to be explored: High schools that offer students the choice of taking online courses, or attending local colleges, or any-time and year-round schedules are possible. They are all consistent with a society that sees choice and access to knowledge as intrinsic rights.

Time, place, and methods of instruction are all variables to be thrown into the mix. Schools as resources, as library or research centers, serving as places with hands-on labs in conjunction with World-Wide-Web-based classes, are models that should be widely explored.

There is much to be learned about how this and future generations of students will learn. While it may be fashionable to talk about the end of science or knowledge, or knowing about “what works” with a sense of finality, what we should recognize is that the end of our current educational system is overdue, and new models need to evolve.

Barnett Sturm
Lakeland Consolidated School District
Shrub Oak, N.Y.

Teachers Have Choices For Liability Insurance

To the Editor:

Your article “Fearful Teachers Buy Insurance Against Liability” (March 29, 2000) provides a much-needed summary of teacher liability insurance. Liability insurance may be one of the main reasons teachers pay union dues, but it need not be the only reason, as there are other means of obtaining liability insurance.

In addition, 22 states currently do not require teachers to belong to teachers’ unions: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming.

Twenty state and two national professional educator groups also offer liability insurance comparable to that offered by the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. The 20 state groups may be found in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia.

The national groups are the Association of American Educators and the Christian Educators Association International. Eighteen state groups also form coalitions under the Coalition of Independent Education Associations.

There is no reason any teacher in America should be without some form of liability insurance.

Cathy Jones
Concerned Educators Against Forced Unionism
Springfield, Va.

Letter on Principals Was Disappointing

To the Editor:

I cannot tell you how disappointed I was in Bil Johnson’s letter (“The Principalship’s Missing Incentives,” April 12, 2000). It is one thing for Mr. Johnson to espouse providing our nation’s teachers with administrative evaluators who have a knowledge of the art and science of teaching. It is entirely another matter to denigrate the reputations and abilities of so many excellent, hard-working, and knowledgeable principals.

Mr. Johnson presents us with a relatively myopic view of how he sees the principalship. These assertions, emanating from a professor at such a fine university, are representative of what continues to drive a wedge between teachers and administrators.

Charles M. Shaddow
Superintendent of Schools
North Hunterdon-Voorhees Regional High School District
Annandale, N.J.

Choice or Coercion?

To the Editor:

Can integration be saved from the integrationists? (“How School Choice Can Promote Integration,” April 12, 2000). When I was elected to the Milwaukee school board three years ago, I naively assumed that integration meant having a mix of black children and white children and children of other backgrounds all learning together in a school. Yet I found that proposals that would lead to more integration were savagely attacked by groups that claimed to be keepers of the integrationist flame. The same groups were adamant defenders of policies driving white and middle-class families out of the city, leading to growing racial separation.

Recently, an explanation of sorts appeared in The New York Times’ “Week in Review” section (April 2, 2000), where Jeffrey Rosen, writing on “The Lost Promise of Integration,” makes it abundantly clear that integration is not true integration unless it is coercive. He peppers his article with quotes such as “You can’t reconcile choice with diversity,” and “No noncoercive mechanism for racial integration ... has evolved.” In other words, school integration is not true integration unless at least some of the children or their families don’t want them to be there.

As many cities found 20 or so years ago, coercive integration, with its accompanying busing and racially based decisionmaking, can vastly increase the number of schools with a diverse population in a very short time. Milwaukee, for example, quickly went from few racially diverse schools to almost all of its schools’ being racially diverse.

But as these same cities discovered, integration obtained through coercion is short-lived. The number of schools counted as nonintegrated in Milwaukee rose from 11 to 99 in 12 years. One big factor was a drop in the proportion of white students, from around 70 percent of total enrollment before the integration plan started to 16 percent today.

To be successful, coercive integration depends on a level of population control incompatible with liberal democracy. Lacking such controls, middle-class parents can escape the coercion by moving to the next town or county. Eventually, segregation between neighborhoods within a city is replaced by segregation between a city and its suburbs.

Besides being ineffective as a means of long-range integration, coercive integration has several other bad effects on a school system:

  • It corrupts the school culture by basing decisions primarily on the child’s race, rather than on what is in the child’s best interests.

  • It pits parents against the schools and their boards, who tell them that meeting the racial numbers is more important than their child’s education.

  • It encourages a blame-the-customer attitude. Racism, rather than school quality, becomes an easy explanation for why parents leave the schools.

  • It ignores whether true integration takes place within the school, so long as the overall numbers meet the goal. Often, there are very different achievement levels between races in a nominally integrated school.

Do recent court opinions against race-based decisionmaking presage the death of integration? Consider the following examples, taken from the Milwaukee experience:

  • Three years ago, the Milwaukee school board changed its policy to allow high schools to institute admissions processes. At Rufus King High School, prior to the change, a black student had a one in six chance of being accepted. In the year following the change, all black students meeting the requirements were accepted, and there has been a large jump in the number of black students taking advanced courses.

  • Two years ago, the courts allowed the expansion of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program to religious schools. The population of many parochial schools is predominantly white. The population qualifying for vouchers is predominantly black, as is the public school system.

  • Milwaukee has several schools in predominantly white neighborhoods whose student population is predominantly black. In most cases, the students attending these schools did not choose them; they were assigned to them because there was no room in their local schools. A plan is now under way to increase capacity in the overcrowded inner-city areas, so that any child wishing to attend a neighborhood school may do so.

Each of these changes was motivated primarily by the desire to give families more choices, and each has been attacked as “resegregation” by the local integration establishment. Yet I would argue that each moves us in the direction of more integration.

The first example, in particular, has a double-barreled impact on integration. It reassures parents that education will not have to be watered down, helping stabilize the population. In addition, by admitting students who have shown they are able and willing to undertake a rigorous academic program, it narrows the racial gap experienced by most nominally integrated urban high schools.

Giving poor minority students the wherewithal to attend majority white schools, as in the second example, would clearly seem to move us in the direction of more integration. The same could be said about encouraging more white students to attend schools that are mainly black, as in the third.

Integration based on coercion has not and cannot work. Stable integration can only come when parents choose to send their children to integrated schools in the belief that those schools best serve the interests of their children. By sounding the death knell for coercive integration, the courts offer us a chance to build true integration based on quality education for all children.

Bruce Thompson
Milwaukee Board of School Directors
Milwaukee, Wis.

A version of this article appeared in the May 03, 2000 edition of Education Week as Letters