Education Letter to the Editor


November 27, 2002 8 min read
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Digital Technology: Use in Moderation

To the Editor:

In one of those cases of perfect timing, your issue with Dennis Evans’ Commentary (“Technological Progress: An Oxymoron?” Nov. 6, 2002) appeared in my mailbox right after the students in my junior English class and I had discussed their recent work.

I was very excited about the class’s project: to research language as it is used in some aspect of culture and produce a Web page for posting on the school’s site. It was a multifaceted assignment, involving research, information literacy, presentation skills, and technology. The posted products are quite well done.

The students, however, were not as thrilled as I was by the project. They complained that it prevented us from going into our usual depth in class, and thus became “boring” and “superficial.” They recognized that the Web sites should not be an end product, just a starting point.

That’s what we educator’s have to remember as we continue figuring out how to use digital technology to help us achieve our ultimate educational goals.

Mark Crotty
Director of Curricular Programs, PK-12
Greenhill School
Addison, Texas

To the Editor:

I use computers in addition to traditional class discussions and lectures. The computers allow the students to explore and find answers to questions posed in class, instead of my always spoon-feeding them the information. In doing so, students also learn to use the technologies that almost every company requires for its employees.

Technology is like anything else—use in moderation.

Suzanne Dangelmaier
Science Teacher
Seguin High School
Seguin, Texas

Reading Recovery Debate Continues

To the Editor:

The response of the Reading Recovery Council of North America to our letter of concern about the efficacy of their program suggests that we struck a nerve (“Advocates of ‘Reading Recovery’ Responding to Critics,” Nov. 6, 2002). Clearly, no cost was spared by the council in producing and widely distributing a paper purporting to rebut our letter.

For the record, we did not release the letter on the Internet, did not assert that Reading Recovery was wholly ineffective, and did not have “political” motives. Why would researchers in Canada and New Zealand (as are four of the letter’s 32 signers) care about policy in the United States?

The letter was written after an article appeared in Education Week on the role of Reading Recovery in the “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001 (“States Unclear on ESEA Rules About Reading,” May 1, 2002). We felt that policymakers should be made aware that many researchers were less positive about the effectiveness of Reading Recovery for all struggling readers.

The questions raised were from previous research reports published in major peer-reviewed journals. These questions were: (1) How effective is Reading Recovery with the poorest readers? (2) Is the phonics component sufficient? (3) Does Reading Recovery have to be conducted in a one-to-one student-teacher ratio? (4) Why does Reading Recovery continue to use inadequate measures? (5) Why doesn’t the program change in line with research findings?

Far from a point-by-point rebuttal to our letter, there is little data in the report showing that the poorest readers benefit from Reading Recovery. There are no data from qualitative “time by activity” studies showing how much time Reading Recovery teachers spend on explicit phonics instruction. There is no citation of studies showing that Reading Recovery is more effective when delivered one-to-one than in a small group, only a critique of those studies that did not support the superiority of a one-to-one format.

An independent committee charged to evaluate instruments for Reading First (http://idea.uoregon. edu/assessment/final_report.pdf) found that the Observation Survey lacked adequate reliability and validity for the assessment purposes outlined in Reading First, and therefore could not be recommended to the states.

Many signers of the original letter were not in disagreement with the letter of reply by colleagues in support of Reading Recovery. It is effective for some children, and early intervention can prevent reading difficulties.

Readers should review the primary research articles, rather than relying on the letter or on quotations from the Reading Recovery Council of North America’s response. The council should be encouraged to invest its considerable resources in research addressing the questions we and others have raised, as opposed to costly publications and lobbyists. With this research data, states would be able to propose use of Reading Recovery for the Reading First program with greater confidence.

Moreover, the research would suggest ways of improving the Reading Recovery program, so that it might serve a larger number of struggling readers and produce even greater benefits for participating students, a more accurate representation of the motives of those who wrote and signed the original letter.

Jack M. Fletcher
Center for Academic and Reading Skills
Department of Pediatrics
University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
Houston, Texas

Can Choice Benefit District Revenues?

To the Editor:

Good for Miami-Dade County and its parents and kids for seeing choice as a positive educational factor (“Miami-Dade Will Launch Choice Plan,” Nov. 6, 2002). District leaders, however, continue to misstate a critical point about “losing” revenues when kids go to charters or use vouchers. Reaching a conclusion that there is a net loss of funds suggests that such leaders may not be able to pass even 4th grade math.

For sure, some revenue moves with a child to a charter school or voucher program, but by no means all.

For example: Assume $5,000 per child for 500 students, or total revenues of $250,000. If all 500 of the students go to a charter school, in most states, only about 80 percent of the funds will follow them. So the district loses the expense of teaching 500 students, but keeps $50,000 of that cost anyway—thus, having more money to apply to educating the remaining students.

And the district is even better off financially with a voucher student, since that student in most states takes only 50 percent of the funds, perhaps less. If those 500 students in the previous example used vouchers, the expense of educating them would be lost, but the district would retain $125,000 to use for the remaining kids.

On a per-student funding basis, traditional districts are money ahead for a child who moves to a charter school or uses a voucher. Thus, in my view, it is a great fallacy for traditionalists to claim a net loss of funds for kids moving to charter or voucher schools.

John A. Cairns
Minneapolis, Minn.

New Wis. Governor Bears Mentioning

To the Editor:

I read with interest your post-election article on the new governors across the country (“Governors Elected on Mixed School Agendas,” Nov. 13, 2002).

But much to my chagrin, I found that when citing states where a Democratic governor replaced a Republican, Wisconsin was totally left out.

Wisconsin has spent more than 16 years under Tommy G. Thompson (currently the U.S. secretary of health and human services) and his successor, Lt. Gov. Scott McCallum. On Election Day, Attorney General Jim Doyle, a Democrat, was chosen to replace them. This change should have made your article.

For more than nine years, we have been under the thumb of the Thompson-era Qualified Economic Offer law, which has unfairly bound the hands of those of us who believe that true collective bargaining, with binding arbitration, yields the best solution for all educational employees. The QEO law has held state education employees (and no other state employees) to a total salary-plus-benefit cost increase of 3.8 percent. I have not had even a cost-of-living salary increase in over eight years, and this year, due to rising insurance costs, I actually suffered a decrease in salary.

Jim Doyle, a former educator who comes from a family of educators, and whose wife, Jessica, is a teacher in Madison, Wis., has declared that the “war on teachers is over.” Was this not worthy of mention in your article?

June Anderson
Oshkosh, Wis.

NAEP Reading Test: Will Its Revision Serve Politics Or Comprehension?

To the Editor:

If I understand the article “NAEP Board Initiates Reading-Test Overhaul” (Nov. 6, 2002) correctly, this test may be revised from assessing “comprehension and critical-thinking skills” to the assessment of “basic reading skills.” The latter presumably correspond to the five components of effective “research based” instruction outlined in the “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and text comprehension.

Isn’t the goal of such so-called “research based” instruction to teach children to read? If so, by 4th grade, when the National Assessment of Educational Progress is first administered, students should be able to read with understanding, think about what has been read, and draw valid conclusions. This sounds like “comprehension and critical thinking” to me. Frankly, I don’t care how well a 4th grader can perform on a test of phonemic awareness or phonics in isolation, if he or she can’t read real text with thoughtful understanding.

Catherine C. Whitehouse
Principal and Executive Director
The Intergenerational School
Cleveland, Ohio

To the Editor:

The idea that the National Assessment of Educational Progress might change its reading test to better assess the effectiveness of new teaching strategies only serves to highlight how politically motivated—and educationally irrational—so much of the reading wars and assessment battles are. If the so-called new strategies really do improve students’ reading ability, won’t their scores go up on the test as currently constructed? If that’s not the case, I question whether their reading ability is actually improved.

If NAEP has to construct test items that only test students’ phonemic awareness or phonics ability, they’re testing isolated skills that have nothing to do with making meaning, only with making sounds. I hardly think that proves the new strategies improve reading ability, though it may raise test scores—which, after all, is what the Bush administration cares most about.

Andrea Fishman
Elkins Park, Pa.

A version of this article appeared in the November 27, 2002 edition of Education Week as Letters


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