Education Letter to the Editor


January 22, 2003 7 min read
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Static Hard Copy, Or Online Texts?

I just read your article on encyclopedias (“In a Digital World, Encyclopedias Strive for Relevance,” Jan. 8, 2003). Do you really believe that having a printed copy of a text, something that could be out of date in a week, is better than having access to reliable, online resources that can be researched in real time by an individual with critical-thinking and problem-solving skills?

The paranoia of the over-40 generation has for years been preoccupied with “kids roaming free on the Internet.” In my experience, students today deserve a lot more credit than they are given. They should not be generalized as a group of evil-seekers. They are, in fact, a network that works together amazingly well.

Students invented the Internet; they will certainly influence its future. That shouldn’t surprise anyone—or, for that matter, scare anyone into feeble attempts to keep young people away from it. We’d be a lot better off teaching them how to use the Internet, and how to distinguish the good information from the bad. I think it’s long since time that we taught students about trust and responsibility, by example.

Teaching young people that printed information is better than what they can find through online resources will do nobody any good, particularly not future employers. Teaching students critical thinking is much more important than teaching them how to look something up in a static, hard-bound book.

Ray Bordwell
Chicago, Ill.

Essay Is Seen as A Covert Attack

To the Editor:

Frederick M. Hess’ essay “What Is ‘Public’ About Public Education?” (Commentary, Jan. 8, 2003) is a shopworn and not very cleverly camouflaged brief for compelling all citizens through taxation to support nonpublic, predominantly sectarian schools that commonly practice forms of discrimination in admissions, hiring, and curriculum content that would be intolerable in real public schools.

Like most advocates of vouchers or their analogues, Mr. Hess does not acknowledge what should be obvious: Such plans would escalate educational costs, seriously damage the teaching profession, transform education into sectarian and ideological indoctrination, and fragment our school population along religious, class, ethnic, linguistic, and other lines.

Thirty-five years of state referendums and opinion polling have made clear that Americans reject Mr. Hess’ voucher push by about 2-to-1. His views are particularly out of place in this era of state and federal budget crunch. We need to improve education, not destroy it.

Edd Doerr
Americans for Religious Liberty
Washington, D.C.

To the Editor:

Why would you chose to publish an opinion essay by a right-wing scholar from a conservative think tank (the American Enterprise Institute) that essentially bashes public education?

Has Frederick M. Hess ever taught a day in his life? He certainly doesn’t write like he has a clue of what he is talking about, except to parrot talking points from the privatizers. Couldn’t you have found somebody who could write about public schools and their purpose without spouting Cold War-sounding garbage about public schools being “state run” or “governmental”? In truth, they are “public” because they are taxpayer- funded, like the police, fire departments, and municipal garbage collection.

Frankly, I am sick of reading distortions from people working in these “think tanks” whose real purpose is to abolish public education altogether. Many of these conservative propaganda institutes represent those wealthy interests who do not believe that most people should have access to the means of upward mobility.

Shame on Education Week for publishing this tripe.

Susan Nunes
Reno, Nev.

Bush Plan Places Burden on Schools

To the Editor:

Having “no child left behind” is a wonderful ideal for teachers to hold. Teachers and counselors have had that dream for many years. George W. Bush, however, is merely coining a phrase to mark his tenure as president as a pro-education term. What he really plans to do, it seems to me, is add more testing to an already crowded public school calendar (“Can the Bush School Plan Work?,” Commentary, Dec. 4, 2002).

For instance, in the state of Missouri, we’re already participating in a state assessment program (grades K-10), which is tied to accreditation and state funding. For test scores to meet the levels of improvement called for, teachers have to spend most of their teaching time focused on the state assessment objectives that make up the subject-oriented test battery. And now, President Bush wants to require more testing.

Not only will this increase lead to more children being left behind, but we will, I believe, see higher dropout rates and greater recourse to home schooling here in Missouri. These numbers already have increased substantially since the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education initiated the current statewide assessment program, with its implications for accreditation and funding. Our district is experiencing a lot of transient movement among students right now due to family divisions, and that makes the statewide assessment outcomes inconsistent for these students.

Maybe Mr. Bush needs to address other reasons why children are being left behind, such as the lack of parenting skills, responsibility, and common sense. The president seems to be placing the whole burden of “leaving no child behind” on the schools, overlooking who and what else influences children. While I like his definition of success (no child left behind), he’s not being realistic, as we educators all know.

Paul Cameron
Ste. Genevieve Middle School
Ste. Genevieve, Mo.

Abuse Potential Of ADHD Treatment

To the Editor:

You note in a News in Brief item that Strattera, the brand name of a new treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, works differently from currently available stimulant medications by “targeting a different neurotransmitter in the brain” (“FDA approves New Drug to Treat Attention Problems,” News in Brief, Dec. 11, 2002).

ADHD is generally characterized by inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. In many cases, stimulant medications, which work by a mechanism that inhibits the reuptake of two neurotransmitters (norepinephrine and dopamine) believed to play a role in ADHD, help children with the disorder focus and ignore distractions. This makes them better able to pay attention and to control their behavior.

In contrast, Strattera is classified as a “selective reuptake inhibitor,” which works only on norepinephrine. In the absence of direct comparative studies with stimulants, the recommended standard of care according to leading experts such as the American Pediatric Association and American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, it remains unknown whether Strattera will be able to match the proven efficacy of these medications. Research demonstrates that about 80 percent of children with ADHD who are treated with stimulant medications improve their functioning.

Your news item also addresses the area of abuse and diversion of ADHD medications. I believe it is important that your readers know that different stimulant medications and different formulations of these medications have different abuse potentials.

The potential for stimulant abuse among ADHD and non-ADHD patients is a serious concern. Careful selection of a stimulant therapy, together with close monitoring, can ensure both treatment compliance and minimization of abuse potential.

Dr. Patrick Ciccone
Vice President
Medical Specialty Pharmaceuticals Group
McNeil Consumer & Specialty Pharmaceuticals
Fort Washington, Pa.

A Double Standard For Test Criticism?

To the Editor:

It’s strange that Chester E. Finn Jr., the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and a former assistant secretary of education in the Reagan administration, invokes David C. Berliner’s previous opposition to high- stakes testing as part of the basis for finding fault with the recent Arizona State University reports on testing’s efficacy (“Reports Find Fault With High-Stakes Testing,” Jan. 8, 2003). After all, it’s the same Mr. Finn who was a former founding partner of Edison Schools Inc., the nation’s largest for- profit school chain. As such, he hardly qualifies as a dispassionate critic of standardized testing as a gauge of instructional effectiveness.

It’s also perplexing when Mr. Finn cites the difficulty of controlling for policy changes during the period that the authors of the reports were trying to measure the effects of high-stakes testing. Why is he mute about the changes in socioeconomic status that often took place in the lives of students during the same period? Aren’t these as important in affecting student performance?

There’s a transparent double standard at work in Mr. Finn’s criticism that undermines his argument.

Walt Gardner
Los Angeles, Calif.


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