Education Letter to the Editor


May 12, 2004 11 min read
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Teacher-Hiring Policy Won’t Solve All Issues

To the Editor:

Regarding your article “Community Tries to Influence Teacher’s Pact” (April 28, 2004):

Once again, the shibboleth: that the Philadelphia teachers’ contract prevents the district from placing the experienced teachers in the schools where they are needed most. (The same attack on the teachers’ contract is taking place in New York City.) This politically correct nonsense has been brought up for years. The real reason, by far, that teachers refuse to go to these difficult schools is the anarchistic student behavior that not only is permitted in these schools, but also is blamed on the teachers who work there.

Yet, the biggest tragedy is that most of the children attending these inner-city schools come to class to do their work, but are then subjected to the same children whose outlandish behavior drives teachers away. The quarrel I have with the union stance is that they don’t come out forcefully and stand by a position maintaining that: Terrible behavior on the part of a small portion of disturbed children is the main reason teachers don’t want to teach in these schools; and the public is abandoning the majority of inner-city children because it is not politically tenable to say there are students who cannot be properly cared for in the same school as the vast majority of inner- city children without destroying their education.

A child who runs around a room when the teacher is conducting a reading class should have nothing to do with teacher experience. The other children, who are trying to read, are equally as important as the runner, who should be taken out of the class and treated.

Elliot Kotler
Ossining, N.Y.

To the Editor:

Thanks for spotlighting community and school district efforts to bring site-based hiring of teachers to Philadelphia. We are eager to join the majority of districts that enable schools to hire teachers, rather than to depend on seniority or who gets sent from the central human-resources office. But that is only one part of what we need to do.

Site-based hiring alone will not solve the problem of concentrating the most uncertified, least experienced teachers in the schools with the most low- income students of color. That’s why our Teacher Equity Campaign, with 30 member organizations, advocates a companion policy outside the teachers’ contract to target more resources to hard-to-staff schools, a policy which would make the job of teaching there more doable.

Allowing a faculty to select from a list of proven practices, such as smaller classes, reduced workloads, and extra preparation periods; more mental-health and discipline supports; and teacher coaches and mentors, would be more likely to attract certified and experienced teachers to these schools than dollar bonuses. And this opportunity would invest teachers in the success of their chosen strategies—another advantage too often overlooked when districts impose one- size-fits-all centralized directives on all schools in a given situation.

Teachers deserve better working conditions and more money. But more money alone to do a still-undoable job is not going to improve academic outcomes for the students who suffer the most from the perverse way we staff schools.

Debra Weiner
Education Committee
Philadelphia Citizens for Children
and Youth Education Committee
Philadelphia, Pa.

Property-Tax Levies Let Voters Inform Districts

To the Editor:

It is precisely because it is a tough sell to convince residents to raise their property taxes that the property tax should continue to be an important component of K-12 funding (“Property Tax Feels Weight of Demands,” April 21, 2004). School districts can easily lose touch with the spending priorities of the majority of district voters, since they rarely engage those citizens without children in the schools. Property-tax levies give voters the opportunity to let school officials know when they’ve gotten off track, but also when they’re doing a good job and deserve more money.

Joshua Hall
Director of Research
The Buckeye Institute
Columbus, Ohio

Criteria for ‘Catalog’ Favor the Established

To the Editor:

I noted with interest the waning adoptions for the school improvement programs endorsed by the Catalog of School Reform Models, which is produced jointly by the Northwest Regional Education Laboratory and the National Clearinghouse for Comprehensive School Reform (“Reform Programs Backed by Research Find Fewer Takers,” April 21, 2004). In addition to the reasons for this given in your article, I would suggest another.

The selection process leaves out many exemplary programs that cannot compete with the “big boys” in the catalog who have benefited over the years from the “hefty grant program” that the article mentions. For example, we have been trying for years to get our very successful Project CHILD (Changing How Instruction for Learning is Delivered) program included in the catalog. This model is widely used throughout Florida, with growing adoptions in Kentucky and Georgia. We have 15 years of solid data from multiple sites to show that Project CHILD students excel in reading, writing, and mathematics.

However, to meet the criteria for inclusion in the catalog, a program must have been adopted schoolwide in at least 40 schools in at least 10 states. This criterion creates an insurmountable barrier for successful programs developed and managed by local education authorities or nonprofits. It’s the classic Catch-22. How can your model be adopted nationally without a presence in the catalog? How can nonprofits compete with commercial vendors and their huge marketing budgets?

I hope the feds will consider bringing back the old National Diffusion Network approach that identified successful local programs, and then provided funding for the developers to market and disseminate their models. Otherwise, districts are left with the choice of adopting the few comprehensive models approved in the Catalog of School Reform Models, purchasing commercial programs, or striking out on their own to reinvent the wheel.

Sarah M. Butzin
Executive Director
Institute for School Innovation
Tallahassee, Fla.

Reading the Fine Print On Brain-Imaging Study

To the Editor:

Your article “‘Right’ Instruction Helps Poor Readers’ Brains, Study Says” (April 28, 2004) reports a new “brain glitch” study by, among others, G. Reid Lyon, the president’s “reading czar,” the man behind the National Reading Panel’s scandalously unscientific report, and the virtual author of the federal Reading First program. Through his position as the chief of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s child-development and - behavior branch, he not only co-wrote the study; he also funded it. This conflict of interest doesn’t seem to bother Education Week. Doesn’t it bother anyone else?

Susan Harman
Growing Children Charter School
Oakland, Calif.

To the Editor:

The brain-imaging study led by Drs. Bennett A. and Sally E. Shaywitz of Yale University and co-authored by G. Reid Lyon, purportedly demonstrating that a brain dysfunction causes reading disabilities (“dyslexia”), displays what I have called the Czechlexia error. That is, because, through new learning, brains are ever-changing, examination of these changes cannot assume to have found a dysfunction in the initial state of the brain. If a person were in the process of learning to read Czech, before-and- after brain imaging would show brain changes concomitant with the new learning and not necessarily a prior state of Czechlexia.

The deficit-driven, brain- glitch dyslexia research, by persistently ignoring this methodological issue, has continued to contribute to the misunderstanding of children’s reading problems.

Furthermore, given the researchers’ long-standing and invariable devotion to “phonologically based intervention,” it is not surprising to find that the study used a manipulated experimental method that largely guaranteed a single outcome. The experimental children received “50 minutes of daily individual tutoring” by certified teachers for eight months; the control children did not (some had no tutoring; others had one day each week of an ill- defined “school intervention”).

Given this gross imbalance in instructional time and individual attention, how can anyone logically conclude that it was the “alphabetic principle” training that produced a superior reading outcome? Clearly, the researchers had no trouble resolving that conundrum.

Finally, the brain-imaging results revealed nothing about brain activity and “reading” because no “reading” was used in the imaging analysis—not paragraphs, not sentences, not even words. Rather, the task involved a letter-identification task, hardly one that opens anything close to an adequate window onto brain functioning associated with actual reading or “reading disabilities.”

New technological tools offer extraordinary possibilities for understanding brain activity. Like all such tools, however, they cannot overcome the predispositions researchers employ in applying them.

Gerald Coles
Ithaca, N.Y.

Followup Is Suggested On ‘Well-Being’ Trends

To the Editor:

I am writing to draw attention to two items in your March 31, 2004, issue. The news item “Well-Being of U.S. Children Up Slightly, Report Finds” notes that the well-being of children in the United States declined during the 1980s and rose again around 1999. Several pages later, the table “Suicide Trends” shows low suicide rates among juveniles in the bulk of the 1980s, an increase in the late ’80s through the 1990s, and then a decrease in the late ’90s.

Although the trends in these two sets of data do not exactly mirror one another, similarities do appear to exist. I would be interested in seeing an article about any research that has been conducted regarding the relationship between the index of the well-being of children (or the factors considered by this index) and suicide trends in juveniles.

Sherine Gilmour
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Testing Students for HIV

In response to your front-page article “Some Wisconsin Pupils Could Face HIV Testing” (April 28, 2004): I am nervous any time government intervenes in issues of personal health. The state law in Wisconsin would require students to be tested for the HIV virus if teachers or other school personnel could prove that they were exposed to the students’ blood on the job. While no doubt formulated with the best of intentions, this law is a dangerous breach of privacy rights, and is subject, like so many laws, to perversion at the hands of activist courts.

We have a propensity to turn to government to solve our problems, but in so doing, government more often than not creates more problems. The right to privacy is a paramount right and should be respected. In the rare event that a teacher is exposed to a student’s blood to this degree, a court order, or perhaps simply asking politely, should be pursued.

Making this a case of victims’ rights vs. privacy rights is completely wrong as well. To call a teacher exposed to student blood a “victim” implies that the student was deliberately attempting to harm the teacher in some way. As a teacher, I can tell you that, in my time in the classroom, I have never had this happen. On those occasions when I have had to clean up blood or tend a wound, the student had been involved in an accident. I was not a victim, and the student certainly was not an aggressor.

Putting a law such as this on the books, particularly when calling it a question of victims’ rights, only invites lawyers and courts to expand the law to regularly violate the rights of students. It is a troubling and dangerous precedent in a time when the government already exercises “big brother” type powers over the private lives of citizens.

Clint W. Green
Grand Rapids, Mich.

To the Editor:

HIV testing is a public-health issue. One could, of course, make the case for having every infant tested, every child tested before entering school, and all of us tested every so many years. And such testing could be handled like vision screening or hearing testing. But this needs to be done at a public-health level, in clinical settings.

HIV-AIDS, like tuberculosis, is not an education issue. Schools have a mandate; it is not protecting public health.

Paula Sheil
San Joaquin Delta College
Stockton, Calif.

To the Editor:

Some have commented that calling a teacher like myself, who has been unwillingly exposed to a student’s blood, a “victim” gives the wrong impression of such student-teacher interactions, and that most such encounters are not due to students’ deliberate attempts to harm teachers. They have been extremely fortunate. Some of us in schools are not. In the incident that the led to the law’s enactment, the student was holding a baseball bat over my head and threatening to kill another teacher.

For most teachers, the only blood they will have to deal with will be from students who need and deserve their attention. This law would not apply to them. But if a teacher were ever unwillingly exposed to students’ blood, particularly that of students at risk from unsafe sexual behavior and drug use, then that teacher would be very happy Wisconsin has enacted this law to protect the health of school personnel.

We can hope that most teachers will never have to worry about such matters. But the day this incident happened to me I felt very much like a victim. I suffered a significant exposure, when all I was doing was my job.

Cheryl Hartman
Second Chance Program
Oshkosh, Wis.

To the Editor:

As a recently licensed teacher in Wisconsin, I don’t see the problem with having the person who has been exposed to suspect blood get a test. But not the person the fluids come from. And I don’t see why there is such a concern for HIV and AIDS testing. Hepatitis C and all the other letters of hepatitis are extremely contagious in a school setting, and some are passed on by mere fluid exposure. Wisconsin demands hepatitis vaccine for all school-age children, but that’s only against type B.

Once all agencies with access to medical records are forbidden from discriminating against people based on their past history of medical tests, this will not be an issue. Medical information isn’t all that private.

C. Jetzer
Madison, Wis.

A version of this article appeared in the May 12, 2004 edition of Education Week as Letters


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