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April 12, 2000 6 min read
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Doing a ‘Disservice’ to Education Agencies

To the Editor:

After reading the Commentary by Tom Loveless and Diane Ravitch (“Campaign 2000: What the Candidates Should Be Talking About,” March 22, 2000), I feel compelled to correct the misinformation it contained with respect to state departments of education.

The authors say they are troubled that “a significant portion of Title I funding is spent before it reaches the classroom,” with the clear implication that state education agencies are siphoning off Title I funds. They go on to cite a study conducted by Paul T. Hill that concludes that many state education agencies “have no real agenda beyond keeping federal funds flowing.”

I am disappointed that someone as respected as Ms. Ravitch would promote this erroneous myth, which has been disproven by both the U.S. Department of Education and the General Accounting Office. A 1998 study by the department found that states retained only 1 percent of Title I funds at the state level. This offers further confirmation for a 1994 finding by the GAO, Congress’ investigative arm, showing that states kept only 1.4 percent of all education funding they received, and that these funds were used primarily for “oversight, technical assistance, and training related to specific federal programs.”

As for the charge that the only agenda state education agencies have is to receive federal funds, Mr. Loveless and Ms. Ravitch concede that states and localities furnish 93 percent of all school revenues. Overall, states provide the largest percentage of school funding among the three levels of government. Most telling, however, are the efforts of state boards of education and state education agencies in implementing high standards, aligning rigorous assessments to those standards, and providing technical assistance to districts so students can meet those standards. These actions speak for themselves concerning what is the real agenda of state departments of education: improving the education for all of the students in their care.

Mr. Loveless and Ms. Ravitch do a disservice to the accomplishments and the work of state-level personnel and policymakers when they propagate such deceptive information. Worse, the authors’ stature only perpetuates this misperception among less learned minds. I would have expected better. Our states deserve no less.

Brenda Lilienthal Welburn
Executive Director
National Association of State Boards of Education
Alexandria, Va.


Task Force Addresses ‘Moral Matter’

To the Editor:

While Kevin Ryan and Karen Bohlin may be accurate in their claim that many teacher education programs are not attending to “moral matter,” Nicholas M. Michelli is quite correct when he indicates that there are a number of programs which are, indeed, concerned about the moral dimensions of teaching and teacher education (“Teacher Education’s Empty Suit,” Commentary, March 8, 2000; “Teaching’s Moral Dimension Grows,” Letters, March 29, 2000).

The National Network for Educational Renewal, founded by John I. Goodlad, is one outstanding example of such an initiative involving a great number of higher education institutions. And there are many others.

In December of 1997, the board of directors of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education approved an AACTE Statement on Professional and Institutional Accountability. The document was based on a clear statement that “teaching is, above all, a moral act,” and that teachers—and, by extension, teacher-educators—are in a position to influence and exercise a form of stewardship for educational values and standards.

At approximately the same time, teacher-educators from a variety of colleges and universities around the United States were convened by then-AACTE President Barbara Burch to form a task force entitled “TEAM-C"—Teacher Education as a Moral Commitment. The purposes of TEAM-C are to focus attention upon the moral in teacher education and bring together the many committed teacher-educators who wish to strengthen their programs on premises similar to those stated by Mr. Michelli—that teaching is a moral act, and that consideration of the moral by teachers (and teacher-educators) is crucial to preparing the next generation of citizens for our democracy.

Encouraged and aided by the TEAM-C task force, the February 2000 annual meeting of AACTE featured over 60 sessions focusing on the moral dimensions of teacher education, as well as two major symposia and a “debate” between John Dewey and Edward L. Thorndike. In addition, a preconference meeting focusing upon this issue brought together more than 25 participants interested in examining their own teacher education programs for attention to the moral dimension. Interest was so strong that the TEAM-C task force will expand its efforts for the 2001 annual meeting.

Our experience as a task force leads us to concur with Mr. Michelli that there are, indeed, a growing number of teacher education programs concerned with and focusing on the development of teachers committed to fostering in their students the qualities needed for a moral, just, and humane society.

Mary Ellen Finch
Dean and Professor Emerita
Maryville University-St. Louis
St. Louis, Mo.
The writer is the chairperson of AACTE’s TEAM-C task force.


The Principalship’s Missing Incentives

To the Editor:

Gerald N. Tirozzi’s Commentary on “The Principalship” (“School Reform’s Missing Imperative,” March 29, 2000) is right on the mark in many ways but neglects to point out one of the very real problems that afflict the position he wants to improve. Simply put, the incentives are wrong.

In too many public school districts, people are far more highly rewarded monetarily for leaving the classroom than for staying there. We have had generation after generation of principals who have sought “upward mobility” because they either disliked working in classrooms with students or were not very good at it. By taking administrative courses and completing an internship, these people not only got to leave the classroom but also got to make more money! And then they are put in charge of evaluating the work of a teaching staff that is often distrustful of the principal’s genuine understanding of classroom practice.

If we do not find some way to address this problem, all of the other wonderful suggestions Mr. Tirozzi makes will fall by the wayside as school systems continue to hire managers instead of visionaries.

Bil Johnson
Education Department
Brown University
Providence, R.I.


On Play: Too Busy for the Obvious

I’ll bet Sheila G. Flaxman’s Commentary, “What Happened to Play?” (Feb. 16, 2000), generated scarcely any feedback. My guess is that anybody and everybody seriously involved in education today is just too busy with their noses to the grindstone.

The arts? The importance of music in establishing connectivity in the brain? Emotional intelligence? Research on the brain? People are just too busy to recognize the negative, institutional traits of school culture that impede learning and growth—or to develop the tools needed to change them.

A serious discussion of play implies a focus on the real challenges facing our classrooms: the kind of relationships between adults and the young, the nature of classroom communication, connectivity gaps in the delivery of curriculum and content, the roots of violence.

Regarding play behavior, here are the words of Paul D. MacLean, a senior researcher emeritus at the National Institutes of Health and a leading authority on play: “In view of the prominence of play among mammals and its civilizing influence in human evolution, it is curious that it has received so little attention in neurobehavioral research. In one handbook of experimental psychology, for example, the subject of play is dealt with in less than a page, and in a three-volume handbook of neurophysiology, there is no reference to play.”

Educators are ignoring what is probably the most important learning resource of our evolutionary heritage. “Fish learn water last,” so the saying goes. But maybe we already know this. We’re not so busy in education as we think. We are just holding ourselves hostage.

Jeffrey L. Peyton
Richmond, Va.

A version of this article appeared in the April 12, 2000 edition of Education Week as Letters

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