An ‘Inquisition’ for School Research?
To the Editor:
Regarding your front-page article “Law Mandates Scientific Base for Research” (Jan. 30, 2002):
Since the time of Galileo, groups have tried to use the power of law to limit what scientists may do, how they may do it, and what results they will be permitted to find. Copernicus was so intimidated that he delayed publication of his findings until he was on his deathbed. When he saw what was done to Galileo, Descartes delayed publication of his own work on the nature of the solar system.
The current efforts to narrowly define what constitutes scientific research in literacy and more broadly in education, and to decide whose results are to be incorporated into law, are clearly motivated by the same kind of political agendas that motivated Galileo’s enemies.
Science cannot be advanced by limiting its scope and methods. Scientific truth cannot be determined by legislation. And excommunication of researchers and their findings, theories, and methodologies, which has certainly happened in a series of recent government-sponsored efforts such as the National Reading Panel report, is intolerable in a democratic society.
Nothing less than an inquisition is being waged by federal law against teachers and school administrators to limit their practice to mandated application of officially sanctioned research findings and rooting out heretical “whole language” practice, a term being used now as a catchall for any unsanctioned activities.
Language, Reading, and Culture
University of Arizona
Unions and Gen X: The Same Old Song
To the Editor:
There was only one thing missing from your reporting about teachers’ unions and Generation X (“Gen-Xers Apathetic About Union Label,” Jan. 30, 2002): a sense of history.
Your otherwise excellent article is merely the latest in a long series about the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers “aiming to overhaul the way they do business,” as you put it. In fact, I’m considering research to examine correlations between such articles and the lunar calendar.
Here’s a brief sampling from Education Week’s own archives:
- “Unions Turn Critical Eye on Themselves” (Feb. 16, 2000).
- “Seeking ‘Reinvention’ of NEA, Chase Calls for Shift in Priorities” (Feb. 12, 1997).
- “Network Seeks Union Role in Reform Efforts” (May 8, 1996).
- “In Shift, N.E.A. Puts New Focus on Reform Issues” (July 12, 1995).
- “Teachers’ Unions Bringing Reform Issues to Bargaining Table” (May 15, 1985).
As the education labor expert Charles T. Kerchner wrote in his Commentary “A ‘New Generation’ of Teacher Unionism,”: “The signs all around us indicate that a new generation of teacher unionism is emerging. My research, along with the evidence of recent events, suggests that a third generation of labor relations, with educational policy as its focus, is arriving now.”
Unfortunately, Mr. Kerchner wrote that 14 years ago, in your Jan. 20, 1988, issue.
If all the previous “shifts” in union policy actually occurred, what are they shifting from now? If they didn’t occur, why should we believe they are occurring now?
Education Intelligence Agency
To the Editor:
Thank you for the insightful article about younger teachers’ attitudes toward teacher-union membership.
Even teachers who are forced to accept the monopoly, exclusive representation of teachers’ unions have an alternative in some states.
Concerned Educators Against Forced Unionism, a special project of the National Right to Work Legal Defense and Education Foundation Inc., was established in 1975 to oppose compulsory unionism for public school teachers.
CEAFU works with 23 independent, professional educator groups in different states to provide an alternative to union membership. These associations serve school employees who believe they do not benefit from exclusive monopoly representation of teacher unions.
In addition, there are two national groups giving teachers an alternative voice: the Association of American Educators, or AAE, and the Christian Education Association International. Altogether, these state and national groups boast a membership of almost 250,000 teachers.
These associations provide liability insurance and other salient benefits provided by teachers’ unions.
Concerned Educators Against Forced Unionism
N.C. School Trims ‘Preparation Gap’
To the Editor:
In his letter (“Two Ways to Close ‘Preparation Gap’,” Jan. 23, 2002), Principal John Massey missed an opportunity to acquaint readers with his most remarkable school.
At Mr. Massey’s South Scotland Elementary School in Laurinburg, N.C., 50 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, 20 percent are American Indian, 30 percent are African-American, and 50 percent are white. The beginning-reading program he describes in his letter provides a seamless passage for every student into the school’s upper-grade Formula-Three Language Processing Chain program.
In that accelerated reading program, students meet for 45 minutes each day in ungraded, homogeneous language-processing groups. Each group rotates to a new teacher every six weeks and, under a teacher’s direct instruction, the students work cooperatively while reading and processing a variety of short written works with an extremely high level of challenge.
As an outcome of that instruction, the composite scores for minority students in grades 3-5 (reading and mathematics in grades 3-5 and writing in grade 4) are at or above grade norm on the high-stakes accountability program’s end-of-grade tests: African-Americans scoring 81.3 percent and American Indians scoring 83.3 percent. (One admittedly high-end criterion for actually closing the achievement gap requires that 80 percent or more of a school’s minority students score at or above grade norm on a standardized test.)
The same instructional practices boosted the composite score for white students to 86.7 percent. As an outcome, not only did the school’s minority students close the achievement gap, but the composite score of 82.9 percent for all the grade 3-5 students resulted in the school’s being honored as a national School of Distinction.
San Diego, Calif.
The writer is the co-author of Formula-Three Reading, Spelling, Learning Programs.
Board-Certified Cinema Vérité
To the Editor:
The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has been around for 15 years, collecting more than $100 million in federal subsidies, yet it is just getting around to commissioning independent research to show whether the teachers who win its certification actually make a difference in raising academic achievement? (“National Board Is Pressed to Prove Certified Teachers Make Difference,” Jan. 30, 2002).
States have bought into the board’s unsupported claims of effectiveness by awarding teachers substantial and continuing bonuses for obtaining this national certification, yet now the board implicitly admits a research base does not yet exist to justify these taxpayer-funded rewards?
Maybe the spate of research the NBPTS is now soliciting will provide shreds of evidence to suggest the value of teachers’ putting their portfolios and $2,300 application fees into winning this national seal of approval. Maybe not. But education consumers can be assured of one thing: Judging from “A Candidate’s Guide to National Board Certification 2001-02,” jointly published by the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, teachers who go through this process will be nothing if not hands-on practitioners.
Because the NBPTS puts a premium on videotapes of classroom performance, the teachers’ unions helpfully provide their members a “Cameraperson Guide,” with tips such as the following:
“Before taping, make sure all cables are securely connected and the tape is in the camera. ... Do not aim the camera at a source of bright light. ... To improve sound while taping, consider: ... Avoiding taping when there is extraneous noise (e.g., band practice, recess, lawn mowing, etc.).”
Even if the NBPTS process doesn’t make teachers better at teaching knowledge, it figures to make them at least semi-skilled cinematographers.
Good News, Bad News: After the ESEA Reauthorization, Science Educators Are ‘Waiting to Celebrate’
To the Editor:
Last month, President Bush signed into law the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which contained many elements of his comprehensive education reform plan. While some consider this legislation a huge success, we in the science education arena are waiting to celebrate. That’s because the “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001 contains both good news and bad news for science teaching and learning in this country (“Math and Science Could Be Big Losers Under New Law,” Jan. 16, 2002).
The good news is that the law establishes a new math-science partnerships program that will provide quality professional-development opportunities to in-service teachers and nudge more bright science majors into teaching. This is encouraging, especially since many schools are dealing with huge teacher shortages in science and math. The partnership programs will also allow schools to hire master science teachers for elementary school classrooms and bring more working scientists into the schools to help teachers, and students, understand scientific inquiry and the wonders of science. This, too, is encouraging because research shows elementary teachers feel less qualified to teach science than other subjects.
The bad news is that after Congressional authorizers created the new partnerships programs, their appropriations colleagues provided only $12.5 million for the programs this year, a sharp contrast from the $450 million that education authorizers had requested for the programs, and a huge departure from the $485 million allocated for math and science professional development last year.
The need for better math and science education has never been greater, but Congress has virtually eliminated the dedicated funding for science education. In light of science’s role in our nation’s security and changing workforce, and in light of numerous studies that show U.S. students’ lackluster achievement in science, we question why science education is not a top priority for our nation’s lawmakers.
At the same time, science is also becoming less of a priority in many of our nation’s classrooms, and we believe the new education bill will exacerbate the problem. Teachers in many states, especially at the elementary level, simply don’t have enough time to teach science. Why? Most states generally test students on reading and math skills; as a result, teachers spend most of the school day on these areas. For example, in Broward County, Fla., the high-stakes Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test has forced many teachers to abandon hands-on science in favor of reading about scientific concepts.
No one disputes that a solid foundation in reading and mathematics is essential to a child’s education. But as more elementary and middle-level teachers are pressured to spend additional time on these subjects, we’re finding that science is getting short shrift.
What happens now? Without the federal priority placed on science education, the burden for keeping it alive now lies with the states and local school districts. Because the legislation offers states and districts flexibility in how they spend funds earmarked for teacher quality, it is up to them to ensure science is a priority. This is a tall task in light of the challenges and mandates placed on them.
In the future, we hope that our federal lawmakers will reconsider their commitment to science education, because it has the power to make a profound difference on the well-being of our nation and people. Only then will we celebrate. In the meantime, we urge schools to keep science alive. Science is a fundamental and essential subject and deserves to be the “fourth R.”
National Science Teachers Association
A version of this article appeared in the February 13, 2002 edition of Education Week as Letters