Education Letter to the Editor


January 29, 2003 9 min read
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Some Fiscal Woes Are ‘Self-Inflicted’

To the Editor:

Although Bruce Fuller’s Commentary (“‘Federalism on the Cheap,’” Jan. 15, 2003) perpetuates some of the hackneyed No Child Left Behind mythology, with regard to education funding he does raise legitimate complaints about the Bush administration’s handling of the “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001. He is also right about the tough fiscal situation that exists in many states.

There is a common link here, however, that Mr. Fuller omits to mention. Many of the economic wounds at the state and federal levels are self-inflicted, because of overly aggressive tax-cutting during flush fiscal times.

Thus, a lot of states are at least partly culpable for their current fiscal straits. Although it is politically convenient to blame Washington for those problems, that is only part of the story, and slights those at the state level who took difficult stands against excess tax-cutting in the late 1990s.

Andrew J. Rotherham
21st Century Schools Project
Progressive Policy Institute
Washington, D.C.

To the Editor:

What Bruce Fuller seems to overlook is that the states’ current fiscal problem (read: deficits) is due to irresponsible fiscal management. He suggests instead that because the Bush administration is unwilling to reward this behavior, the administration is somehow “cheap.” Alas, Mr. Fuller then entertains us with the standard Berkeley mantra of “tax cuts favoring the rich.”

Under the current tax structure, I am considered rich. Where all the money that makes me “rich” has gone, I have no idea. Probably, it has been consumed by the high cost of child care I pay each year for the privilege of having both my wife and I work. As Mr. Fuller and others seem to forget, the top 10 percent of income earners in this country pay approximately 60 percent of all the income taxes.

Jeff Angle
Director of Strategic Marketing, K-12
Educational Testing Service
Princeton, N.J.

On Quality Counts: A Correlation Query

To the Editor:

In Quality Counts 2003: “If I Can’t Learn From You,” (Jan. 9, 2003), you report state grades for two important areas: standards and assessments, and teacher preparation. Both of these are graded in accordance with currently popular ideas from the progressive school of education theory. As a result, the grading scheme can be regarded as a numerical measure of how closely states adhere to these theories.

It thus seemed fair to run correlations between the grades awarded in Quality Counts 2003 for these two areas and the actual performance of various states on a variety of publicly reported indicators that relate to educational performance. The results of those correlations, run with the CORREL function in Microsoft Excel, are quite revealing.

Neither the Quality Counts 2003 scores for “Standards and Assessment” nor the scores for “Teacher Preparation” have a positive correlation with the vast majority of the indicators. Only the correlation to youth unemployment is slightly positive, and, of course, this is an indicator that we would want to have a negative correlation to good teaching practice.

The implication is that the things that Quality Counts 2003 rates highly seem to have a somewhat negative impact on actual student performance. Perhaps the grading in this report, and the theory underlying it, need to be revisited.

Richard G. Innes
Villa Hills, Ky.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We are often asked about correlations (or lack of them) between student-performance indicators and certain state policies in Quality Counts. Mr. Innes suggests one causal relationship—that state policy actually has a negative impact on student achievement. We suggest an equally plausible conclusion: States with lower student achievement may find the need to take a more active role in setting policies to improve education.

And there are other compelling possibilities. Some of the states with relatively higher achievement (note, however, that the highest-performing state on NAEP 2000 still has only 40 percent of students scoring “proficient” or above in 8th grade math) have other characteristics in common besides taking a hands-off approach to education. For example, many such states also have relatively fewer schools with high-poverty, highly mobile student populations.

Without controlling for other intervening variables, and without accounting for the obvious distance between a state’s policy framework and how policies are implemented on the ground, it may be a leap in logic and sound research to conclude from very simple statistical correlations that state education policies, such as setting standards and requiring teachers to have knowledge in the subjects they teach, are actually a detriment to the well-being of students.

Continuous Testing May Rob Students

To the Editor:

I was delighted to read Howard Good’s Commentary “Off to See the Wizard,” (Dec. 11, 2002). I truly believe that continuous testing, and teaching to a test, will somehow rob students of the life skills, joys, and adventures that abound for them to experience in school.

My fondest wish is for politicians, school administrators, and education advocates to understand and to believe the philosophy that is presented so lucidly in Mr. Good’s essay. I think most classroom teachers would agree.

Dale King
Chandler, Ariz.

The ‘Teacher Gap’ Theory, Practice, and Reality

To the Editor:

Despite its numerous flaws, the “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001 provided important leverage for meaningful reform by requiring states to have plans in place to ensure that poor and minority students gain equitable access to “high quality” teachers (“Quality Counts Reveals National ‘Teacher Gap,’” Jan. 8, 2003). Unfortunately, President Bush, just prior to announcing his plan to eliminate $670 billion in federal tax revenue, decided there was not enough federal money to fund the legislation at the level Congress authorized, cutting billions from the intended education expenditures.

The No Child Left Behind Act also provided a critical new emphasis on improving achievement outcomes, especially graduation rates, for racial and ethnic subgroups, students with disabilities, socioeconomically disadvantaged students, and students with limited English proficiency. As Education Week points out, the research is conclusive that high-quality teaching has the most profound impact on student achievement, especially for poor and minority students.

But poor and minority students will suffer the most if the president insists on cutting the authorized funds, and fails to help states faced with teacher shortages and tremendous education budget shortfalls address the gross inequity in access to high-quality teachers—while also ratcheting up the required tests, K-8, and linking accountability to student scores.

If the necessary implementation resources are denied, and the provisions requiring access to high-quality teachers for poor and minority students cannot be implemented, No Child Left Behind could become an Orwellian slogan masking a continuing nightmare of racial and socioeconomic inequity in education.

Daniel J. Losen
Legal and Policy Research Associate
The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University
Cambridge, Mass.

To the Editor:

I believe that the solution to the “teacher gap” lies within the schools of education. College education majors have no earthly idea about the different types of schools and students that exist out there in society. Teacher training in colleges and universities needs to cover all types of schools, as well as the diverse populations found in those schools’ classrooms: basic education, special education, gifted, high-risk.

And after we do more to educate the education majors, school districts need to offer diversity training to all their staff members, encouraging specific types of teachers to “make the change” to teach those children who need the most love, attention, and educational services that can be provided in the school setting. The rewards are tremendous. There is nothing in the world like it.

Vickie Marble
PAL Academy Charter School
Bradenton, Fla.

To the Editor:

I am an alumnus of the Inner-City Teaching Corps, an organization located in Chicago that places recent college graduates in K-8 private schools in inner-city Chicago for a span of two years. I taught 5th grade on the southwest side of Chicago from 1997 to 1999. Although I taught in a private school, my experiences and perspectives easily can be applied to inner-city public schools, at least those in Chicago.

I have seen several reports over the last few months that highlight the lack of experienced teachers in the most needy schools. These articles tend, whether intentionally or not, to place blame on the “not highly qualified” teachers or the principals and superintendents who hired them. Certainly, there are situations where these individuals are to blame, but in my experience, neither I, nor my principal, nor her superiors were to blame.

I was not what is considered by today’s standards a “highly qualified” teacher. I had a bachelor’s degree in English and a desire to do community-service work. Why was I hired in this inner-city environment, a place that is at the top of any list of “most needy” school environments? How many “highly qualified” teachers were passed over so that I could be hired? Zero. My principal hired me because it was either me or no teacher at all. I was there because I cared. We were not, nor are people today in the same position, the problem. Yes, I was not the “ideal” solution, but a Band-Aid is better than an open wound.

While increasing retention bonuses for skilled, experienced teachers may help, this is not the issue. Retention bonuses? Are you kidding? I taught in a school that had the Latin Kings gang on one side of the neighborhood and the Gangster Disciples gang on the other. A 14-year-old boy was shot to death a few blocks from my school. A $50,000 cocaine bust happened a mile and a half away. A retention bonus is not going to make a teacher, especially one with a family, decide to set up shop in the middle of a gang-infested hovel.

I was 22 years old when I taught in Chicago; it was a wonderful experience, and I loved the kids. But now that I’m older and getting settled in life, you won’t see me looking for a teaching job or a house anywhere near my old school.

If we want to put highly qualified teachers in every school, we need to recognize that the socioeconomic conditions in the most needy environments are the real barrier, not lack of signing bonuses or time off or other job-related components.

One reason we go to college and work hard to get our degrees is so that we have the choice to live and work in “nice” neighborhoods. There are not many who willingly choose to live in conditions that are dirtier, more dangerous, and less satisfying than what they can afford. Selfish, yes; reality, yes.

Paul Heller
San Carlos, Calif.

To the Editor:

It might be worthwhile to ask the “well qualified” teachers why they are not interested in working in the “high need” schools. One reason may be the lack of a clear, strong, top-down, and well-supported discipline program. Another may involve the huge and often missing ingredient of a home setting that provides parental help with homework, discipline, and other matters.

I have seen the difference that support at home makes in my students’ ability to perform and concentrate in class. I don’t think enough is being done to help parents, especially those who have not learned English.

Felyce Thomas
Montara Avenue Elementary
South Gate, Calif.


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