Education Letter to the Editor


November 06, 2002 13 min read
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Segregating Life? 3 Views on Choice

To the Editor:

Regarding your recent essay by Gary W. Ritter and Christopher J. Lucas (“The ‘Common School’ Fallacy,” Commentary, Oct. 23, 2002): Speaking from the perspective of a parent whose child is removed from his community school due to his disabilities, I feel that center-based programming (a related issue, although not the direct focus of this essay) does all of our children a great disservice. Our children must learn together in order to live together. Life is not segregated. Why should school be?

Debi Lewis
Morgantown, W.Va.

To the Editor:

It is important in this day and age to have as many choices as possible. I live in the Cleveland city school district, and “voucher” is a dirty word here, along with “charter.” The teachers’ unions want to keep the myth alive that public schools work. But I have known, both inside and outside this district, that they do not.

George Bendycki
Cleveland, Ohio

To the Editor:

Gary Ritter and Christopher Lucas’ Commentary on school choice focused too narrowly on racial segregation and overlooked other important considerations.

As the overwhelming majority of nonpublic schools are pervasively sectarian, their student bodies and faculties tend toward religious homogeneity, or religious imbalance or segregation, if you will.

Nonpublic schools serve disproportionately fewer special-needs children than public schools.

So long as nonpublic schools do not have to play by the same rules—all of the same rules—direct or indirect tax support for them would harm public education, increase schooling costs unnecessarily, and fragment our school population along lines that would be unhealthy for our country.

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

Give All Parties Equal Coverage

To the Editor:

I am disappointed by your decision to publish only the educational perspectives of Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates in the Oct. 23, 2002, feature “Gubernatorial Candidates and Their Education Platforms for 2002.” The alleged premise of this feature was to inform the voting public about the candidates’ educational perspectives, and yet, with a handful of exceptions, perspectives of alternative candidates such as those from the Green, Independent, and Libertarian parties were excluded from the guide. Why did you choose not to give equitable coverage to these candidates?

One would hope that a widely read educational publication such as yours would embrace the diversity of viewpoints in education. Indeed, such diversity is the sine qua non of what it takes to create a truly informed public about what is possible in education. You have done the field and the voters a terrible disservice.

Maricel Santos
Cambridge, Mass.

To the Editor:

I appreciate your reporting of the gubernatorial candidates’ statements, but I am really frustrated that you only list two of the candidates for the vast majority of states. We are not a biparty system, and I miss seeing what the Green Party candidate has to say in California. Be real. We will only be a true democracy when all candidates are recognized.

Alice Wagner
Oakland, Calif.

Public vs. Private In Accreditation

To the Editor:

Elizabeth Randall’s Commentary, “The Holes in the War Against Public Education” (Sept. 25, 2002), and several letters in response (“Smear Jobs: Defend Public Education—But Not by Tarring Independent Schools,” Oct. 16, 2002) discuss accreditation and approval differences between public and independent schools. However, in my opinion, they overlook two important differences.

First, accreditation of independent schools by the National Association of Independent Schools and its regional bodies entails a two-level evaluation. The less important level examines whether a school meets minimum standards; the more important examines whether a school meets its own declared standards. Are curriculum, training, and assessment adequate, yes, but also, is the school actually doing what it says it is doing?

Second, a most important form of evaluation and accountability in independent schools is the “market.” Do parents want to send their children there; do schools at the next level, or does the workplace, want the graduates of a school? The independent school world is full of examples of schools opening, closing, merging, and reinventing themselves, as administrations succeed or fail to convince their constituencies of the value of their models.

Melissa Vail
College Bound Programs
Bedford Hills Correctional Facility
Bedford Hills, N.Y.
Former Head of Lower School
Cathedral School
New York, N.Y.

Plato Learning Inc. Clarifies an Article

To the Editor:

Your Oct. 16, 2002, article discussing a controversy at one of our client sites (“Digital Dilemma: Can Computers Sub for Teachers?”) raises a number of important issues surrounding the use of technology in general, and the Plato learning system in particular. While it would be inappropriate for us to comment on our clients, I would like to clarify our position on effective use of our system, and to address the oversimplified view of Plato presented in the article.

We believe that the “Can computers replace teachers?” debate (a contemporary version of the “John Henry” myth) emerges from a naive understanding of the capabilities of both teachers and computers, as well as an underestimate of the goals of education.

We have identified eight roles for effective computer use in education; only one involves direct tutorial instruction by the computer. Even there, however, our research shows that the most effective use of Plato instruction is as a means of leveraging the teacher, to make it possible for the teacher to assume the roles of mentor, tutor, and counselor, while at the same time assuring mastery by every student of the knowledge and skills required by state curriculum standards.

In a Plato technical paper, I identified four different instructional models: problem-centered, supplemental, complementary, and primary. Each of these models has its own goals, its own role for the teacher, and carries its own assumptions about the use of Plato courseware.

It is an error to characterize the Plato learning system as an integrated learning system, or ILS. The overall goal of Plato Learning is to ensure the success of all learners throughout their lifetimes. Our system of software is designed to support standards-based systemic change at any scale, from entire states to individual teachers. Our instructional components use a wide variety of instructional strategies, including problem- solving, project-based learning, simulation, open-ended investigation, collaborative learning, and one-on-one tutorial instruction.

Our work is based on current cognitive-learning theory; by the end of next year, all of our major curricula will have been built within the past five years—much more recently than the ILS controversy cited in your article. Furthermore, unlike an integrated learning system, the Plato system is open, modular, flexible, cross-platform, and customizable. Depending on their needs, most of our clients use only a portion of the entire offering. I encourage your readers to visit our Web site, www.plato.com, for a complete picture of our technology and services, as well as our research base.

Rob Foshay
Vice President
Instructional Design and
Quality Control
Plato Learning Inc.
Bloomington, Ind.

In Some Classes, Segregation Lives

To the Editor:

Although it has emerged as a topic of scholarly debate within education circles, in actuality, there is no such thing as “resegregation” within the nation’s system of public education. Many Americans continue to advance the erroneous notion that racial integration has occurred within our public schools (and thus may be in jeopardy). For example, in an item in a recent Media column (“Segregation Revisited,” Sept. 25, 2002), you write:

“Today, students from every definable race and ethnic category study and squirm shoulder to shoulder in the same public school classrooms, learning about something called segregation—as a vocabulary word on a pop quiz, a chapter in their history textbooks, or a topic for the debate team.”

The comment was written in the context of discussing a four- part television documentary entitled “The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow,” which was aired by PBS in October.

For the 100-plus students I teach daily at James Madison Middle School in Rochester, N.Y., segregation is—in addition to a chapter in their history textbooks, or a topic for the debate team—a daily fact of life in their classrooms, whose composition is almost 100 percent African-American. Nor are my students’ classes exceptional or unique. They represent the norm at Madison, throughout the Rochester school district, and within urban schools and districts across New York state and the nation.

Despite the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954, as well as thousands of citizens’ protests, marches, and demonstrations in the streets; massive busing efforts; federal enforcement efforts, including the use of soldiers in numerous cases; sit-ins, teach-ins, and love-ins on the part of liberals, militants, and revolutionaries of every stripe, the United States has never come remotely close to achieving full (de facto, as opposed to de jure) integration of the vast majority of its public schools.

Those earlier actions may have been responsible for producing the degree of progress toward equal educational opportunity that has been achieved. Yet, it would be a gross understatement to say they have fallen short. With regard to the issue of equity, considering the current pitiful state of affairs overall, it is probably difficult for many people to look back and imagine that less than 50 years ago, conditions were considerably worse.

There are many reasons why past struggles for educational equity have failed. One of the most critical is that, with the expansion of the black middle class, a great vacuum in leadership has ensued, caused largely by desertion on the part of individuals who had once lent their skills to organizing and fighting so fervently for justice and equality. With this exodus, movements that had been effective died.

Howard J. Eagle
Rochester, N.Y.

Race and Class: ‘Misrepresenting the Facts’ On MCAS Pass Rates?

To the Editor:

In your Oct. 23, 2002, article titled “Most Students Failing MCAS Are White, Mass. Says,” the director of communications of the Massachusetts Department of Education is quoted as saying, “What these tables show is that the majority of students who have not yet passed both tests are white.”

That is besides the point in a state that is overwhelmingly white. The real story of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, or MCAS—Massachusetts’ high-stakes test—lies in a deeper analysis by race and class. Using the department of education’s own data, Hispanic students are four times as likely, and black students are three times as likely, to fail the MCAS as are white students. Low-income students are three times as likely to fail the MCAS as are their more affluent peers.

At the same time, the MCAS has resulted in a decrease in the state’s graduation rate, an increase of middle school and 9th grade dropouts, and an increase of almost 100 percent in students unaccounted for in the 2003 graduating cohort of students—students who were most likely held back, the strongest predictor of dropping out of school. In each case, the percentages of students are disproportionately black, Hispanic, and low-income. Only 66 percent of the entering 9th grade class of 2003 are on track to graduate this coming spring.

If anything, these data demonstrate that the MCAS is widening the achievement gap by race and income rather than lessening it.

Dan French
Executive Director
Center for Collaborative Education
Boston, Mass.

To the Editor:

Heidi B. Perlman, the director of communications for the Massachusetts Department of Education, would certainly not answer questions of ratio and proportion correctly on the 10th grade MCAS test required for graduation in Massachusetts.

Our state officials should be ashamed of themselves for misrepresenting data that most high school statistics students would correctly analyze as indicating that minority students are not passing the MCAS in proportion with nonminority students.

While 55 percent of the students failing the test last year were white, overall 80 percent of students in the test-taking group were white. That means that almost half (45 percent) of the failing students were from minority groups making up only 20 percent of the population taking the test.

Either our state officials really do not understand basic math, or they severely underestimate the public’s ability to understand the facts or interest in doing so.

Throughout the state, educators are being challenged to make informed instructional decisions based on student data. There is no room for misrepresenting the facts.

Maryellen Brunyak
Shrewsbury, Mass.

After-School Fare: Art Is Academic, Not Enrichment or Entertainment

To the Editor:

In her insightful Commentary “Making After-School Count” (Oct. 23, 2002), Jean Baldwin Grossman might possibly be unaware of the federal Goals 2000: Educate America Act mandate—passed in 1994—that gave equal partner status to dance, drama, visual arts, and music, along with the traditional core curricula of mathematics, science, history, and language arts. To refer to theater as nonacademic, and write about getting a “free” dance teacher from a local studio, shows a lack of understanding of the academic nature of drama, dance, music, and the visual arts and the academic effects that arts education has on students’ learning odysseys.

Educators, administrators, students, parents, business leaders, education funders, and writers must stop labeling disciplines as either academic or gratuitous (as the arts are often called). Arts education is as essential to a student’s educational experience as math and science are. When the arts are integrated into the center of schools’ curricula rather than kept to the periphery (and not just in magnet schools), genuine student engagement and learning will occur across the disciplines.

It is wonderful that dance and drama are successfully taught in after-school programs. But regardless of the excellence of the teacher or program, fundamentally, after-school arts education remains a form of enhancement, enrichment, or entertainment. Arts education advocates seek support and funding for dance, drama, music, and the visual arts to be taught during the regular school day by qualified specialists who know and are trained to teach sequential curricula.

Ms. Grossman writes that after-school activities “promote positive attitudes in kids who often don’t succeed in the typical school context.” Often, those students are kinesthetic learners who need academic concepts taught through movement education, as dance educators are trained to do.

More than a quarter of a century ago, the visionary dance educator Anne Green Gilbert wrote, in her foreword to Teaching the Three R’s Through Movement Experiences, about the change in her 3rd grade classroom when she instituted a movement program:

“The excitement generated from being allowed to move more freely in the classroom helped rather than hindered class control. Instead of the occasional fights caused by the frustration of sitting all day, there was an atmosphere of cooperation. Thirty children cannot move around each other and 30 desks without learning the art of cooperation. The scores on their spelling tests greatly improved after sessions in body spelling. The children took a new interest in math after making up problems with their bodies. They understood the revolutions of the planets after moving around the classroom in the solar systems they had created.”

The same changes and epiphanies occur with middle and high school students. All involved with education would do well to remember the famous poster that states the low percentage of a lesson a student absorbs from being lectured to—arts education, by definition, involves doing, and students learn best by doing. Radically enhanced arts education programs would motivate and inspire our students and could transform our schools—irrespective of the time the learning takes place.

Ivy Harper
National Dance Education Organization
Bethesda, Md.

A version of this article appeared in the November 06, 2002 edition of Education Week as Letters


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