Education Opinion


March 26, 2003 20 min read
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Calif. Bilingual Rule Is Discriminatory

To the Editor:

Your News in Brief item “California Bilingual Guidelines Prompt Suit Over Reading Grant,” (March 12, 2003) leaves the impression that bilingual programs do not want to teach children English and do not want them receiving English instruction. This is entirely erroneous. One of the reasons for the lawsuit is that the state board and the California Department of Education are requiring that alternative bilingual programs use state-mandated English Reading programs in all English instructional programs for up to 2½ hours a day in order to receive the Reading First funds.

It is important to know that alternative bilingual programs teach students to read by using the Spanish state-board-adopted reading materials developed specifically for bilingual programs. Along with Spanish reading, students also receive English-language development using appropriate materials for such instruction. If, on top of these two distinct instructional components, the additional English Reading instruction is mandated, it would not be, first of all, in the best interest of the students, and would also incur additional costs that most schools and districts would not be able to handle—especially in these budgetary times.

By issuing such a requirement, the state board and the state department of education are foreclosing alternative-bilingual-program teachers’ ability to receive professional development in the area of literacy instruction—which is conducted in both languages in bilingual programs. It also is important to note that parents specifically chose these programs over all-English programs for their children, and that they are in compliance with 227 regulations.

What is outrageous in mandating this additional requirement is that it is impossible for teachers, if they follow this requirement, to fit in the appropriate curriculum for alternative bilingual programs. If teachers adhere to the curriculum for alternative bilingual programs, it leaves little time for the additional requirement—one that is totally inappropriate for the second-language learners in their classrooms.

Moreover, there is no such federal requirement attached to the use of these funds, nor was this requirement part of the California application for funding previously submitted to the U.S. Department of Education. Therefore, this requirement is arbitrary and discriminatory.

Maria S. Quezada
Executive Director
California Association for
Bilingual Education
Covina, Calif.

Massachusetts and Bilingual Learners

To the Editor:

In regard to your article “Mass. Chief Steers Steady Course Through Conflicts,” (March 5, 2003), the board of directors for the Massachusetts Association of Teachers of Speakers of Other Languages expresses its concern that the state has left many of its English-language learners behind.

The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, or MCAS, has failed over 6,058 students, a figure that does not include those who have dropped out because of the test. These 6,058 students are overwhelmingly Hispanic, African-American, English-language learners, and those from urban areas. While 90 percent of the class of 2003 have passed the test (a figure that includes 94 percent of white students), only 67 percent of English-language learners, 75 percent of black students, and 70 percent of Hispanics have passed. There is no strategic response to address this racial achievement gap.

With only a draft guidance document available for the implementation of a referendum that calls for a one-size-fits-all English-immersion program, districts are charged with developing the new program at a time when resources are scarce and guidance unclear. Time constraints and a lack of resources do not allow for the systematic and thoughtful planning needed for implementation of these new structured-immersion programs. Rushing to create programs without thoughtful discussion on the best approaches, materials, long-term professional development, instructional techniques, and program design is a disaster in the making.

The Massachusetts Department of Education should learn from the mistakes of California and Arizona in this area and not repeat them.

Carlos Matos
Massachusetts Association of Teachers of
Speakers of Other Languages (MATSOL)
Boston, Mass.

This ‘Great Teacher’ Changed My Life

To the Editor:

Patrick F. Bassett was one of the “great teachers” he writes about (“Searching for Great Teachers,” Commentary, Feb. 26, 2003). I was a student of his in the early 1980s at the all-boys Woodberry Forest School, in Woodberry Forest, Va. His English compendium changed my life in very positive ways. I am currently finishing up a master’s degree in science education at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore.

My hat is off to Pat Bassett.

Robert Polk
Hood River, Ore.

Whither Teachers? Trying to Be Heard

To the Editor:

I applaud Mary Beth Blegen’s Commentary “Where Are the Teachers?” (March 5, 2003). In fact, not only do I agree with this essay, but I serve as the director of an initiative that has been actively engaged in including the teacher’s voice in education policymaking for the past seven years. Specifically, the Teachers Network Policy Institute—a group comprising more than 150 teacher leaders in affiliates across the United States—was established in 1996 by Teachers Network to connect education policy with actual classroom practice in order to improve student achievement.

Over the past several years, the TNPI MetLife fellows—teachers with full-time classroom-teaching responsibilities—have conducted “action” research in their classrooms and schools, developed policy recommendations based on their research findings, documented their work in papers and publications, and disseminated this work locally and nationally. To get the word out, the fellows also join influential task forces, give presentations to districts and school boards, and participate in major conferences.

TNPI is bridging the gap among teachers, researchers, and policymakers by transforming teachers into researchers and policy-influencers, and by engaging institutional researchers and policymakers in teachers’ work. By assuming leadership positions and obtaining appointments to task forces, fellows have become major policy-influencers in their schools, districts, unions, and at state and national levels.

While participating in our policy institute is not yet an opportunity open to every teacher, the initiative has doubled in size in the last two years and now represents affiliates in 10 locales throughout the nation. We expect to add several new affiliates during the next year.

The genesis of the institute was in 1989, when the first President Bush and the nation’s governors, including then-Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, held the first national education summit and not one teacher was invited. At the Charlottesville, Va., meeting, the teacher’s voice—that which is daily and most directly informed through what actually works with students in real classrooms—was wholly absent from the conversation on the future of American education.

Once the teachers’ network was established, however, one of the things we quickly learned was that the teacher’s voice alone is not enough to bring to the policymaking table: Teachers also need to be able to speak policymakers’ language and provide real data to buttress policy recommendations. Action research provides this data—and serves as the catalyst for teachers to have open and constructive conversations with policymakers about what needs to happen in schools for meaningful change to take place.

While individual fellows’ action-research studies vary, the heart of the teachers’ research has remained constant: to examine what it will take to ensure teacher quality; specifically, what it will take to recruit and retain high-quality teachers. Along these lines, the fellows recently authored a book, Ensuring Teacher Quality, which has been disseminated to 5,000 superintendents and policymakers. It distills the fellows’ findings to four education reform recommendations:

  • Engage teachers in designing and implementing effective professional development;
  • Provide time in the school schedule for teacher collaboration to improve instruction and student learning;
  • Re-envision the teaching profession as a continuum beginning in preservice and persisting through a lifetime of growth; and
  • Include teachers in the decisionmaking process about school resources, specifically time and money.

This full report, summary versions of fellows’ action research, and more information about TNPI are all available online on Teachers Network’s Web site at: www.teachersnetwork.org/tnpi.

Mary Beth Blegen is right. The process of change begins with teachers. The burning question, however, is not “Where are the teachers?” but rather, “In what ways can the teacher’s voice be successfully brought to the table and included, on an ongoing basis, in education decisionmaking?”

Ellen Meyers
Senior Vice President
Teachers Network
New York, N.Y.

Odds on Fordham’s’ Surprise’ Winners

To the Editor:

Your indispensable weekly doesn’t take editorial positions, but surely you must be tempted to make exceptions. I refer here to the shocker of the young century: the award of $25,000 by Chester E. Finn Jr.'s Thomas B. Fordham Foundation to Paul E. Peterson (“People in the News,” Feb. 19, 2003). Who could have imagined that one of Fordham’s two coveted prizes for “excellence” would go to a leading publicist and standard-bearer for vouchers (and editor-in-chief of the Hoover Institution’s quarterly Education Next, whose senior editor is the aforementioned Mr. Finn?) Talk about an upset winner!

Handicapping probable nominees for these first-ever cash accolades, I had innocently assumed that they would be drawn from K-12 education’s best and brightest, and drew up a roster of potential finalists from the 2.5 million professionals and advocates who work tirelessly and effectively to make our public schools all they can be.

With apologies to the deserving but regrettably left-out 4.499 million-plus, I narrowed my list to Deborah Meier, Alfie Kohn, Gerald Bracey, Alex Molnar, Jack Jennings, Gary Orfield, Susan Ohanian, Edward M. Kennedy, Marian Wright Edelman, Larry Cuban, John Merrow, Linda Darling-Hammond, Anne Lewis, Roy Romer, Arthur Wise, Thomas Payzant, Richard Riley, David Berliner, Theodore Sizer, Jonathan Kozol, Richard Rothstein, Wendy Puriefoy, P. Michael Timpane, Samuel Halperin, and Adam Urbanski.

Was I ever wrong! I should have remembered that the Fordham Foundation’s top guy has publicly skewered most of these high-performing true believers, mainly because they refuse to concede that public education is a basket case.

But I’ll keep handicapping. For next year I’m seeding Secretary of Education Rod Paige, Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Hon. William J. Bennett, and Milton Friedman as the most likely surprise choices. The second tier at this early stage numbers Terry Moe, Eric Hanushek, Jay Greene, Caroline Hoxby, and Paul Hill, but there will be others.

Please don’t call, write, fax, or e-mail suggestions to me. The process must be completely subjective and ideological. Just like Fordham’s.

George R. Kaplan
Bethesda, Md.

To Women Leaders: ‘Embrace Change’

To the Editor:

In California, the educational glass ceiling is being broken by competent women every day (“Survey Studies Barriers to Women Leaders,” March 5, 2003). Your article is right when it says that “the times may be changing in their [women superintendents’] favor.”

The only thing in life that is constant is change. The hegemonic structure of any organization usually lags behind its cultural norms and values.

In today’s society, parents come to school expecting to see female administrators on duty. Voters who are educated and informed want to see candidates running for election to their local school boards that reflect the diversity of their communities.

As educators, we are role models for our children and the community. We can, in our classrooms, district offices, and boardrooms, promote leadership by creating for the children and others an environment that is free of sexism.

As an educator, a graduate student studying administration, and the sister of a school board member who happens to be a woman, I look at the world with hope and see it as a place of endless opportunity.

It is a new day. Embrace change.

Mary Carlson
Santiago High School
Garden Grove Unified School District
Corona, Calif.

Teach About Taxes, And What They Do

To the Editor:

It is great that we are discussing teaching students about civics (“Reports Examine Content of ‘Civic’ Education,” Feb. 26, 2003). But in this context, what about teaching them the relationship between taxation and expenditure, and the role these play in funding public education?

Public schools are under attack as never before because they lack the proper funding to keep pace with the public’s expectations of them. Since the 1970s, we have come to expect: that all will graduate from high school, that K-6 classrooms will be assigned fewer than 24 students, that at least one computer will be made available for every four to five students, and much more.

In high school, we expect courses in several foreign languages to be offered, that every child will take (and pass) Algebra 2, and that large numbers of Advanced Placement classes will be available.

But there is a problem: No one really understands how expectations become reality in a democracy. The part that taxation plays in the funding and operation of of schools is not being properly covered as a part of “civics education.” This is apparent in the continuing diatribes one hears against taxes of all sorts.

In a quick review of recent reports concerning the content of “civic education,” only Paul A. Gagon’s “Educating Democracy: State Standards to Insure a Civic Core,” which is found on the Albert Shanker Institute Web site, contains any mention of taxation and funding of government.

A review of the executive summary of the Center for Civic Education’s “Civitas: A Framework for Civic Education” contains no mention of educating students in the funding of government and the implications of taxation.

Yes, we need to talk about such subjects as the relationship of the United State to other nations and to world affairs, civic virtue, civic participation, and civic knowledge. But it seems that within the framework of civic participation and civic knowledge, our schools are avoiding the subject of taxation and the funding of government services.

It may be easier to talk to students about sex than to talk to them about taxes.

Paul L. Whalen
At-Large Member
Kentucky Board of Education
Fort Thomas, Ky.

Merging Models: Why the Road to School Reform Is Never Ending

To the Editor:

Comprehensive School Reform, or CSR, fosters change across entire schools and affects all aspects of learning. It focuses on all students, not only on particular populations within a given school. Robert E. Slavin’s Commentary (“Converging Reforms,” March 5, 2003) argues that the work of model-developers in individual schools under federal comprehensive-school-reform funding can be compatible with what he calls the “district coherence” movement of reform.

One of the most important “lessons learned” from our experience with comprehensive school reform is that for reform to work, the school must be supported by the district through compatibility with the district’s overall instructional program and through ongoing and sustained in-service support and resource allocations.

School districts have a critically important role to play in CSR through working with schools to assure that reform models and other programs selected for implementation are research-based and “fit” with both the district’s goals and the particular needs of the individual school. The school’s reform plan, of which a CSR model may be an important part, must be visualized and planned by the school’s staff and supported by the district. The model-developer can be part of the support strategy, but should not be its centerpiece.

Mr. Slavin certainly deserves credit for his ongoing efforts to help schools improve their instructional programs and teaching strategies. But reform models should be seen as only one piece of the large and complex fabric of a school’s improvement strategies if these efforts are to be sustainable over the long haul. The school, not the model-developer, has to “own” the reform, and the district must also actively participate in the ownership.

Readers can find a wealth of materials to support their reform efforts on the Web site of the National Clearinghouse for Comprehensive School Reform.

Arthur W. Gosling
Executive Director
National Clearinghouse for Comprehensive
School Reform
George Washington University
Washington, D.C.

To the Editor:

The latest marketing trend is product placement. It’s an insidious form of testimonial, not explicitly stated to be advertising per se.

In “Converging Reforms,” Robert E. Slavin does some not-so subtle product placement of his pet program, Success for All.

The supposed text of this essay is that you can get more bang for the buck if you “wed” comprehensive school reform with “district coherence.”

This marriage of convenience is a suspect union, however. Mr. Slavin has his own agenda.

I object to public money from the U.S. Department of Education being used to increase the market share for such politically favored programs. As much, I object to product placement in the pages of Education Week.

In the future, kindly indicate in small letters at the top of the page: “advertisement.” Perhaps you can get paid for advertising space, just as Mr. Slavin is being paid by the federal government to blow his own horn.

Mark Reynolds
The Dalles, Ore.

To the Editor:

I just received the most recent issue of Education Week, and I immediately noticed yet another Commentary about “school reform,” this one by Robert E. Slavin. After some 20 years of well-meaning, research-based, “expert"-led effort, we still seem to be making little if any headway in our efforts to effectively reform education so that we “leave no child behind.” Our schools are still “failing,” according to politicians, experts, and scientific research. This apparent lack of success begs the question: Does anyone really believe that if there were a best way or even a choice of several best ways to reform our schools, we would not have done so by now?

If in fact there are those who do believe we have the answer, then our problems are much more serious than I had feared. That would mean that the large majority of schools across our country that are “failing” are doing so intentionally. It would mean that our schools either don’t want to educate children or simply don’t care. I cannot believe that is the case.

Might I suggest that there is much more to the equation than simply reforming our schools? Until we are prepared to honestly address, as opposed to simply giving lip service to, the significant changes in our culture over the last 20 years (the decline in moral values, the dilution of ideas about right and wrong, the disintegration of the family unit, the increase in drug use and child-mental-health issues, and the apparent absence of personal responsibility and self-respect, to name a few), I believe it is a safe bet we will continue to leave children behind.

So far, our approach has been akin to working on an automobile that isn’t quite running smoothly. We continue to tinker with the engine, but close the garage door and go home every day without noticing that the transmission is leaking and the tires are flat.

David Brothers
Chickamauga, Ga.

Virtual Values: When the ‘Out-of-School Setting’ Is the Family

To the Editor:

In his Commentary “The Virtual Schoolhouse,” (Feb. 26, 2003), Gene I. Maeroff says online instruction is testing people’s views of home schooling, and the “schoolhouse” itself. Further, he states that “home schooling, possibly combined with e-learning, may in such situations make out-of-school settings more productive for these purposes than dysfunctional schoolhouses.”

I couldn’t agree more. The academic benefits and the social interactions of both home schooling and the “schoolhouse” are under scrutiny. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that while Mr. Maeroff points out the important role of personal interaction in character development, he acknowledges that social lessons learned in the modern schoolhouse aren’t always positive. Importantly, parents are weighing the quality of the academics and the social environment when deciding which approach will best serve their children.

If parents are given the tools—detailed, step-by-step daily lesson plans based on time-tested classroom instruction—they can and do help their children reach their full academic potential through home instruction. When home schooling, in whatever form it takes, works, it raises the bar within the entire education system. Ultimately, since we all want what is best for our children, that benefits all students.

I applaud Mr. Maeroff for casting a brighter light on the role of home schooling. I hope it encourages others in the educational establishment to look more closely for the many benefits of home schooling.

Jean C. Halle
Calvert School Education Services
Baltimore, Md.

To the Editor:

Gene Maeroff notes that the classroom, in its proper sense, should be about more than just academic subjects. “Character development, socialization, transmission of a common culture, and preparation for citizenship” are critical, he writes, along with children’s learning about “sharing, honesty, and reliability ... and to get along with others.” To Mr. Maeroff, these non-academic ideals are supposedly limited when education takes place outside the classroom, whether through online education or the home schooling experience.

If we reduce his concerns to the most basic level, it would appear that he believes the role of the classroom is to provide the proper context for character development in children, especially young children. Without the classroom experience, children apparently cannot fully learn right from wrong or how to participate in the common culture.

This view is not unique to Mr. Maeroff. Indeed, it was largely this belief, fueled by a fear of immigrants, that gave rise to government-sponsored schools in America in the mid- to late-1800s. This view has now evolved to the point that the National Education Association states in its resolutions that a “home schooling program cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience.” In other words, parents, without the classroom, are unfit to educate their children.

Home schoolers believe differently. It is the fundamental duty of parents to develop the character of children. Putting it another way, home-schooled children do not need the classroom experience to be complete. For many religious or libertarian home schoolers, that statement has even greater meaning. Not only do they not want the government teaching their children right from wrong, they also think the government is incapable of doing so.

Given the state of our government-run schools (the discipline problems, the low academic performance), it is absurd to maintain that parents will do a worse job at teaching children values, or that the classroom experience is necessary. Mr. Maeroff himself sees this tension, when he notes that “the problems of some public schools make their traditional role problematic in building character, socializing children, transmitting culture, and preparing them for citizenship.”

The real problem with character development in America’s children is not the lack of classroom experience, but rather dysfunctional families. Most educators agree that the key to successful students is parental involvement. Home schooling is ultimately successful because of conscientious parents. Should we get hung up on the classroom experience or virtual curricula, we will be concentrating on the trees and missing the forest.

If we really want to make a difference, the key is in strengthening the family, not in mandating classroom attendance.

Thomas Washburne
National Center for Home Education
Home School Legal Defense Association
Purcellville, Va.


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