State-Grants Details Need Clarification
To the Editor:
We’re pleased that Education Week chose to write about the selection of 15 states to receive planning grants financed by the Wallace-Reader’s Digest Funds aimed at ensuring that state laws, policies, and practices support education leaders in their efforts to help students learn (“15 States Awarded Grants To Help Recruit Diverse Principals,” May 16, 2001.) Regrettably, the article created some misleading impressions that need correction.
First, the State Action for Education Leadership Project being overseen by a consortium of state organizations, including the Council of Chief State School Officers, aims to improve state policies affecting superintendents and principals—not just principals, as your article states.
Second, while the article correctly notes that a more ethnically diverse pool of candidates for leadership is a goal of the project, it is neither the only nor primary goal. By “diversity,” we also mean that states should develop ways to attract education leadership candidates with a wide variety of career and professional backgrounds.
The overarching goal of these grants is to support states in developing comprehensive, state- level approaches to the education leadership challenge. That would include: examining state priorities that affect leaders; broadening and diversifying the pool of talented and motivated candidates; improving the professional preparation of leaders; rethinking policies and laws affecting licensure, certification, and program accreditation; designing better policies affecting contracts, bargaining, salaries, and pensions; and improving the overall political and governance climate affecting education leaders.
It’s also important to clarify that in order to receive second-round, $250,000 implementation grants, each of the 15 states will need to demonstrate anew, through a fresh independent-review process next fall, that the plans they have developed with this first round of grants meet the core standard of comprehensiveness described above.
Lee D. Mitgang
Wallace-Reader’s Digest Funds
New York, N.Y.
Take SAT Criticism ‘With Grain of Salt’
To the Editor:
Remarks in the article about the latest study on the SAT I’s validity (“SAT Said To Be Reliable Predictor of College Success,” May 9, 2001) denigrate the integrity of six researchers at the University of Minnesota and one at the College Board. These remarks cannot go unanswered.
The study was initiated over two years ago and is one of many the College Board must conduct or support to meet the standards of the American Educational Research Association, the American Psychological Association, and the National Council of Measurement in Education. It involved independent researchers who have done similar studies and will have undergone three peer reviews before publication in a scholarly journal.
In your article, John Katzman dismissed the study as “flawed or fraudulent,” in effect accusing the researchers of conspiracy and attacking their professional integrity. Yet Mr. Katzman, the chief executive officer of a commercial test-coaching company, does not have to adhere to any professional standards and steadfastly refuses to conduct scientific, peer-reviewed studies to investigate the effectiveness of his company’s coaching.
Until Mr. Katzman subjects his coaching claims to similar scientific scrutiny, I hope your readers will take his pronouncements on the research of others with a very large grain of salt.
Research and Development
The College Board
New York, N.Y.
Defending Algebra and Virtue- Building
To the Editor:
Rona Wilensky has raised up a set of important issues in her Commentary on reform efforts at the high school level (“Wrong, Wrong, Wrong,”Commentary, May 9, 2001). On the face of it, her economic analysis is sobering, although I am not qualified to challenge or support it. Her description of algebra as the “gateway” course to postsecondary education reminds me of college organic chemistry being described as the gateway course for medical school. There is no doubt truth in both, but it is not the whole story.
If education is a fundamental human right, and I believe it is, kids have the right to learn, among many things, the language of science—which is algebra. A long time ago, I worked in an alternative school in an old train station. During an algebra lesson, one of the students said, “Why do we need to learn this?” At the time, an electrician was working on the circuits in our room. He jumped up and exclaimed: “Algebra? Everyone needs to know a little algebra. I could not do my work if I did not know algebra!”
Regarding schools attending to virtue, I agree with Ms. Wilensky. If progressive efforts to reform education do anything, they serve to humanize the process and to create conditions for the liberation of the genius and goodness of children. Schools must offer all children, adults, and society hope—if not for economic and social justice, then at least the possibility that justice can prevail. Schools of all kinds should be about nurture and challenge, inquiry and what is already known, creativity and discipline.
In the end, our work in schools is to enhance the individual’s capacity to view self, world, and one’s place in the world through multiple lenses—in addition to one’s one passions and desires.
North Brookfield, Mass.
Learning To Read, Learning English
To the Editor:
While I agree with the main points of “Learning To Read While Learning English” (Commentary, May 9, 2001), I find the information about the initial reading instruction vague and somewhat misleading. English-language learners do need a balanced approach to reading instruction, but there is a need for focus on learning the English language before being asked to read in English.
The National Research Council has recommended that whenever possible, initial reading instruction should take place in the child’s native language. If native-language instruction is not available, initial priority should be to develop the child’s proficiency in spoken English.
There are many other pieces of research that support these same findings. It’s very important to state what the major focus of reading instruction should be, because there are many people eager to place children in heavy-duty, phonics- based programs before they are ready.
Let’s try to be clear about priorities for initial reading instruction for English-language learners.
To the Editor:
Claude Goldenberg seems to assume a best-case scenario in “Learning To Read While Learning English.” For instance, what happens when the supposed “bilingual teacher” is not bilingual? In our school district in California, there are and have been many instances in which a teacher was hired to teach bilingually with no credential to do so, and no ability to teach English, because he or she was monolingual in another language.
Some students have spent up to three years in such classes, clustered together and deprived of the opportunity to receive English instruction. The best-case scenario is nice, but it represents what the whole-language proponents hope to achieve by assuming that all teachers will look at the learning-research base and teach accordingly. They will not.
Cleveland’s Changes Reflect Leadership
To the Editor:
Your article “On Borrowed Time” (On Assignment, May 16, 2001), accurately depicts the current educational climate in the Cleveland Municipal School District and highlights the fragility of our reform efforts. The Ohio legislature, in passing House Bill 269 in 1998, gave the mayor the legal responsibility to appoint a nine-member school board and a new chief executive officer, and provided the community with a window of opportunity to make lasting and meaningful change to a school district in utter disrepair.
Eleven superintendents in 15 years, political infighting among school board members, special-interest groups clamoring for preferential treatment, low morale among teachers and staff, and financial difficulties left the state no alternative. Enter Mayor Michael R. White.
Yes, he is sometimes “contentious and heavy-handed,” but his heart and his passion are with the 76,000 children in our district. He made excellent selections to fill the board positions. Chaired by the Rev. Hilton O. Smith, the board spends its time on policy and educational issues. Discussions focus on what’s best for the children, not on personal or political gain. Mayor White’s choice of Barbara Byrd-Bennett as chief executive officer surprised certain groups that had thought he might turn to a retired corporate executive. Instead, he brought us an individual with a profound commitment to children, a vision of excellence, a deep and practical understanding of what is needed to turn around failing schools, and an ability to engage all stakeholders in the process.
The respect and collaboration between the Cleveland Teachers Union and the district is a direct result of the good working relationship and mutual respect that exists between Ms. Byrd- Bennett and Richard DeColibus, the president of the CTU.
Cleveland’s corporate and philanthropic communities are actively engaged, as well, with leaders sitting on committees, volunteering their time at schools, and providing much-needed financial resources to help children and teachers.
The district is changing: Academic standards guide the educational process, test scores have risen, morale is better, the community is engaged, and parents have reason to hope. These positive changes could not have occurred without the leadership shown by Mayor White, the appointed school board, and CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett.
Cleveland Initiative for Education
Biology and ADHD
To the Editor:
Your article “Research: Paying Attention” (May 9, 2001) could have benefited from a more balanced approach on the question of the biological origins of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
First, brain-imaging studies are still in their infancy, and the question of their diagnostic power is still in doubt. A recent review of brain-imaging studies appearing in the July 2000 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry suggests problems with these studies, including relatively small and often heterogeneous samples and difficulties in establishing accurate and appropriate diagnoses.
Second, the question of interpreting results should have been raised in the article. As the neurosurgeon Karl Pribram suggested in a workshop at a “Brain and Learning” conference May 4 in Washington, neuro-imaging studies such as are used in the field of ADHD may show correlations, but these do not necessarily translate to causation. In other words, the fact that brain-flow patterns are indicated in a scan does not mean that those areas of the brain are “causing” the behaviors of ADHD.
Third, there is the matter of modifiability. The implication from your article is that the brain patterns of so-called ADHD individuals are hard-wired in, and thus become an ineffable biological fingerprint of their ADHD status. However, other studies have suggested that it is possible to change one’s brain-scan images through specific environmental interventions (see, for example, “Systematic Changes in Cerebral Glucose Metabolic Rate After Successful Behavior Modification Treatment of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder,” Archives of General Psychiatry, February 1996). Moreover, there are suggestions that environmental conditions such as stress may negatively affect neurological patterns, including prefrontal cortical function (Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, February 1999). Consequently, many kids labeled as having ADHD who show prefrontal abnormalities may have developed them as a result of lack of “nurture,” rather than a faulty “nature.”
Finally, there is the question of differences vs. disorders. The implication throughout your article is that we are tracking a biological disorder, and yet the brain-scan images that actually appear in the companion article (“Brains Doing Math Add to Knowledge of ADHD”) seem to suggest more of a cognitive difference than a disability. The individuals labeled as having ADHD showed more posterior activity (related to visual-spatial processing) than so-called normals. They pictured images in their heads. In other words, these scans may not be diagnosing ADHD as much as they are identifying individuals who process information through pictures and images more than through sounds and words; individuals who might be expected to have more difficulty in classroom environments where sounds and words predominate, and little use is made of visualization as a teaching technique.
One last quibble with the article is the uncritical acceptance of a genetic origin for ADHD. James Swanson did indeed have an article in the January 1998 issue of Molecular Psychiatry suggesting an association between ADHD and a defective gene for the D4 dopamine receptor. However, another article appeared later in the year in the same journal (September 1998) by Dr. Xavier Castellanos entitled, “Lack of an Association Between a Dopamine-4 Receptor Polymorphism and Attention- Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.” So there is controversy in the field, and your article should have reflected this.
The reason I am so concerned about raising these issues is that so many educators these days are too quick to regard students labeled as having ADHD as biologically defective, and this article simply gives them more fuel for their defective views of these kids. In fact, when one inquires more deeply into this subject, one discovers all sorts of intriguing, subtle, and compelling arguments against a purely biological description of the kinds of behaviors that we’ve come to associate with the term “ADHD.”
The writer is the author of The Myth of the ADD Child, and ADD/ADHD Alternatives in the Classroom.
To the Editor:
Your article on research developments related to ADHD was extremely interesting. Its contention that ADHD has a biological basis seems not contestable. However, numerous Diagnostic and Statistical Manual psychiatric disorders have a biological basis. All DSM-IV categories are fundamentally attempts at grouping attributes seen repeatedly in children and adults.
I could find nothing in the research referred to in the article that could clearly separate on the biological and neurochemical level ADHD from a number of other DSM-IV disorders. For example, imbalances in the neurotransmitter dopamine, which the article indicates “appear to be closely related to ADHD symptoms,” can also be seen in individuals with major depressive episodes, manic episodes, bipolar disorders, and more, according to the DSM-IV. Brain-scan analysis on the size of various parts of the brain may provide some level of discrete differences between numbers of conditions, but I could see no clear indication of this from the article.
As we who work in the field of special education know only too well, students with the medical diagnosis of ADHD are classified in a number of different ways by school districts. Some are identified as “learning disabled,” some as “other health impaired,” some as “seriously emotionally disturbed.” Many are not identified under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, but rather are provided accommodations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Some get though school without ever having legal status as a student with a disability.
The article avoided some very serious issues for the education community. One that came to mind was this: On the etiological level, is there a significant difference between learning disabilities and ADHD for large numbers of students? How many students identified for educational purposes as seriously emotionally disturbed have the etiology for ADHD? Lastly, the article referred several times to the drug Ritalin produced by Novartis, but failed to explain the similarities between Ritalin, methylphenidate, and cocaine. Researchers, including Russell A. Barkley, who was referred to in the article, admit the similarity of Ritalin to these drugs in numerous places, yet the article failed to note this. Teachers and educators in general need to understand this aspect of Ritalin before they ever use the word.
In my work as part of a court- appointed monitoring team looking daily at the files of special education students in Chicago, I often see students who are being medically treated for ADHD. Sometimes they are labeled learning-disabled, other times something else. The diagnosis and medical treatment of ADHD does not for some of these students equate to improved performance. Educational systems, accommodations, modifications, and effective instruction may play a larger role in educational performance than does ADHD treatment, from what I have seen here in Chicago. Since Education Week is a paper for the education community, some research in that area should have been referred to in the article.
Rodney D. Estvan
The writer works as a consultant in the office of Judge Joseph Schneider, the court-appointed monitor in Corey H. v. The Chicago Board of Education, et. al.
To the Editor:
U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige is making a mistake in eliminating the teacher- and principal-in- residence positions at the U.S. Department of Education (“Groups Plead To Keep Resident Teacher, Principal at E.D.,” May 16, 2001). While there are many ways to seek the input of teachers and principals, having someone at the department providing a “reality check” on a daily basis is by far the most effective. I have firsthand experience with two very different approaches to seeking input from practitioners.
When Lamar Alexander was appointed secretary of education in the first Bush administration, he invited the previous 10 National Teachers of the Year to meet with him on the day he took office. I was there. Secretary Alexander made a big point of talking about why it was important to seek the input of teachers. Pictures were taken, and a press release went out. But, to my knowledge, he did not follow through with that commitment.
I was also at the department on the day that Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley took office in 1993. In contrast to his predecessor’s approach, Secretary Riley said it was important to involve teachers and principals every day in the work of the Education Department. I was honored to serve as his senior adviser on teaching—a position created to ensure that the perspective of teachers was represented in policy discussions. On numerous occasions, colleagues told me that my physical presence in the department, and that of the teacher-in-residence, reminded them that they needed to seek the opinions of teachers in their work.
Contrary to the statements of Secretary Paige’s spokeswoman, Lindsey Kozberg, Secretary Riley’s approach was not narrow. In fact, the teachers- and principals-in- residence developed multiple ways for department staff members to solicit input from practitioners.
For example, under Secretary Riley, the Clinton administration solicited views from a broad range of practitioners through an annual National Teacher Forum, a Principals’ Summit, electronic online networks of teachers and principals, focus groups, and the creation of an exemplary- teacher database that could be queried when the administration needed advice from teachers with specific backgrounds. In each of these cases, the administration sought the honest opinions and experiences of teachers and principals, not support for its specific policies.
In addition to being the persons responsible for getting practitioner input into the policymaking process, a teacher- and principal-in-residence are critical for another reason. During my eight-year tenure in Washington, it was my experience that many policy decisions must be made quickly. There is no time to bring together a focus group of teachers or principals—or even to wait for a response from an electronic mailing list. Without someone in the secretary’s office providing a practitioner’s perspective, many decisions will be made by people with little or no classroom experience.
That is unfortunate. Good ideas don’t often lead to good policy decisions unless we ask, “How will this play out in schools and classrooms?” Often, there is little time to answer that question. Policymakers need to be able to turn to someone they know who has been in the classroom and with whom they can communicate. Someone who they trust and can respect, yet with whom they may disagree, and whose No. 1 job is to represent the perspective of teachers and principals.
It is not an easy job. But if President Bush wants to make sure that we leave no child behind, he must seek the knowledge, experience, and insight of practitioners. He can begin by asking Secretary Paige to retain the teacher- and principal-in-residence positions—and to cultivate relationships with these individuals, whose primary responsibility must be to represent the views of teachers and principals honestly, openly, and daily.
National Teacher in Residence and
Virginia Commonwealth University
School of Education
A version of this article appeared in the May 30, 2001 edition of Education Week as Letters