Education Letter to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

February 14, 1990 8 min read

To the Editor:

The contributors to “A Look Ahead: Education and the New Decade” (Commentary, Jan. 10, 1990) seemed to avoid a central element of classroom success: adequately salaried teachers.

Businessmen know that a high-quality product requires money and time. Legislators and educational administrators should know that attracting good teachers also requires money.

Low-budget items are usually low-quality items.

Not all school districts can be so fortunate as to attract high-caliber personnel because of environment and personal dedication.

J. Fred Gummow
Provo School District
Provo, Utah

To the Editor:

I eagerly read “A Look Ahead: Education and the New Decade” but finished the piece feeling something was missing from the prognostications.

I read nothing substantial regarding what I believe to be the most important issue facing our planet in the 1990’s.

How could anyone have missed the importance of the deteriorating quality of our environment?

What with acid rain falling on decreasing forest acreage, air-quality standards being annually postponed as the government yields again to pressures from the auto industry, and unannounced, almost daily extinction of species after species, I was sure I’d missed the comments of one of your contributors.

Let me add the following:

Science students must soon begin to address ozone-depletion problems; we must get our brightest minds working on ways to limit this phenomenon.

Children must be made more aware of the value of trees and green plants, and the need to protect small animals.

Kids must commit to ways they can personally reduce the pollution problem.

Political-science students must learn about the spontaneous formation of “green party” groups around the world. People everywhere are getting militant about the plundering of our planet.

If we don’t work on these items in the next decade, we may find it was our last chance for survival.

Rodger E. Cryer
McKinley Neighborhood School
San Jose, Calif.

To the Editor:

Two recent articles highlighted on your front page (“Public Schools Embrace MontessoriMovement,” “New Study Finds a Gender Gap in Teachers’ Salaries,” Dec. 13, 1989) were misleading.

In these stories, your publication was as guilty as most of the media of exaggeration of statistics, overgeneralization of data, and misuse of surveys.

In the first article, the figures of about 110 public schools in 60 districts involving only 14,000 pupils are not my idea of the public schools’ “embracing” the Montessori movement.

These numbers represent a percentage too small to be considered significant.

“Many districts are expanding their programs into additional classrooms and schools.” How many is “many”?

”... [F]ive to seven new districts begin programs each year.” At that rate, in a couple of hundred years, we might feel the effect nationwide.

The second article includes the same type of exaggeration.

A sampling of 377 high schools and 8,894 teachers during 1983-84 is hardly current data and is not representative of today’s schools.

In Ohio, teachers’ salaries do not reflect gender in any way, and I doubt seriously if any state violates federal laws barring discrimination against women.

You cite the observation of Keith B. Geiger, president of the National Educaàtion Association, that the pay gap could be explained by school-board policies governing the hiring of experienced teachers. That seems to contradict the headline.

The balance of the article seems to be a reprint from some union paper downing boards of education and promoting collective-bargaining laws as the tool to correct all of the ills that Valerie E. Lee believes she has discovered.

I commend Ms. Lee for the research, but all she ended up with is a mere observation that, in the districts surveyed, the average man’s salary was greater than the average woman’s salary.

She had better do more research to establish the reasons.

Her statement about differing local policies is unfounded and biased.

Jeremiah Floyd’s comment concerning transferring credit indicates that females and males must be treated alike when considering experience.

If there are more women transferring from school to school, that’s hardly reason to say the schools are discriminating against them.

The last section of the article has nothing to do with Ms. Lee’s research, but it is included as if it were a finding of the research and a recommendation that will solve the inequality Ms. Lee has observed.

Jerrold T. Cramer
Van Buren Local Schools
Van Buren, Ohio

To the Editor:

John E. Coons is back on his soapbox with his same old pitch for tax aid to sectarian private schools, this time using disadvantaged minority kids as an entering wedge (“‘Choice’ Plans Should Include Private Option,” Commentary, Jan. 17, 1990).

Mr. Coons is demanding that all taxpayers be compelled to support private schools that:

Would not be subject to the same rules applicable to public schools;

Would not be under any meaningful public control;

Commonly discriminate by using religious criteria or requirements in admissions and hiring;

Serve significantly fewer poor and minority children;

Are not required to serve handicapped children.

Mr. Coons’s proposal has, in essence, been found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court and consistently rejected by voters in statewide referenda.

Voters in his own state of California have not even seen fit to allow his plan on the ballot.

And although Mr. Coons claims that the Kansas City area “private” schools--actually, all religious schools--willing to accept black students are “integrated,” the figures supplied to the federal court by his associates show that those schools average less than 4 percent black enrollment, compared with over 50 percent in the city’s public schools.

In addition, the voucher lawsuit asks that public funds be used to transport the Kansas City students to parochial schools, 36 percent of which are in the next state and 17 percent of which are in Missouri but outside Kansas City--a privilege not accorded public-school students.

Mr. Coons also neglects to mention that the drain-off of white students to parochial schools is a major reason for the racial imbalance of Kansas City’s public schools.

His crusade to undermine public education needs to be seen for what it is and rejected.

Edd Doerr
Executive Director
Americans for Religious Liberty
Silver Spring, Md.

To the Editor:

Three cheers for John E. Coons’s splendid essay arguing that “choice” plans should include the private option.

It remains a mystery to me why racial minorities in particular have not pushed harder for vouchers that could be used at nongovernment public--that is, so-called “private” schools.

Apart from such a change, it is my judgment that we will witness still another generation of students in inner-city government schools being deprived of any reasonable chance of a good education--all in the name of concepts of justice and educational equality being forced on them by outside “experts,” most of whom are white.

Two things are increasingly clear.

First, opposition to extending choice to nongovernment schools seems to have a lot more to do with serving the interests of the government public-school establishment than those of the students.

Second, insisting on government schools’ having monopoly access to public tax monies is a thinly veiled attempt by a cultural elite to press its views on powerless minorities.

Mr. Coons is right: Such attempts to force correct values on the children of other people may have made some sense--not much, I think--in Horace Mann’s day. But they make little sense today, and it is time for change.

Richard A. Baer Jr.
Professor of Environmental Ethics
Cornell University
Ithaca, N.Y.

To the Editor:

Congratulations to John E. Coons for thinking the unthinkable.

As a Catholic-school principal, I continue to marvel at the economic sacrifices parents make to have a real choice in education.

It is estimated that at least a third of the students who attend Catholic schools come from families with incomes below $25,000.

Far from being bastions of elitism, most Catholic schools are a reflection of the communities in which they are located.

The evidence about the effectiveness of these schools continues to mount: higher academic achievement, lower dropout rates, and positive influence on character formation and values.

Mr. Coons touches on the key to this success at the conclusion of his Commentary. Parents choose Catholic schools because they find a community that reflects the values they hold dear.

A sense of commitment and belonging is transmitted to the child.

The real issue in the debate over choice should be the empowerment of parents and children in making responsible decisions.

Let parents have the opportunity to invest in the future of their children and country by providing a full range of choices.

As Mr. Coons aptly points out, private schools currently demonstrate that they are part of the solution, not one of the problems.

William J. Murphy Jr.
Saint Mary Elementary School
Paducah, Ky.

To the Editor:

Thank you for publishing John E. Coons’s splendid piece on extending “choice” to nongovernment schools.

It is depressing to note that most choice advocates--from President Bush down to most governors, state officials, and teachers’ unions--sound too much like election officials in some of the Soviet-bloc countries where the Communist Party is still trying to hold on to its monopoly.

They want to enlarge their own list of “candidate” schools from which parents can choose, but all of the choices remain on a “one party’’ list.

Choice will still be limited to government schools.

The “candidates” of other “parties"--the schools created by parent organizations, churches, businesses, and others--aren’t even allowed on the ballot as equal competitors.

There is an important difference, of course, between American school choices and most Communist-controlled elections: The government monopoly of schooling here is not total.

Parents who can afford to do so are allowed to put their children in nongovernment schools.

Sadly, that choice only serves to aggravate another problem in American society--the growing distance between rich and poor.

James W. Skillen
Executive Director
Association for Public Justice
Washington, D.C.

A version of this article appeared in the February 14, 1990 edition of Education Week as Letters to the Editor