Education Letter to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

October 10, 1984 14 min read
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Patrick J. McDonough Executive Director American Association for Counseling and Development Alexandria, Va.

The American Association for Counseling and Development and its largest division, the American School Counselor Association, noted with considerable interest your story on the counseling of college-bound students (“College-Bound Poorly Counseled, Group Finds,” Education Week, Aug. 29, 1984). I chose to wait in responding to the article until Frank Burtnett, my staff associate, had participated in a meeting of the National College Counseling Project on Sept. 13 to learn more about the effort.

First, it should be understood that aacd and asca stand for the provision of high-quality guidance and counseling services to all students--kindergarten through secondary and adult education--by competent, professional school counselors. Our associations have a history of work dedicated to the enhancement and improvement of counseling programs and to the development of the skills of counselors.

Let me state that we are in general agreement with the National College Counseling Project’s general goals and objectives, and we support any effort that will lead to the improvement of guidance services for the students in our schools.

Several points, however, must be considered in the analysis of the counselor’s role in the American education system:

1. School counselors are responsible for more than the needs of just the college-bound students. In a comprehensive guidance program that is built on developmental principles and employs a preventive model of interaction with students, one will find that counselors are assisting students with their personal, social, educational, and career development. Effective counselors also work with teachers, administrators, parents, the business/industrial community, and other pupil-service workers to ensure that students gain maximum benefits from their educational experiences.

2. School guidance programs have been adversely affected by federal, state, and local budget cuts and the redirection of education dollars. Counselor-pupil ratios of 1 to 600 or 800 are not uncommon in many public secondary schools across this country. Decisionmakers in Washington, in our state capitals, and on local school boards must determine if helping young people understand their aptitudes, abilities, and interests for the purpose of educational and career development is a priority. They must determine the degree to which they wish to assist young people who are the victims of the social ills, such as substance abuse, that interfere with their growth. All students can benefit from a comprehensive program of counseling and guidance services, but poorly developed and inadequately financed services will only lead to frustrations by their consumers and criticism when these needed services are not available.

3. Guidance-program development and the professional credentials of school counselors are matters of genuine concern to aacd and asca Your readers are urged to write for a copy of asca’s “The Practice of Guidance and Counseling by School Counselors,” a publication that sets forth our view of the role and function of the counselor in the school. It is available free of charge from the Professional Information Specialist, aacd, 5999 Stevenson Ave., Alexandria, Va. 22304. In addition, aacd has worked diligently to improve the credentials of the counselors in our schools, colleges, and related human-service settings. Our efforts have resulted in the creation of the first national organization to offer accreditation for professional counselors--the National Board for Certified Counselors.

After a thorough analysis of the summary of the findings presented by the National College Counseling Project, our greatest concern with your story on the study was that it emphasized the question of the quality of counseling services when, in fact, the availability of services is the true villain.

Many of the individuals who met on Sept. 13 to discuss the findings of and future directions for the project shared this appraisal of the research findings.

There is no escaping the fact that all educational activities today are open to evaluative examination by a public that demands accountability. School counselors do not wish to escape this scrutiny. They only ask that all concerned make a concerted effort to fully understand the contemporary role of the school guidance program and the professional educators who provide these services.

Norene F. Daly Head, Division of Social Sciences Past President, Association of Independent Liberal Arts Colleges for Teacher Education Madonna College Livonia, Mich.

It is difficult to catalogue the emotions that result from a thorough reading of “The Making of a Teacher: A Report on Teacher Education and Certification,” the latest round in C. Emily Feistritzer’s full-scale attack on teacher-education institutions in general and private teacher-education institutions in particular (“Teacher Licensing Is In Disarray, Study Contends,” Education Week, Sept. 5, 1984). Clearly, the predominant emotion must be shock and disbelief about the ability of this shoddy piece of pseudo-research to generate the media attention that has resulted from its publication.

Cloaking oneself in the mantle of respectability implied by the organizational title “National Center for Education Information” would seem to be a deliberate attempt to convince teacher education and the public that serious research, underwritten by the federal government, is being reported.

Nothing could be further from the truth. What the report does in fact represent is an entrepreneurial effort to pass off distorted data, errors of fact, research bias (i.e., big is better), contradictory evidence, heavy-handed data-collection techniques, generalizations based upon limited and/or estimated data, numerous violations of caveats to ignore the data, and hidden standards as a basis for proclaiming that “nothing in America is in greater need of reform than the way we educate and certify classroom teachers.”

What is most troublesome in the work is the obvious message that the report had a hidden agenda and a set of standards or criteria for teacher-certification and teacher-preparation-programs. The agenda is not difficult to discern; it surfaces in statements such as: “Clearly, the large and public institutions that have historically trained over half the teachers in the nation have higher entrance requirements and are more selective than many of the small and private institutions.” The operative words here are “clearly” and “many” and represent just one instance of several that could be cited where the author uses imprecise language rather than hard data to make a point that has not been, and cannot be, supported by the meager survey results reported.

The author’s bias emerges in statement after statement where it is obvious that programs and/or certification procedures have been measured against a set of standards or criteria (which are never revealed) and have been found wanting.

We are told that: “The certification of classroom teachers in the United States is a mess.” This judgment is based upon the fact that criteria for certification vary from state to state. The implication is that variations should not exist and that states should surrender their right to determine standards for the certification of teachers.

We read that “some institutions require a minimum Scholastic Aptititude Test or American College Test score; others don’t even look at sat or act scores.” The author apparently believes that this represents some sort of malfeasance on the part of teacher education. But after chiding schools, colleges, and education departments for not relying heavily on high-school data, or sat and/or act scores, Ms. Feistritzer admits that the fact that three-fourths of the education departments use college grade-point averages “makes sense in light of the fact that approximately 85 percent of teacher candidates are admitted into teacher education after they have completed at least one year of college.’'

There are lighter moments. We are advised that “how our teachers are made will determine our future.” One can only assume that they are ''made” the same way all of us were “made,” unless, again, Ms. Feistritzer has in mind a methodology unknown to her readers.

There are also examples of hyperbole implicit in references to survey results that are “surprising” or “astonishing.” The assumption is that a researcher will not be surprised or astonished unless he or she has predetermined what the results should be.

The work is replete with hazy comparisons to law, medicine, accounting, and nursing which, in the view of the author, are “true professions” because they, unlike teaching, require that graduates pass a national proficiency examination before they can be licensed to practice. Again, we are meant to accept such comparisons as support for Ms. Feistritzer’s judgment that there should be a national curriculum for teacher education and that all teachers should be measured against a set of national standards, no matter how low those standards may be.

No data are offered to support the comparisons to other professions or the judgments made based upon those comparisons. There is no reference to the number of institutions surveyed or the number that are publicly or privately controlled, just an indication that Ms. Feistritzer ''checked with associations that represent other professions to see how their occupations compare with teaching.”

In Chapter VI, “Certification of Teachers,” the author most nearly approaches the heart of the issue--the very real shortcomings of teachers who are in classrooms without appropriate credentials--when she points out that “all but two states issue substandard, limited, or emergency credentials to people who don’t meet all of the criteria for a real bona fide teaching certificate.”

By way of concluding the report, Ms. Feistritzer admonishes the reader that “if teaching is to become a true profession, it needs to act like one.” What follow are a summary, conclusions, and recommendations that purport to delineate what the teaching profession must do to get its act together. There are references to a mysterious “we” who “already know how to do this.” Can we conclude that this is the same “we” alluded to in the preface as “We at the National Center for Education Information (ncei) [who,] in keeping with our policy of providing accurate and unbiased information about education, set out to collect information on college teacher-education programs and on state certification of classroom teachers”?

Or is it a reference to the “several prominent deans of education” who helped design the 22-item questionnaire? The reader can only wonder who elevated these individuals to this lofty status and who they are. If they are wise, however, they will preserve their anonymity.

The teaching profession and teacher education are awash in a rising tide of criticism, much of it justified. However, let us hope that teacher educators will resist future attmepts by Ms. Feistritzer to manipulate data that we have supplied her, thereby providing fodder for the cannon that may ultimately blow us out of the water.

Harry F. Silberman Professor, Graduate School of Education University of California-Los Angeles Chairman, National Commission on Secondary Vocational Education Los Angeles, Calif.

The article on tracking and vocational education in your special supplement on literacy (“Tracking: A System in Which ‘The Better Get the Best?’,” Education Week, Sept. 5, 1984) was not very clear.

The message I tried to convey when I was interviewed for the article was that channeling homogeneous groups of less able students into separate vocational programs stigmatizes those programs with a form of guilt by association. If all the students are low performers, the program will look bad in spite of a well-planned curriculum and excellent teaching. The quality of even the best program will suffer without an adequate number of able students because students learn from each other. Teachers may also come to expect less of the students in such programs.

We can distinguish between the quality of a program and the effects of assigning homogeneous groups of students to the program. Some programs appear to be of high quality because of the superior capability of the students who are enrolled. Other programs are of high quality in spite of the composition of their enrollments

For example, many excellent vocational programs contain less able students who have chosen those programs because they see them as being more interesting and congruent with their learning styles. Such programs may provide students with a future direction and a niche in the high school with which they can identify. They may provide students with an alternative educational opportunity that allows them to work on practical problems. Finding solutions to these problems helps the students to develop competence and self-esteem.

What is needed is an enriched and rigorous vocational curriculum that serves all students, regardless of their academic abilities or aspirations. All students should have a balanced mix of both academic and vocational experiences in a common core curriculum. Vocational experiences should be provided for all learners, and should not be stigmatized as the exclusive preserve of special groups.

Charles H. Swanson Professor Speech Communication and Theatre Fairmont State College Fairmont, Va.

In your special issue, “Cracking the Code: Language, Schooling, Literacy” (Education Week, Sept. 5, 1984), you gave extremely thorough coverage of a vital educational issue. The need for a literate citizenry was presented in the strongest terms.

Interestingly, the exclusively visual world of literacy surfaced through your coverage.” Did you notice that the word “listening” virtually cannot be found throughout the 72 pages of your newspaper? Furthermore, the words “speaking” and “talk” were usually used only in the sense of reading and writing. What you have presented is the visual obsession of most literacy proponents.

Since the real world is both visual and auditory, that visual obsession stands as the tragic flaw in an otherwise great idea. Literacy is clearly tied to communication and language use. Literacy should suggest auditory competence as well as visual competence. In your special issue, it doesn’t.

Suggesting that literacy, communication, and the use of language are exclusively the domain of reading and writing, as your special edition does, denies the presence and functions of speaking and listening. They are the foundational skills used in communication.

Speaking and listening have been identified by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, the Task Force for Education in Economic Growth, the College Board, and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as basic communication skills that require instruction.

Blind, habitual pursuit of the three R’s fails not only the goal of literacy, but also the whole educational process. While the skills of speaking and listening are used in 70 percent of the average adult’s daily communicative efforts, they receive little or no instructional time in most schools. Only five states include listening in their statewide basic-skills-testing programs. The schools are locked into an idea about curriculum that is visual.

This visual-based curriculum model leads only to dysfunctions in the educational process because the teaching and learning processes in most classrooms depend on auditory methods. We don’t teach our students how to use these skills of speaking and listening.

Schools are auditory places. Teachers talk and students are expected to listen. Most people would hesitate before labeling the nontalker a teacher. Teachers’ talk fills a majority of class time in most classrooms--ranging from 54 percent of elementary class time to between 76 percent and 96 percent (“the latter” in English classes) of secondary class time. Most college students spend about 95 percent of their class time using their skills of listening.

We teach based on the assumption that students have learned to listen without any instruction. Listening is about the only skill acquired by human beings that is left to chance and magic.

Proponents of literacy (meaning reading and writing) dominate the educational scene. Speech teachers are in a distinct minority. Those of us committed to listening instruction--such as members of the International Listening Association, founded in 1979--are so new and so few as to be considered “cranks.” The consequence is a curriculum designed by politics, and not by sound educational principles. Such a curriculum is doomed to failure.

The flaw in the system and in the idea of literacy is clear. Will anyone listen?

Editors’ Note: We hear you.

A version of this article appeared in the October 10, 1984 edition of Education Week as Letters to the Editor


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