Education Letter to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

May 22, 1991 15 min read
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To the Editor

Lukewarm praise for President Bush’s America 2000 plan is much more than this initiative deserves (“Bush Strategy Launches ‘Crusade’ for Education,” April 24, 1991).

When I read the 34-page report, it left me wondering where the 400 missing pages had gone. The beginning of the report was missing 200 pages that should have explained the rationale behind the proposed goals and strategies. Another 200 pages were missing from the back, commenting further on the goals and providing additional details of the proposed strategies.

Where is the rest of the report? Would you have accepted America 2000 if it was written by one of your students? I would have returned it. It certainly does not meet my criteria for an important national report outlining the national policy.

If America 2000 had been released by anyone other than President Bush, it would have received little attention. Deserving recognition goes to its modiste, the Hon. Lamar Alexander, who convinced the President to adopt America 2000, a pretentious and inadequate document masquerading as a national strategy.

Using the power of the Presidency and a masterful orchestration at the time of the release of the report, Mr. Alexander paraded President Bush from meeting to meeting with America 2000. And, more comically, politicians and educators are falling over themselves to comment on the report. I hope that at the next press conference a little child yells that the emperor is not wearing any clothes, or only a few threads at best.

When the rationale and important details are missing from the report, why are people bothering to comment? Just as President Bush and Mr. Alexander believe in higher standards for teachers and students, we should return the report and demand more from the President and the Secretary of Education.

America 2000 is a politically motivated charade. Why waste time commenting on nothing when more meritorious and promising reforms, led by the Theodore Sizers and Linda Darling-Hammonds of education, exist?

Henry Fernandez
Peace Corps Fellows Program
Teachers College Columbia University
New York, N.Y.

To the Editor:

Once again, criticism of educational choice has surfaced, this time in your article on negative reaction to the President’s policy statement on education (“President Bush’s Plan: The Closer Some Look, the Less They See,” May 1, 1991).

Mentioned as one of the reasons for dissension over choice among education groups and Democratic lawmakers was the belief that it would produce a wider gap than now exists between disadvantaged and middle-class students. I disagree with this view entirely. Educational choicedoes just the opposite: It honors the curriculum preferences of low-income and minority families.

There are, in addition to this, other significant reasons why private schools should be included in any system of choice. For many families, goverment-operated schools--due to limitations placed on them by the First Amendment and by political constraints--cannot offer the set of ideas some Americans want transmitted to their children. Private schools may offer these ideas and values, and also have demonstrated their ability to serve even disadvantaged children at a lower cost than government-operated schools.

Schools that are chosen communities tend to succeed in basic educational tasks. The dropout rate is significantly lower in non-public schools. Families who come together by choice provide a primary model for their larger society. Private schools are relatively free of racial conflict in their internal life.

Last, but certainly not least, competition and consumer autonomy are the primary hopes for raising educational standards. I commend President Bush for his comprehensive education-reform plan, one which promotes educational choice.

Eileen Gorman
All Souls School
South San Francisco, Calif.

To the Editor:

Ike Coleman’s essay, “Could Computer Use Be a Form of Tracking?” (Commentary, April 17, 1991) brought to mind how education still serves to separate the classes in our society.

He mentioned the creative use of computers by gifted and talented programs, while disadvantaged students in the same area use computers for “skill and drill.” But this issue goes beyond the way computers are used; it permeates the educational system.

Four years ago, when I worked as a substitute teacher in the Olympia-Tumwater area of San Francisco, I became aware that many of the gifted programs took frequent field trips for “enrichment.” It saddened me to think that, if a child was not “gifted,” the chance for a field trip would not be likely.

I have found from 11 years of teaching San Francisco’s inner-city schoolchildren that field trips are exciting experiences for these youngsters, who ordinarily might not have the opportunity to go to the various places we visit on class outings. I have seen students read more and express the knowledge they already have about a subject on such trips. Most of these students, if enrolled in the San Francisco Unified School District, probably would not be identified for the gifted programs.

In fact, of the four public elementary schools in the Bayview-Hunter’s Point area of San Francisco, which is identified as a “low socioeconomic” area, none have gifted programs. The reason? There are no students so identified there. Instead, these schools are identified as “consent decree” schools, which receive funding to improve student-achievement scores.

And class status doesn’t stop with the gifted programs. Of the eight “alternative” schools in the San Francisco Unified School District, two are on the outer boundaries of lower-income economic areas. The other six are located in more affluent areas of the city. There are no alternative schools in the Bayview-Hunter’s Point area, nor in the Mission District, which is also identified as a low-income economic area.

As a teacher in a parochial school, I am able to provide my students a class-free atmosphere. We have no gifted programs, everyone can go on “enrichment” field trips, and all students have access to the computer lab. Indeed, each one of my students is gifted. My colleagues and I strive to empower our students to seize the opportunities they may confront in the future.

How far has American education come since 1954, when all children were supposed to be given the right to equal education? As long as the privileged class holds the purse strings, our educational system will continue to “cement in place an underclass,” as Ike Coleman put it.

If we want our society to be dynamic in the future, we’d better find ways to break up the cement and treat all people as privileged.

Barbara E. Moodie
St. Anthony School
San Francisco, Calif.

To the Editor:

It is interesting how a verbal slip can affect the thinking of a population--and sometimes for the better--even though the common wisdom seems to indicate otherwise.

It was not too many weeks ago that broccoli was brought to the fore as the most talked about vegetable in America. But headlines about the vegetable also brought home to the tables of America the fact that broccoli might not really be something that stands between health and sickness. The death of spinach as the sine qua non of veggies had occurred somewhat4more slowly, probably as children gradually became aware that Popeye was not really human like they were.

All it took for the demise of broccoli was for the President of the United States to say what millions of Americans had been mumbling at table for years, “I hate broccoli.” Mothers haven’t a chance in the world anymore to inculcate their broods concerning the goodness of this nutritional cure-all. On the other hand, few would contend that there is a great loss in this. Other foods can keep us healthy.

A second Presidential slip, however, will no doubt cause a few tears to be shed by certain educators. A recent news report noted that “the President joked” (he was really serious, wasn’t he?) at the National Summit on Mathematics that he “did not know anything about physics.’'

This, I believe, is another “giant step for mankind.” Let us read our President’s lips and act accordingly.

Obviously, Mr. Bush is not l00 percent accurate. He certainly knows that apples fall “down” because of Mr. Newton. He surely heard of “G’s” in pilot training. But we as educators, as well as the public at large, should seriously ask ourselves if physics as it is typically taught (read “force fed”) and conceived is really worth the effort put into the attempt to “educate.”

Why should the majority of students be pressed to learn “physics” that will be tested in a national achievement examination? Did the ace pilot’s high-school physics course prepare him to fly his plane better or build up his oil holdings or make him better understand the intricacies of Operation Desert Storm?

Where do we stop in “education for all,” beyond learning to do well communicating and comprehending and calculating? In this modern world, do we not have to let those relatively few in every field (of a thousand fields) guide us to do and know what is best? Or will we constantly be fighting for “our” subject and insisting on nation8al testing in religion, in ethics, in values, in astronomy, in the big-bang theory vs. creation, in over-consumption, in junk bonds, in the art of conning the gullible?

Who is to decide what public money is to be put into what could well be futile efforts in our panic to make our country able to take its place as a moral and economic, as well as military, leader in the world?

The President’s slips have shot down two myths. Let us hope that more are shot down before we spend too much time, effort, and money unwisely in the vain effort to replay that old song,"It Was Good Enough for Adam and It’s Good Enough for Me.”

George W. Meloy
Pasadena, Calif.

To the Editor:

Your “Health” column of May 15, 1991, reports that “federal officials ... do not know why Medicaid costs are skyrocketing” and continues with an analysis of the enormously increased costs of providing Medicaid services to children.

At least here in Illinois, a reason for those increases is likely to be that some school districts are using state (personnel reimbursement) and federal (P.L. 89-313) funds for the purposes of billing Medicaid for special-education-related services. In some cases, the cost of the billing has clearly exceeded the funds collected from Medicaid.

The U.S. Education Department has failed for the past two years to act on my documented complaint about this blatant waste of public funds. Instead, it has engaged in a protracted jurisdictional dispute over whether the office for special education and rehabilitative services or the office of inspector general should handle the investigation.

While they have argued over who should investigate the problem, both taxpayers and children with disabilities have been losers. Federal officials have created the bizarre situation in which public money from education is being expended to collect public money from Medicaid.

Perhaps if federal officials don’t know why Medicaid costs are skyrocketing, they should examine how their own actions have contributed to the cost increases. More money would be available both for education and for Medicaid if federal officials were simply to budget for each program in realistic amounts and then leave the funds in the program for which they were appropriated.

Joy J. Rogers
Professor of Counseling and Educational Psychology
Loyola University of Chicago
Chicago, Ill.

To the Editor:

I was shocked, saddened, and frightened by the “Operation Desert Hero” advertisement in your latest issue. I could not be more horrified had it been an ad for a Hitler Youth camp.

The United States has clearly unnecessarily triggered such slaughter and destruction that the consequences in human misery will continue for decades. To celebrate this obscenity is a thing hard enough to comprehend without reaching for the language of abnormal psychology; to teach our children that some kind of heroism was involved in this massacre is reprehensible, immoral, and beyond forgiving.

The only lesson to be learned from our killing and destruction is that our society is addicted to violence and utterly open to government propaganda and manipulation. We are teaching our children to love war and become mindless, empty patriots.

David Ziglin
Mukwonago, Wis.

To the Editor:

I have read just about all I care to read about a standardized national testing program for public schools.

I propose to give doctors (or fill in your own favorite occupation) a similar standardized test after their fourth year in practice (kind of like senior year in high school).

I propose to make grand graphs and charts that compare doctors from various states.

I propose to further clarify the issue by comparing urban, suburban, and rural doctors.

I also propose to rank the doctors with a percentile or normal-curve-equivalent score and publish these rankings locally for all patients to view.

Then we could let every political hack, as well as every patient (that is, anyone who has ever been to a doctor, can spell doctor, or has walked by a doctor), take shots at the 50 percent who fail to make the grade and fall below the norm. Absurd? Of course! Happening in schools? Sure!

A national test without a national commitment to improvement is rhetoric.

Barry Koestler
Dayton Public Schools
Dayton, Ohio

To the Editor:

The Secretary of Education retains the right not only to modify policy but also to hire a staff. But undeniably, in Lamar Alexander’s shakeup of the department, the private sector (including proprietary schools) has lost an ally and advocate (“E.D. Replaces Head of Office of Private Education,” May 8, 1991).

For almost a decade, Charles H. O’Malley, as head of the department’s office of private education, has been responsive to and protective of the unique needs of the private-parochial-proprietary constituency, which exceeds more than 25,000 schools. He possesses the rare combination of integrity, competence, and candor. Those of us who have been privileged to work with him will miss him.

I also have concern that Secretary Alexander’s decision to replace this veteran professional educator may signal the Administration’s decision to favor public education while decreasing its commitment to the private sector.

This would be unfair, especially since proprietary schools, which are tax-paying entities, would be denied a representative voice in the U.S. Education Department. It was due to the efforts of Mr. O’Malley that proprietary schools have been included in competitions for the designation of “School of Recognition” and “Drug-Free School,” selections sponsored by the federal government.

Thomas Edward Bratter
The John Dewey Academy
Great Barrington, Mass.

To the Editor:

I am writing in response to your article “Elementary Schools’ Asian-Language Classes Provide ‘Something To Comunicate About”’ (May 1, 1991).

It was refreshing to read about something positive and innovative happening in education for a change. And it will be interesting to hear about test results in the Maryland pilot program and how much of the Japanese language students have actually retained.

Regardless, however, I see the program as nothing other than beneficial from every aspect.

Aside from giving students the decided advantage of knowing a foreign language, this program, as described, creates a whole new dimension in learning. The children’s pattern of thinking will be diversified and they will develop a system of comparison between their own language and the one under study. They will have an increasingly open attitude, and it will be easier for them to study other languages in the future.

They also will be able to communicate more freely with their non-English-speaking peers, thus making the esl students feel more at ease, and will acquire a new sensitivity to many people of cultures different than their own.

In learning the Japanese language, the students will gain a valuable tool that may be a necessity for the future. And the beauty of it all is that they are ready and eager to acquire this new skill. Many adults would be extremely hesitant to study Japanese, and understandably so.

What really appealed to me was to read about how teachers in the pilot are working so closely together. This type of interaction and collaboration should be happening more often in all kinds of educational programs. And I was happy to learn that the parents are supportive; that will certainly add to their students’ successes.

Melissa Stimson
San Francisco, Calif.

To the Editor:

A bill passed by the Colorado legislature--House Bill 1326, “Limitations on Schools of Choice"--takes away the right of choice for children with special needs (“Colorado Bill Clarifies Limits of School-Choice Program,” News in Brief, May 8, 1991.) The state no longer will provide for “schools of choice,” but instead “selective choice.”

This measure allows a school to choose which handicapped or disadvantaged child it wishes to admit. Previously, Colorado provided for choice of schools for all children within their own district, except for schools that have no available space or a school district under court-ordered desegregation.

In addition, the bill allows schools to prohibit students from attending their school of choice if it would require alterations in facilities and/or rooms, or the creation of new programs and/or new eligibility criteria.

The intent of HB 1326 was to block substantial negative financial impact on a school of choice. Substantial financial impact should be a consideration, and is under civil-rights and special-education case law. But this bill has no financial qualifiers or limits. It appears that a school of choice could disallow a student with a need to use a tape recorder in class or a dyslectic who cannot read and requires oral testing. In essence, it prohibits equal access to schools of choice by handicapped children and others who require adaptations. In reality, financial impact is not an issue in this bill.

In our attempts to catch up with Japan, are we going to leave children with any special needs behind? As Peter Milward, an American English professor teaching in Japan, wrote in The Japan Times last November: “The [Japanese] students have to fit into the system or they are crushed by the system and become nervous wrecks or social misfits. And the aim of that system is to bring out not their individual humanity but their corporate efficiency.”

If Gov. Roy Romer, as a member of the National Governors’ Association’s education committee, signs this bill, will he be confirming his and the Bush Administration’s goal to not only match Japan in math and science but to also disregard the individual?

Liz Hesse
Learning Disabilities Association of Colorado
Denver, Colo.

A version of this article appeared in the May 22, 1991 edition of Education Week as Letters to the Editor


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