Education Letter to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

January 11, 1984 10 min read

Norman A. Bleshman Bergenfield, N.J.

It was heartwarming to read that Madeleine C. Will, the parent of a handicapped child, was named as head of the U.S. Education Department’s office of special education (“New Special-Education Official Seeking To ‘Identify the Gaps,”’ Education Week, Nov. 9, 1983). Some of Ms. Will’s comments in your interview demonstrate a real understanding of the needs of the handicapped child--something that many of her predecessors who were academians did not possess.

I concur with Ms. Will’s concerns about misclassification. In addition to the reason she mentioned--to match classification to available programs--many handicapped children are classified based on the highest tuition paid. This applies to classifications made to send the handicapped child out of the local district to another public school or a private school.

At the other end of the scale, handicapped children are too often placed in the mainstream to meet the P.L. 94-142 requirement of “least restrictive environment,” with the real intent of saving costs or providing a better social standing for the child’s family.

I believe Ms. Will’s office should take a comprehensive look at what is happening to those who reach the age when public education is no longer provided; they should then consider what the handicapped person is prepared to do. Except for the few who are able to complete all the requirements for graduation, as expected of all nonhandicapped students, the other classified students must be given an opportunity for vocational training. Too many vocational-education programs are geared for high-technology work and offer at best a sheltered-workshop experience. Training in skilled and semiskilled vocations is necessary--with pre-vocational training starting at age 12, not 17.

Louis Wildman Staff Development Director Lakeview School District Lakeview, Ore.

William Bentley Ball mistakenly argues that teacher certification is not analogous to state certification of doctors and lawyers because “teacher certification does not assure good teaching” (“State Regulation of Private Schools: Three Views,” Education Week, Nov. 9, 1983). Mr. Ball’s argument applies to doctors and lawyers, too, but I think members of all three professions should be certified. There is simply a much better chance that they will be better prepared and the public will be better served if these people have taken an appropriate course of study and internship.

I come to this conclusion from experience. A few years ago I was superintendent of a small, remote school district. We often had difficulty finding certified teachers with unusual combinations of specializations. I was tempted, more than once, to appeal for the emergency certification of individuals who seemed competent but didn’t quite have all the requirements. In hindsight, I can report that every time I did this, I later regretted my decision. The teachers’ failure to obtain proper certification manifested itself in an attitude that tended to weaken rather than strengthen curriculum and discipline standards. It is appropriate to argue against an obsolete standard; but these individuals tended to argue against standards because they themselves could not meet requirements.

In the school district where I now work as staff-development director, a citizen is starting a private school. Her only qualifications, by her own admission, are a high-school diploma and an interest in teaching. Those who argue that the state has no business certifying teachers should recognize that people like this and others with even fewer qualifications will soon be teaching, if they have their way. Every medicine man, alchemist, quack, imposter, and charlatan will claim teaching competence. We cannot allow this. There are enough pretenders in the teaching profession now.

Donald Erickson urges states to “try to determine not how education occurs, but whether education has occurred.” Again, if we apply the same standard to doctors and lawyers, we find that there also it would not work. A doctor is not incompetent because he or she fails to heal a patient. Likewise, I am not a competent physician because I “helped” my grandmother get well when she was ill. Similarly, a teacher is neither incompetent nor competent on the basis of whether an individual child learns. I would certainly not want to see individuals paid on the basis of how much a class of students learned. That is teacher evaluation on the basis of student performance--a concept thoroughly fraught with difficulties.

This is an exciting time in education because we have new motivation for making improvements. We have a wider constituency urging us to search for excellence. But in our enthusiasm for change, we must be careful not to set aside the progress we have made in creating what R. Freeman Butts calls “state systems of free, universal, common schools” that are “public in purpose, public in access, public in control, and public in support.”

In the local example I mentioned, it is readily apparent why this particular individual representing a local church group so desperately wants to open her own school. That group fears that their views, when openly examined, will be found embarrassingly lacking in scientific support. They abhor free inquiry and prefer dogmatism. They make fraudulent judgments in the absence of evidence and are therefore easily led astray by cocksure prophets, ignorant fanatics, and dishonest charlatans.

We should not forget the debates of a few years back about institutional neutrality. A strong case can be made that a “religious” school of whatever type is a contradiction in terms. We surely would not accept elementary and secondary “General Motors” schools, “Creationism’’ schools, or “Darwinian” schools, if we believe ultimately in the right of open inquiry. A public school (or university) cannot at the same time be a forum for the open examination of ideas and be wedded to one set of ideas. The only commitment our public schools can make is to that set of values that favor an open society where free inquiry is meaningfully supported.

Ashby Harper Headmaster Albuquerque Academy Albuquerque, N.M.

I read with interest your article on Walter H. Annenberg’s gift to the Peddie School ("$12 Million Given to N.J. School,” Education Week, Nov. 9, 1983). The gift, according to the article, was “what school officials say is the largest individual donation ever made to an American private school.”

In December 1964, Albert G. Simms gave Albuquerque Academy, by bequest in his last will and testament, an office building and a 9,000-acre tract of land on the eastern edge of Albuquerque. The building was worth about $3 million at that time, and a portion of the tract was sold to the city last summer for $24.5 million (with the remaining acreage appraised at approximately $48 million).

In addition, gifts from Mr. Simms prior to his death, along with the 1964 bequest, enabled us to establish an endowment that has a market value close to $55 million.

John Michel Principal Fickett Junior High School Tucson Unified School District Tucson, Ariz.

As a junior-high-school principal, I highly commend the Davis (Calif.) Joint Unified School District for giving Project Business more time (“School-Business Program Survives Challenge in California System,” Education Week, Nov. 16, 1983).

In my school, Project Business is taught as part of the social-studies curriculum. Our staff members and students welcome business representatives into our school. These representatives not only help our students learn about business basics from a business point of view, but are also excellent role models for our students.

The program also gives me the opportunity, as a principal, to discuss school concerns and solutions with the business leaders of our community, and they become aware of what our school system is all about.

Kent Bradley Student Chairman Executive Board National Association of Student Councils Division of Student Activities National Association of Secondary School Principals Reston, Va.

Your article on extracurricular activities, “Reform Efforts Spur Debate on Role of Extracurricular Activities” (Education Week, Nov. 23, 1983), emphasizes the current national call for increasing student achievement in academic classes. Certainly academic achievement is important--indeed, it is essential if today’s youths are to assume their roles as tomorrow’s leaders. As we enter a more technologically complex world, mathematics, science, and communications skills will be necessary for success. Making the best use of the school day is a worthy goal for educators.

As the scramble ensues to increase academic achievement, however, another essential role of education must not be overlooked. Tomorrow’s complex world will also demand leadership skills and the ability to work together. These skills are not taught in math and science classes; they are learned in student government, school journalism, band, clubs, and speech and leadership-development classes. That is why it is so important not to overlook co-curricular activities as we move toward academic excellence, for they are essential to both an adult’s success and America’s future. And that is why the National Association of Student Councils calls them co-curricular activities: They are not “extra” to the total development of a student.

Dennis C. Buss Associate Professor of Education Division of Graduate Studies School of Education Rider College Lawrenceville, N.J.

Your excellent survey of education-improvement initiatives (Education Week, Dec. 7, 1983) highlights for me the importance of teacher education as a focus of reform. In my state, the efforts in this area are particularly controversial. Given the many proposals in this area--competency tests, certification changes, monetary incentives, computer training, and so forth--may I suggest that you do an in-depth analysis of teacher-education issues along the lines of your earlier treatment of inservice education programs?

Sarah A. Hulett Director of Continuing Education William Knox Holt Continuing Education and Conference Center San Antonio, Tex.

I applaud the Educational Testing Service’s stand on not providing tests to districts and states that use its teacher-competency tests as a measure of a teacher’s ability to inspire and motivate students to learn (“ets President Asks Limited Use of Teacher Test,” Education Week, Dec. 7, 1983). The fact that so many teachers are “failing” the tests is a blatant indictment of the system in which they were educated.

Moreover, to be statistically verifiable, the tests would have to be administered to every lawyer, doctor, administrator, chief executive, and member of other professional groups. Who knows, the analysis might find that the thoracic surgeon cannot remember the date of the War of 1812, or that the lawyer has forgotten who was buried in Grant’s tomb.

As an educator for 31 years, I have seen a full cycle of reforms and knee-jerk reactions from the education community, with teachers receiving the brunt of ill-conceived and unrealistic reforms and taking the criticism when they do not work.

As an administrator for 10 years, I think the responsible course would be to use the competency tests as a measure of the system that educates teachers and to take the lead in evaluating what can be done to improve the system for future generations of teachers so that we can improve education for all students.

As an advocate of continuing education for professionals, I suggest that state agencies, teacher-training institutions, and local school districts look at ways to encourage such education. They should also provide pay incentives, release time, and high-quality inservice programs to keep teachers abreast of both new ideas and good old ideas, and should help teachers instead of condemning them. A lot is being done in some areas, but rather than taking pot shots at teachers, we should examine the beam in our own eyes.

I think the competency-test results would be very revealing if analyzed by age, length of service, preservice training, and so forth. We certainly need bright, young, dedicated teachers in our profession, but sticking to this kind of generalization condemns the whole group and fails to offer solutions. On the other hand, everyone recognizes the components of good teaching, but we are very hesitant to document and reward with merit pay on an individual basis.

I am pleased that ets has the courage to balk at yet another knee-jerk reaction that attempts to generalize and condemn.

A version of this article appeared in the January 11, 1984 edition of Education Week as Letters to the Editor