Education Letter to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

February 01, 1984 5 min read

Kathryn Diehl Education reviewer Lima, Ohio

Diane Ravitch’s Commentary (“Bring Literature and History Back to Elementary Schools,” Education Week, Jan. 11, 1984) hits the center of the target. The essay omits only one major pertinent point--the reason that elementary test scores give the very misleading impression that all is well in the elementary grades.

During the mid- to late-1970’s, the major achievement tests were rewritten and “re-normed” downward. This occurrence, which has happened several times over the past 40 years, temporarily provides better scores. In truth, the standards have fallen over the years since the 1930’s.

The slightly better scores were touted to the news media by the reading establishment as proof that the elementary reading problem had been “solved” and that all attention should be diverted to high-school problems, somehow missing the points that the “gain” was very small--from an abysmal level on the average--and that millions of children still score well below grade level throughout the elementary grades. Most of the news media have blindly followed in the direction they were misled; I’m glad to see that you are not following the herd.

May I suggest that you present a detailed review of the new section of Jeanne Chall’s new edition of Learning To Read: The Great Debate, which gives the real reasons literacy is so poor in most schools. Ms. Ravitch is quite right in asking whether this “incredible phenomenon” of the ousting of real literature from the grade schools is a “product of the reading profession’s fascination with the ‘whole-word’ or ‘look-say’ instruction.” Precisely so, and not only is the reading profession “fascinated” with the wrong methods, but it persists in using them in spite of years of research discrediting the methods, as Ms. Chall points out.

The corollary suggestion would be that you avoid a typical “psycholinguistic theory” review from the reading world, as these are the people who do not accept any of the research and will not accept it in Ms. Chall’s new section. (Psycholingusitics is just the new 1980’s name for the old “look-say” theory; it is entrenched in most colleges’ education departments as though in cement.) On the other hand, perhaps the garden-variety reviewer outside the reading field would have difficulty understanding the tremendous difference between the two kinds of ''phonics,” and therefore the “passionate” controversy Ms. Chall discusses.

John Jarolimek Professor of Education University of Washington Seattle, Wash.

It seems incredible that a scholar of the stature of Diane Ravitch would base her remarks in her Commentary on the status of elementary-school social studies on the opinions of one unnamed “magazine social-studies consultant.”

Both Ms. Ravitch and the consultant seem to have chosen to overlook a considerable amount of easily obtained evidence to show that they are in error in assuming that social-studies teachers and professionals are embracing “process” skills such as “student inquiry, social problem solving, and helping kids learn to think” as the major emphasis of the social-studies curriculum.

For years, the professional literature, children’s social-studies textbooks, and texts on teaching methods and curriculum, as well as several documents published by the National Council for the Social Studies, have called for a balance among outcomes that stress knowledge and information (including history and geography), values and beliefs, and related skills.

If readers are interested in what is really included in a contemporary social-studies program (grades K-12), the report of the National Council for the Social Studies Task Force on Scope and Sequence will provide that information.

The report has been adopted by the board of directors as a preliminary position statement of the National Council and will be published in the April 1984 issue of Social Education.

Rebecca Walton Harleysville, Pa.

On reading Diane Ravitch’s excellent commentary on reading “real” books in early school years, I recalled an experience with our first child, who was reading when she was 4 years old. In 1st grade, she was permitted to bring her reader home one week to demonstrate the progress. After a few lines of “Look Dick. Look Jane. See Spot. See Spot run,” she turned to me and said, “Isn’t that stupid?” That was 35 years ago.

Reginald C. Buchanan Former member, Union Grove Board of Education and Wisconsin Federation of Teachers Member, Council for Basic Education Union Grove, Wis.

As a former elementary-school teacher and alumnus of a one-room, one-teacher, walk-in school with eight grades, I strongly disagree with Thomas Staples’ contention that “For Both Students and Teachers, Year-Round Schooling Makes Educational and Economic Sense” (Education Week, Jan. 11, 1984).

Mr. Staples’ pitch for air conditioning leaves me cold. Electric utilities have higher summer rates to discourage consumption of energy for air conditioning and I oppose further depletion of finite energy resources at everyone’s expense for the benefit of teachers who seem unable to teach in 180 days what should be taught in much less time.

I agree with Mr. Staples that “Days are lost in early September and late June ‘getting going’ and ‘getting ready to be gone.”’ I recommend adding a week or two at each end of the school year to be used by only teachers and other adult staff members.

Exceptions could be made for students engaged in outdoor sports, but learning may be enhanced by making better use of a shorter school year. A mastery-learning model not only makes it possible, nay, preferable, to teach larger groups more effectively, but makes it possible to remedy learning deficits and to offer enrichment in mixed groups within a school year that begins after Labor Day and ends before Memorial Day.

Year-round schooling is not “obviously better” than the traditional system. What would be optimal would be 35 four-day weeks (Tuesday through Friday) for students, with teachers working five days a week up to 37 weeks using an otherwise traditional school day and calendar.

In Colorado, the governor and legislature passed enabling legislation in 1980 permitting a shorter school week, provided the classroom hours remained the same. As of 1983, 28 Colorado districts were operating on a four-day week and eight more planned to start. That is nothing less than phenomenal, considering the lengthened school day and the fact that buses must travel up to 100 miles in sparsely populated areas to transport students. I see no reason why urban areas would not be more successful using a four-day system. The 20-percent savings on weekly busing alone would make many dollars available for direct investments in education, including salaries for teachers.

A version of this article appeared in the February 01, 1984 edition of Education Week as Letters to the Editor