Education Letter to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

January 11, 1989 9 min read

Rudy Pouch Superintendent Chase County Unified School District Cottonwood Falls, Kan.

Your article “Districts Resorting to ‘Pay-To-Play’ Option” (Dec. 7, 1988) was an interesting but somewhat disturbing piece.

I fear the consequences for less-affluent children if the trend to charging for participation in activities continues.

We in Kansas subscribe to the tenet that extracurricular activities are the other half of education. Activities such as competitive athletics, band, vocal music, and so on keep students enrolled as well as involved in school.

Students who must study, budget their time, prepare, and achieve to be a part of extracurricular activities gain a more rounded education and are better able to cope with everyday stress.

For the most part, they also earn higher grade-point averages than noninvolved students.

And more than 95 percent of dropouts are students not involved in such activities.

Students from low socioeconomic backgrounds would suffer more if a “pay-to-play” option were invoked: They lack opportunities--outside of the schools--to become involved in group activities and to meet with others on common ground.

A question for those who vote down mill levies or support users’ fees: Who provided the buildings, equipment, and activities for you and your children?

In your turn, you should be providers, not just users.

I endorse the comments of Brice F. Durbin on the importance of extracurriculars and of Michael W. Kirst on the shift in educational philosophy such a change would represent.

Indeed, in the interest of equity, I would prefer no extracurricular activities to users’ fees.

We are proud of the commitment our property-tax payers have made to the young people in Kansas. We feel that our high ranking in such areas as literacy and standardized-test scores is due, in large part, to the combination of our curricular and extracurricular programs.

Thomas A. Shannon Executive Director National School Boards Association Alexandria, Va.

I was bemused by your article about the end of the “explosion” in school lawsuits, as reported at the convention of the National Organization on Legal Problems in Education (“‘Explosion’ in School Lawsuits Has Ended, 2 Unpublished Studies Find,” Nov. 30, 1988).

The thrust of the article appears to be that the legal problems of the public schools are now in a sort of suspended animation because the count of litigation decisions is down from the past decade.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

The potential for school litigation is much higher today than in the 1960’s and 1970’s because the legal bases for such lawsuits have expanded enormously and the legal defenses that could be invoked by districts have shriveled drastically.

What accounts for the drop in school-law rulings is not a less litigious public, or appointments of more conservative judges, or a more patient plaintiffs’ bar that aims its efforts at settling cases peaceably out of court.

The explanation for the apparent plateauing in school-related courtroom disputes is double-barreled.

First, local boards and superintendents have learned--some from experience, but most by observation of our increasingly egalitarian, multicultural society that fiercely protects individual rights against incursion (or even the appearance of incursion) by any form of government, including the public schools--to retain and listen to school attorneys.

Second, board members, administrators, and teachers have become far more sophisticated than their predecessors of the early 1960’s in their application of ever-expanding school-law principles to their daily efforts at the school-board meeting table, in the central offices and schools, and in the classrooms.

The Council of School Attorneys of the National School Boards Association, for example, was founded in 1967 with about 30 members. Today, it has a membership that is pushing toward 3,000.

The presence of school attorneys--working with educators who have become knowledgeable with their help--is the underlying reason for the reduction in school-related litigation.

The day their contribution is downplayed will see the beginning of an upswing in litigation that would be more of a holocaust than an explosion.

Harry A. Galinsky Superintendent of Schools Paramus Public Schools Paramus, N.J.

Your article describing a recent meeting of participants in the National Governors’ Association’s project testing ideas from Time for Results contained a number of inaccuracies (“‘Bandits’ Say Red Tape Snarled Reform Project,” Nov. 23, 1988).

I cite the following statement attributed to me:

“And [Harry A. Galinsky] scorned the ‘excitement’ generated by the state’s attempted takeover of the Jersey City school district as ‘running against the grain of what we have been talking about in making true changes.”’

My comments about the New Jersey education department’s plan to take over Jersey City were in fact laudatory.

I have lobbied for passage of legislation giving Commissioner of Education Saul Cooperman the authority to intervene in districts that have failed to provide a thorough and efficient education.

As a past president of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, I testified before the joint Senate and Assembly education committee, which eventually recommended passage of the enabling legislation.

Far from scornful, I believe that Mr. Cooperman and Gov. Thomas H. Kean have taken a courageous step to save thousands of children in New Jersey, and I commend them.

The article also reflects a tone not present at the meeting.

Although we were asked to report on whether removing legislative or regulatory “blocks” contributed to our successes or failures, none of the participants felt that the original promise of regulating less was essential to getting results.

My point was that despite the existence of many such blocks, creative superintendents find ways to get results despite obstacles.

By and large, the 16 superintendents participating in the nga project have received the support of the governors, the various state education departments, and the U.S. Education Department.

Removal of legislative barriers will continue to be a worthy goal, but educating children can’t depend upon its ever happening.

Editor’s note: The accuracy of the article’s account of the meeting has been confirmed by others who attended it.

Stephen White Project Director Great Falls Transition Project Great Falls, Mont.

Victor Fuchs’s Commentary (“Allocating Resources for Children,” Nov. 16, 1988) is a classic example of seeing the trees but overlooking the forest.

Mr. Fuchs rightly cites the unprecedented risks facing children today.

And he goes on to describe why the simplistic solutions of government “help” or business intervention are inadequate. But at this juncture, his logic escapes me.

He offers two alternative solutions: redistribute wealth through higher tax rates for upper-income (and smaller-family) households, or raise taxes for everyone to fund child-centered programs.

But are not both of these solutions also “government” solutions--because, as he writes, government can reallocate resources “but it cannot create” them?

A much simpler solution, which in fact does redistribute wealth to children, characterized government policy in the years immediately following World War II.

Why not increase the personal income-tax exemption from less than $2,000 per person to $5,000 per person?

Large families, much more likely to have moderate or low incomes, would be more able to afford high-quality child care.

This change would realign tax rates to reflect the inflation-adjusted deduction available to parents in the late 1940’s.

Mr. Fuchs is right in urging a reallocation of resources but absolutely off base in recommending massive new programs that further erode parental responsibilities and earning power.

As he so aptly notes, “Most parents already have considerably less leisure time than other adults of comparable age and education, and they are more squeezed financially.”

Steve Balloga Principal Meeker Elementary School Meeker, Colo.

Your article on the Dade County (Fla.) school district’s attempt to ban firearms under the guise of “firearm safety” is alarming (“Dade County Plans a ‘Gun Awareness’ Program for K-12,” Nov. 16, 1988).

The National Rifle Association’s curriculum is a safety program.

But the Dade County program, which will tell children that no one should keep and bear firearms, is an attack on the Constitution.

Also, Education Week’s claim that it takes no editorial stance is false. By citing the statistics of accidental firearm deaths, you supported the Dade County rationale for telling children firearms have no place in society.

If you had really intended to give the article balance, you would have either not used those figures or included statistics showing how millions of firearms are effectively and legitimately used by citizens for sport, collection, and protection.

Editor’s Note: In the article cited, Dade County officials did not take the position Mr. Balloga attributes to them. They are quoted extensively as to their rationale for the new “gun awareness” program, which does stem, they said, from their concern over the number of shooting deaths among the young in their community and the number of guns brought into their schools.

Brother Walter Davenport, C.S.C. President Holy Cross High School River Grove, Ill.

With nearly 40 years of experience in Catholic education, I could not let your article “Busing Costs for Nonpublic Pupils Under Scrutiny” (Dec. 14, 1988) pass without observation.

Joyce P. Mallory of the Milwaukee school board and others are quick to ignore justice.

Parents who exercise their “right” to send youngsters to our schools are required to pay twice for the “privilege": First, they pay taxes to support the public schools; second, they pay tuition--and help raise funds--to support their Catholic school.

How many of our “rights” as citizens would we exercise if we had to pay for each--much less pay twice?

The token expressions of a concern for justice to our parents, such as free bus service, should be expanded, not reduced, by those in public service.

From a purely political point of view, Ms. Mallory and her kind do themselves a disservice. They need to draw all who choose to send their youngsters to nonpublic schools into a partnership to support and improve all educational systems.

Perhaps there would be fewer failures to win tax increases if the public sector sought a partnership with us.

Ms. Mallory and others in the public-school sector also raise questions about the service of parochial schools to minorities.

The National Catholic Educational Association’s research shows that our schools, in fact, serve a larger percentage of minorities, proportionally, than do public schools--and with more success.

I can appreciate the temptation for public-school administrators to seek to eliminate any expense they can: My budget must balance each year, too. But it is a mistake to make cuts that alienate the public you serve.

Robert Primack Associate Professor University of Florida Gainesville, Fla.

For a book examining the current influence of John Dewey’s major works on conditions in schools and society, I would be interested in communicating with anyone who knew Dewey personally or who would like to comment on his influence on their own life and work.

Write to: Robert Primack, Foundations of Education Department, Norman Hall, University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla. 32611.

A version of this article appeared in the January 11, 1989 edition of Education Week as Letters to the Editor