Education Letter to the Editor

Letters To The Editor

August 02, 1989 14 min read

In your June 21 issue, Bill Honig, California’s superintendent of public instruction, criticized Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos for failing to establish specific goals in releasing the Education Department’s annual “wall chart” (“Scrutinizing the Secretary: A Slow Starter or ‘On Target’?”).

I am perplexed by this criticism, since the Secretary in fact proposed national “education improvement targets” when he released the chart.

He also called upon all states and school districts to establish their own targets.

Mr. Cavazos specifically called for improvement targets to:

“Increase graduation-rate numbers to a level equal to or even greater than that attained by Minnesota, the state that currently leads the nation with a graduation rate of 90 percent.”

“Cut in half the number of children who have not been promoted at grade level.”

“Increase by half the number of children who perform at proficient levels in reading, mathematics, and science. We must also increase by half the number of students scoring at the highest levels.”

The Secretary further indicated his intention of writing to every governor, chief state school officer, and local school-board president in the country to enlist their support. Additional copies of the chart have been printed, and this mailing will be completed shortly.

Charles E.M. Kolb
Deputy Undersecretary
U.S. Education Department
Washington, D.C.

Your recent article suggesting that teachers in North Carolina have not received a pay increase since 1982 is not representative of the facts (“Efforts To Increase Teacher Pay Stalled in North Carolina,” June 21, 1989).

In 1980, our teachers proposed and the General Assembly approved a salary schedule similar to that used to pay state employees.

Although automatic annual increments have been awarded only twice since the adoption of that schedule, teachers have received cost-of-living increases every year except one in the past 10 years.

Since July 1982, the starting salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree has risen from $12,930 to $18,330, an increase of 48 percent. A teacher who was employed in 1982 has received a salary increase of 54.41 percent since that time.

The state’s average salary has risen from $17,585 in 1982 to an estimated $25,650, an increase of 46 percent.

North Carolina has consistently supported teacher-salary increases, as these facts reflect, and we are now looking at several salary-schedule modernization plans that would raise the salaries of teachers to a range of about $20,000 to $40,000 within two years.

North Carolina has not done nearly as well on teacher salaries as we would like, but it has tried.

Bob Etheridge
Department of Public Instruction
Raleigh, N.C.

I am both delighted and disappointed by your recent coverage of Minnesota’s public-school choice programs (“In Nation’s First Open-Enrollment State, the Action Begins,” March 15, 1989).

Here are some important details that have not been shared with your readers:

More than $100,000 has been allocated by the state legislature over the last two years to provide transportation for students from low-income families participating in various choice plans.

One of the most frequently repeated but inaccurate charges about Minnesota’s plan is that it does not help low-income students. In fact, choice advocates pushed for transportation costs for these students.

The school property-tax referendum was recently passed in Mountain Iron-Buhl, a small district from which a number of families have asked to transfer.

Opponents of open enrollment predicted that residents would stop supporting the district since there were so many transfers out. This prediction, like so many others made by critics in the last four years, proved wrong.

Why didn’t you interview parents from this district? Why didn’t you compare the programs available in the small districts with those offered in the district to which students are transferring?

A letter to the editor stated that 10 students from one district transferred to another requiring fewer credits for graduation (“‘Choice’ Programs in East Harlem and Minnesota Are Evaluated,” April 26, 1989).

These students, who had not succeeded in a traditional school, transferred to an alternative school that has won several awards and has rigorous graduation requirements.

The Minnesota Association of School Administrators has produced a helpful brochure for parents about selecting among schools. Many administrators, teachers, and school-board members are supporting the state’s choice plans.

Many of us think small schools can be excellent places for young people to learn.

We are not out to “get” these schools, as some coverage suggests. In fact, more than half of the students participating in open enrollment during the41988-89 school year transferred from larger to smaller districts.

Some of the most compelling testimony in favor of open enrollment, however, came from parents and students in small districts that did not offer advanced courses and would not cooperate with nearby districts.

We believe families ought to have high-quality options among schools.

More than 2,000 Minnesota students have transferred from private to public schools in the last several years.

Parents of these students cite public-school choice as a major reason for the shift.

The Minnesota pta/ptsa op8poses voucher programs that divert monies to nonpublic schools.

No one in Minnesota thinks our public-school choice programs will solve all of education’s problems.

We are pleased that, for example, the state legislature allocated additional funds to both Head Start and the public-school system.

We salute the progressive educators who recognize that there is no one best school for all students, parents, and educators. The critics have been proven wrong.

Barbara K. Zohn
Minnesota pta/ptsa
Roseville, Minn.

In their Commentary, Samuel J. Meisels and L. Steven Sternberg clearly articulate the problems of child care in an institutional atmosphere (“Quality Sacrificed in Proprietary Child Care,” June 7, 1989).

What is not addressed is what is best for the child.

Caregivers should analyze the specific needs of the child and then suggest a solution, if there is one.

Whatever the reason, more and more children are being cared for outside the home.

Currently, most states have passed legislation recognizing this phenomenon. Because child care is rapidly becoming a large industry, some form of regulation is necessary to protect the public from abuses and to establish some standards of care.

The Congress, embroiled in the controversy over child care, apparently believes that this is a national issue, to be addressed by the federal government.

Regrettably, this may happen if the American people don’t act.

Among the many bills proposed in the past few years is the “act for better child-care services.”

The abc would begin by establishing yet another bureaucracy. The opening appropriation would be $2.5 billion.

Some economists project the ultimate cost of meeting the bill’s basic mandates to be between $40 billion and $70 billion.

The children of working parents are certainly not the big winners here.

In his report on the abc, Senator Dave Durenberger of Minnesota said, “Even if fully funded, the abc bill would help, at most, 800,000 of the 15.7 million children who have mothers who work outside the home--far fewer than the 6 to 7 million that many other proposals under consideration would assist.”

This is because one-third of our nation’s child care is provided by religious groups. These facilities are less expensive than commercial providers and make child care available for the poor, who would otherwise be unable to obtain this service.

The abc provides that “no financial assistance ... shall be expended for any sectarian purpose or activity, including sectarian worship and instruction.”

In effect, this provision would deny parents their religious freedom.

Interestingly, the bill also provides that “nothing in this Act shall be construed or applied in any manner to infringe upon or usurp the moral and legal rights and responsibilities of parents or legal guardians.”

The moral rights of parents are being infringed upon by the secular provisions of the act, and their right to choose is being encroached upon by limiting selection of care providers to those approved by the government.

The real beneficiaries of this bill are the bureaucrats who will administer the bill, the commercial care providers who will make the money, and the elected officials who will gain from the power base made up of the other two.

The big financial loser is the taxpayer.

The overall loser is the family and its religious freedom.

George W. Koch Jr.
Associate General Counsel
Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights
Milwaukee, Wis.

I applaud your increased focus on child-care issues over the past months. The Commentary by Samuel J. Meisels and L. Steven Sternberg is the most recent example of this healthy debate on critical issues affecting our nation’s children.

While my own research has confirmed strong differences between nonprofit and for-profit programs on several indicators of quality, I believe we do a disservice to the public if we focus attention on legal structure as the culprit.

Mr. Meisels and Mr. Sternberg rightly point out that the profit element in itself is not the central issue.

What is missing is uniform standards.

We cannot blindly assume that good intentions or traditional market forces will result in a better product in the case of child care.

It is important that we promote multiple models for the delivery of child-care services.

There is a need for the for-profit sector to be actively involved. But we must also make certain that our regulatory system provides standards ensuring high quality regardless of legal structure.

Standards should cover teacher-child ratios, staff training, group size, curriculum, teacher-child interactions, and health and safety issues.

The accreditation standards promoted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children provide a good model.

If these standards were uniformly adopted by every state, the issue of legal structure would be moot.

As child-care advocates, we must work to reduce the polarizing rhetoric between the for-profit and nonprofit sectors.

Paula Jorde-Bloom
Department of Early Childhood
National College of Education
Evanston, Ill.

I am responding to Brenda Krause Eheart and Marjorie W. Steinkamp’s Commentary (“Urging Study of ‘Developmental Appropriateness,”’ May 3, 1989).

The concept of “developmentally appropriate” practices in early-childhood education may be new for many educators, but it is the basis of an 83-year-old educational method.

For teachers trained in Montessori techniques, this practice is far more than an academic minor. It is an academic major.

It is difficult for us in the Montessori movement to fathom the frenzied search for programs geared to children under 5. A well-documented, academically sound program already exists.

I must take issue with emphasizing the need for “happiness” among youngsters in preschools.

What our children experience is success. They develop self-confidence based on success and are happier people because of it.

In addition, we foster children’s natural urge to explore, discover, and learn. That, too, satisfies them.

The preschool curriculum was developed in response to the 2- to 5-year-old child’s developmental needs. Since each is an individual, each child’s reaction to the curriculum is spontaneous and unpredictable.

The classroom materials are constant because they fit the needs of the child at a particular developmental stage.

Many concrete classroom materials are used as building blocks for academics. They are the basis for the abstract thinking required at the next level of learning.

While some of the materials lay the groundwork, other materials are used to foster creativity, a sense of fun, and joy in the world of the child.

Marcia A. Hettinger
Montessori Society of Central Maryland
Baltimore, Md.

The juxtaposition of two recent articles (“Bush To Appoint Group To Proffer Education Ideas,” “Teachers Tell Pollster Lack of Support From Parents Impedes School Reform,” June 14, 1989) has major implications.

Most parent groups with whom I have worked over the years have outlooks and expectations matching their own educational experiences, or lack thereof.

The ideal school, in the mind of most parents, mirrors a 1920’s institution: students sitting in rows of fixed desks; rigid, back-to-the-blackboard teachers; despotic principals who “shape up” their schools by telling teachers what to do and tolerating “no nonsense” from students.

Parents’ ideas about curriculum generally are modeled on outdated reform proposals, and even the parents of low achievers sound wholly elitist when espousing their views.

Unfortunately, the Reagan Administration chose to advocate precisely such views, which correspond only tangentially, if at all, to the current notion of reform.

What we need is national advocacy of principles underlying this perspective: small schools embracing shared decisionmaking and blending student interest with traditional curriculum; active involvement of students in their educations; emphasis on flexibility and local determination.

Paradoxically, this type of education is available in private schools but shunned by parents and businessmen who believe that they have a monopoly on knowledge of what schools ought to be.

If President Bush can reverse his stand on nuclear armaments in Western Europe, he can certainly do some creative thinking about American education. Let’s hope he takes this opportunity in hand.

Stephen E. Phillips
Alternative High Schools and Programs
New York, N.Y.

In reference to your article “As Foreign-Language Enrollments Expand, Interest Growing in Non-Western Tongues” (June 14, 1989), I was disappointed that you did not contact the Prince George’s County (Md.) Public Schools”.

Prince George’s County is one of the leading districts in the nation with regard to foreign languages.

It has the oldest continuous Russian program in Maryland, established in the early 1960’s.

In addition to French, Spanish, Italian, German, Latin, and Japanese offerings in our secondary schools, we have several unique language programs in our elementary magnet schools.

Among these are a foreign-language-experience program in seven languages in grades 2-6 and Latin instruction in five elementary schools. Two schools offer French-immersion programs.

Dora F. Kennedy
Supervisor of Foreign Languages
Prince George’s County Public Schools
Upper Marlboro, Md.

I would like to respond to the “utter disbelief” expressed by Carl F. Knowlton toward the U.S. Court of Appeals’ ruling regarding the “zero reject” philosophy for educating handicapped children (“Ruling in Spec.-Ed. Case Elicits ‘Utter Disbelief,”’ Letters, June 21, 1989).

The Education for All Handicapped Children Act (pl 94-142) states that “it is the purpose of the act to assure a free appropriate public education which emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs.”

It is important to ascertain what is meant by an “appropriate” education in reference to students with handicapping conditions.

The process used to determine appropriateness looks first to the child and second to the means by which education is to be provided.

A plan attempting to identify specific competencies, skills, or qualities that educators should4expect from Timothy would become system-centered and concerned with educational output.

All children can learn, and the expectations that Timothy’s teachers develop for him will be reflected in his individualized education program.

Children with severe handicaps develop physically, socially, and intellectually, and are entitled to attain their potential, whatever it may be, in each of these areas.

It is not legislative and judicial abuse but the equal-protection clause of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment that demands that communities provide educational services to all citizens.

A dangerous precedent may be set if laws are interpreted and legislation passed on economic “common sense.”

The cornerstone of our society is the protection of individual rights for all citizens, regardless of monetary considerations.

John F. Szolnoki
Harrison, N.Y.

It was a revelation for me to learn that only two states--Kentucky and Tennessee--require school-board members to have earned high-school diplomas or completed equivalent educational programs (“High-School-Degree Rule Is Set for School Boards in Tennessee,” June 7, 1989).

This revelation seems like a page out of history prior to the current reform movement.

It may well be that, due to political influences and outstanding individual achievements, some board members arrive in office without the benefit of having earned high-school diplomas.

This accomplishment, however, does not serve the education profession well by way of public perception or professionalism.

The educational background of those elected or appointed to serve on school governing boards should not be a matter of suspicion.

All school-board members should possess a high-school diploma at minimum.

Aside from acting as role models for young people, board members attend to the legal, fiscal, and educational management of the school districts they serve.

Their education must not be considered a secondary matter and left to personal discretion.

The other 48 states should submit legislation calling attention to the need for undereducated board members to commit themselves to the spirit of the reform movement.

For the states or board members to do otherwise would be to condemn the gains of this reform era.

Howard D. Hill Director,
Associates in Education
Bloomington, Ind.

Editors’ note: According to the National School Boards Association’s 1988 survey of local board members, 63.2 percent have bachelor’s degrees and 33.6 percent have advanced degrees.

A version of this article appeared in the August 02, 1989 edition of Education Week as Letters To The Editor


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