Education Letter to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

December 13, 1989 8 min read

We take exception to the headline and lead paragraph of your report that characterized the lively and extensive discussion on national goals at the Council of Chief State School Officers’ annual meeting as a ''failure to reach agreement” (“State Chiefs Fail To Reach Accord on School Goals,” Nov. 22, 1989).

At their meeting in Oklahoma City, the chiefs had a full seven hours of open plenary discussion on this important task.

The discussion was designed purposely to bring out different perspectives on both the process and substance of setting goals.

There was no intention to reach final agreement on the ccsso’s position at the meeting.

The chiefs were reviewing different positions and laying the foundation for a position that was to be drafted by our Task Force on National Goals and approved by our board in time for the Dec. 7 session of the National Governors’ Association.

If ever there were a time for healthy, open debate on national goals, it is now. We regret that your story mischaracterized a session planned to encourage energetic debate and different perspectives on this topic as a meeting that failed to reach agreement.

I am pleased to report that the task force unanimously approved the ''Council Statement on National Goals for Education” on Dec. 5. It has been delivered to the President and the nga, and I enclose a copy for Education Week. (See related story on page 1.)

Gordon M. Ambach
Executive Director
Council of Chief State School Officers
Washington, D.C.

Your article “School-Restructuring Efforts Forcing Principals To Redefine Their Roles,” Nov. 1, 1989) incorrectly portrayed my stance and that of my union.

Our lawsuit was against one facet of the mentor-teacher program as implemented in Rochester, N.Y.

The suit and program predated the Rochester teachers’ landmark contract by a year.

Our legal objection was solely concerned with the aspect unique to Rochester’s mentor program, whereby mentor teachers formally evaluate first-year interns.

Not only does this impact the basic function of the job administrators are certified to do, but it flies in the face of the logic of having a mentor relationship.

The mentor strategy, the literature tells us, allows for peer coaching through a collegial relationship, without fear of supervisory reprisal or evaluative ramifications.

I have for several years been the sole administrative representative on the statewide Mentor Intern Advisory Panel set up to oversee mentor programs in New York.

My position there has been supportive of the mentor-program concept in every instance.

My misgivings about Rochester’s aberration are shared by all the other members of the panel, including teacher representatives.

The document our panel sends to districts applying to set up their own program references this clearly when it states, “mentors are not evaluators ... and it must be made clear that this function is inappropriate.”

Administrators have never been opposed to the teacher contract in Rochester nor to efforts of teachers to increase their participation in decisionmaking.

What we have said continually is what Scott Thomson and others have been saying: Good principals and good schools and good programs will always involve teachers, as well as parents and students, when appropriate.

I have spoken out in various forums about the honesty of selling many of the reform-agenda items as the answer to all of education’s difficulties.

I have spoken out about the necessity for honesty in describing many of these ideas as novel, when they are really old wine in new bottles.

I have spoken out about recognizing the importance of the administrative role in modern education.

And locally, I have spoken out about the necessity of granting administrators equal footing in educational planning and implementation.

What I have never done is denigrate the need for teacher involvement or, through our union, attack mentoring programs.

Richard L. Stear
Association of Supervisors and Administrators of Rochester
Rochester, N.Y.

I highly resent your pumping up of Thomas K. Gilhool as a super teacher whom “most school districts across the country would leap at the opportunity to hire” (“Would You Give This Man a Job?” Nov. 22, 1989).

The simple fact is that Mr. Gilhool did not have a teacher’s certificate. I see that Philadelphia has now given him one.

You also allude to “his eminent qualifications.” Where did you get this information?

My parents struggled financially to send me to a teachers’ college. I took the teacher-education program. Did Mr. Gilhool?

I had to do a semester of student teaching. Did Mr. Gilhool?

I had to take extra courses to receive my Class II certificate. Did Mr. Gilhool?

Many of us work hard to set and preserve standards for our profession; these backdoor, come-in-off-the-street entrances must be stopped.

Your whole article is off base, and any real professional would resent it.

Ed Shaw
Bethel Park, Pa.

Your somewhat lighthearted story about the lawyer, administrator, and Fulbright Scholar Thomas K. Gilhool’s effort to become a public-school teacher in Philadelphia suggests two important problems.

What is the personnel policy of various school boards when it comes to hiring mature teachers with distinguished backgrounds in fields other than public education?

Your story and others on Mr. Gilhool imply that a school should jump at the chance to hire such a distinguished employee at $55 a day and that the hesitation of the school board involved an absurd bureaucratic imbroglio.

After thinking about this issue from the point of view of an inner-city junior-high-school principal, I wonder if I would not rather have a recent graduate of a regular undergraduate teachers’ college with a regular credential as my new history teacher.

The question is whether school districts should have a clear policy as to the relative importance of various factors beyond the basic job-description qualifications for the hiring of new teachers.

Should schools be free to hire on the basis of “what the boss wants’’ if legal requirements are met?

The other implication of the story is that anyone with an impressive higher education and intellectual accomplishments should be admitted to the “teaching profession.”

Should schools jump at the chance to have a doctor teach biology or a lawyer teach social studies?

Distinguished biology teachers are not welcomed into the medical profession, even when it is clear that they could do some useful work.

Outstanding teachers of civil-rights history and constitutional law are not welcomed as lawyers in court, even though they might prove to be excellent advocates.

Once again, the education community raises the question of whether teaching is a real profession like law, medicine, and others that do not change the requirements for membership whenever something new and interesting comes along.

David Dibble
Oakland, Calif.

Edward A. Wynne’s discussion of “faddism” (“Examining ‘Faddism’ in School Reform,” Commentary, Nov. 15, 1989) was dwarfed by his political and social commentaries.

As a lifelong Chicago resident and educator, I found his comments insulting and unaccepta11lble, and I hope those who read the essay realize it represents only one perspective.

I would like to offer information that was omitted or distorted in the piece and add several suggestions.

First, the current president of the Chicago teachers’ union is Jacqueline B. Vaughn. Mr. Wynne accurately described her as a black female, but neglected to mention her name.

She is a most competent, highly respected educational leader.

Second, perhaps Mr. Wynne is unaware that, for the past 25 years, the union’s contract has included procedures for the dismissal of incompetent teachers.

History substantiates the shameful fact that blacks, Hispanics, and women have had little influence in education, politics, and economics.

Therefore, these groups will not accept responsibility for decisions that, for the past 200 years, were made by what “underclasses” might term “white male elitists.”

I’m unclear as to what Mr. Wynne meant when he wrote: “The Machiavellian politics involved in this episode are mind-boggling: Almost all blacks in Chicago vote Democratic; they elect black legislators; and those legislators support the teachers’ union and its black president against plausible education reforms favored by white, suburban Republicans.”

“Theoretically,” he continued, “one could urge Chicago blacks to vote Republican to countervail excessive union influence, but that shift is probably not in the cards.”

It is probably also not in the cards that white, suburban Republicans would wish to equalize spending or to have their own children live in the conditions of the inner city.

Urban educational problems are much more complex than Mr. Wynne’s essay leads one to believe.

Politicians, administrators, universities, and boards of education--not to mention the media and the advertising industry--should show greater responsibility in supporting educational efforts. It is unfair and unproductive to blame urban educational problems on unions, teachers, or “underclasses.”

The good news for “educational experts” is that the field is wide open.

Chicago has plenty of teaching openings. Perhaps Mr. Wynne would wish to apply.

Susan Ohren
Chicago, Ill.

I feel compelled to respond to Edward A. Wynne’s Commentary--but I am in a quandary over how to even begin.

Mr. Wynne’s initial premise is that parents “do not necessarily always know or do what is best for their children.”

He goes on to make his case and concludes that, to reduce faddism, “policymakers should support a shift from emphasis on formal parent or electoral input in the democratic management of schools.”

“The structure of governance,” he writes, “should provide instead for indirect parent control through the exercise of choice--by means of either voucher or public-school choice plans. ...”

“If particular schools are indifferent to them, then parents, as ‘consumers,’ should be allowed to choose others. Under these circumstances, schools would become more responsible--or expire.”

Whether you agree with the premise or the conclusion is immaterial.

What concerns me is how you logically bridge the chasm between suggesting that parents “do not necessarily always know or do what is best for their children” and giving parents a choice in selecting their children’s school to reduce faddism and make schools more responsive.

I can only hope Mr. Wynne does not teach a course in basic logic.

Duane Stehlik
Table Rock Public Schools
Table Rock, Neb.

A version of this article appeared in the December 13, 1989 edition of Education Week as Letters to the Editor