Education Letter to the Editor

Letters To The Editor

October 02, 1991 7 min read

To the Editor:

My first thought on reading the essay by Arthur E. Wise and Linda Darling-Hammond (“Alternative Certification Is An Oxymoron,” Commentary, Sept. 4, 1991) was, “Here they go again!” However, as director of the Houston Independent School District’s alternative- certification program and president of the Texas Alternative Certification Association’s directors, I want to respond on behalf of the 10,000 alternative-certification teachers in Texas now serving approximately 300,000 students.

My experience has been that alternative-certification teachers are some of the most qualified, well-prepared teachers in the profession in a word, exemplary. I challenge any responsible researcher to show any evidence to the contrary regarding alternative-certification programs in Texas.

Delia Stafford
Texas Alternative Certification
National Association for Alternative Certification
Houston, Tex.

To the Editor:

Independent schools can make a very good case, I think, for the potential benefits of alternative certification. By almost any measure, they enjoy an excellent reputation. They produce students who test better than national norms and go on to college at a higher rate than students in the public sector.

Independent schools also have diversified student populations and are focusing attention on multicultural issues. Most of our parents must sacrifice for their children to attend our schools, but choose to do so because they believe they are better served in independent schools than in the public schools.

In most states, independent schools do not have to hire certified teachers and in fact routinely bring in inexperienced college graduates whom they give a start in the teaching profession. Some of these liberal-arts graduates do not stay long, going on to graduate school or other work, but they nonetheless enrich our schools by their energy, vitality, idealism, and ability to relate to young people. Certainly these teachers add to the mix, and if properly supervised can become excellent teachers very quickly.

My point is that most independent schools pay no attention to whether a prospective teacher is certified or not, but help all teachers become effective contributors early on. Our schools screen teaching candidates carefully. We talk to references, we assess their interest in and ability to work with young people, we evaluate their aptitude, and we assess their willingness to commit themselves to the education of students.

Certification tells independent schools very little about a teacher’s competence or potential. When I hire a teacher, I am more interested in what that person can do than in the credentials they bring. I would suggest that public schools might do well to pay less attention to the certification of teaching candidates and focus more on an individual’s particular talents--especially those that relate to their ability to work with young people.

L. Hamilton Clark Jr.
Headmaster Sewickley Academy
Sewickley, Pa.

To the Editor:

Even the intelligent can make ridiculous and arrogant comments when not thinking at their best or when speaking of that with which they are not sufficiently familiar, but that they all too readily suppose they know all about.

Such was the case in Myron Lieberman’s rejoinder to Robert Slavin concerning collaborative education (“Critic of Research Report Responds to a Criticism,” Letters, Sept. 4, 1991). Mr. Slavin’s criticism was of a statement in the Lieberman Commentary on the National Academy of Education’s report on research to the effect that “if students can learn from other students, they can probably learn from noncertified adults” (“ ‘Research and the Renewal of Education': A Critical Review,” Commentary, June 19, 1991).

The simple point the complex Mr. Lieberman overlooks is that children, and people in the student situation in general, are often better interpreters for their peers than are most adults/teachers, particularly those who have had little experience in that role, or who have not acquired the necessary expertise.

In common with people in other professions, teachers need to be specially prepared to ply their own particular craft. They need above all to have acquired at least the early stages of the skill and knowledge that will make them capable of enabling 25 or more widely disparate and mercurial minds--in as many energetic and crowded-together bodies--to become involved in difficult and not always immediately rewarding thinking about and learning of, to them, complex subject matter, for five hours a day, day in and day out.

Present even a fully trained and experienced doctor with 25 patients, all in his office simultaneously for five unbroken hours under compulsion, every day. Let them all be supposedly suffering from a wide variety of obscure, unknown, and inarticulable “needs” (which they each might argue they don’t have), which he has to persuade (or coerce) them into doing something difficult about.

Add to this challenging scenario a continual barrage of criticism and ill-informed comment from unprepared, inexperienced, and uninformed commentators claiming that no training or preparation, other than four largely unrelated years in a college or university, is required for performing the service, and see what the medical profession would think of the situation--or the general public!

The natural result of thinking such as Mr. Lieberman’s is the development of so-called alternative or, in grammatically uncertain New Jersey, “alternate,” routes to teacher licensing, whose gross flaws Arthur Wise and Linda Darling-Hammond so ably and thoroughly exposed in, by an odd coincidence, the same issue as that carrying the ill-advised letter from Mr. Lieberman.

This is not at all to defend existing teacher-education programs, many aspects of which need drastic change, and will get it. If only states will let those in the business get on with what needs to be done. A major contribution would be made, were states to stop imposing their bureaucratic and wrongheaded notions of what they suppose to be teacher education. This often seems to be little if anything other than unmediated “experience” in classrooms, mainly unrelated “liberal arts” knowledge, and a course or two in how to control the entirely predictable resistance of students to people who try to teach them with nothing else in the way of preparation.

The crucial mistake is to equate teaching, which we all in some way or another--despite being “noncertified"--do for our children, or for a friend or two, and may do very well, with being a classroom teacher. No one who has had the slightest experience of being the latter would make the error Mr. Lieberman, in common with academics, bureaucrats, and any who have never tried to teach a class, falls into.

Sean D. Healy
Department of Instruction, Curriculum, and Administration
Kean College of New Jersey
Union, N.J.

To the Editor:

Daniel B. Taylor recently offered a Commentary assessing the length of the school day and school year in the United States (“Half-Time Schools and Half-Baked Students,” Commentary, Sept. 11, 1991). In light of information developed in recent years on the performance of public-school students here in relation to those in other parts of the world, he surmised that we have the answer to our schooling crisis in hand... more time on task.

For the American people to have a problem with education that appears to have no solution is a frustration. But to have a problem that is visited upon all of our young people-and to have a clear solution but an unwillingness or inability to implement it to resolve that problem-is shortsighted and shameful.

Clearly, Mr. Taylor is to be applauded and supported. And, with any luck, “more time on task” will be the battle cry of the 1990’s.

Alan P. Austen
Superintendent of Schools
Comsewogue School District
Port Jefferson Station, N.Y.

To the Editor:

Your July 31, 1991, article “Greater N.E.A. Voice for Support Personnel, College Faculty Urged” is a fair summary of the National Education Association’s 1991 Representative Assembly. However, upon closely reading the section subtitled “Merger Debate Avoided,” I discovered that an action of mine was mischaracterized.

When I withdrew the new-business item on N.E.A.-American Federation of Teachers cooperation, I was most definitely aware that the concepts of a decertification moratorium, joint organizing for collective bargaining in the South, and securing more federal revenue for public education were to be considered by the N.E.A. board in December.

I pulled the motion because N.E.A. leaders and staff members assured me the item was moot because they were moving in the same direction.

If this does not turn out to be the case, a similar motion will be presented next year and will not be withdrawn. By the way, the new business item’s watchword was “truce"--not “merger.”

At this time in the history of public education in the United States, the last thing teacher-union locals should be engaged in are attacks on one another. I firmly believe that the vast majority of education employees throughout the United States favor a decertification truce. Cooperation on a principled basis to save public schools from regressive taxation, “choice” and privatization, urban and rural benign neglect, and a host of other survival issues is long overdue.

Ben Visnick
Madison Middle School
Oakland, Calif.

A version of this article appeared in the October 02, 1991 edition of Education Week as Letters To The Editor