To the Editor:
The arguments of William B. Ball and Chester E. Finn Jr. for tax support for nonpublic schools (“False Assumptions on Voucher Programs and the Law"; “Does ‘Public’ Mean ‘Good’ ?”, Commentary, Feb. 12, 1992) will not stand close scrutiny.
While Mr. Ball cites U.S. Supreme Court approval of some peripheral tax aids for nonpublic schools, such as transportation and textbook loans, he conveniently overlooks the fact that the Court in the 1970’s and 1980’s specifically held unconstitutional tuition reimbursement grants and tax credits, the practical equivalent of vouchers.
Mr. Finn’s collection of cliches, non sequiturs, and semantic sandtraps in defense of the notion that nonpublic schools are somehow public is a classic case of Orwellian doublespeak.
Public, as in public education, refers to the institutions operated by local beards elected by parents and taxpayers in some 15,000 districts, which exist to serve all children and in fact serve 90 percent of them, which are bound by law to respect the religious and cultural diversity of our population, and which enjoy the confidence of the vast majority of the families they directly serve.
Mr. Ball and Mr. Finn carefully overlook the fact that in the fastest growing sector of nonpublic education, fundamentalist schools, history, civics, literature, and science classes and textbooks are used to provide sectarian indoctrination and to denigrate Catholics, Quakers, Episcopalians, Unitarians, humanists, scientists, leading American writers, and others. Public funds must never be used to fund sectarian indoctrination or bigotry. Most Americans can see through the propaganda fog emitted by sectarian special interests and their political allies. Polls in 1991 show opposition to vouchers for nonpublic schools running 68 percent to 26 or 28 percent. In 18 referenda from coast to coast since 1966, voters have consistently rejected all forms of tax support for nonpublic schools.
By all means, let us work to improve public education, but let us not wreck public education and religious liberty in the process.
Executive Director Americans For Religious Liberty
Silver Spring, Md.
To the Editor:
I strongly object to Harry Weinberg’s Commentary, “For School Choice, Let’s Follow the F.A.A.” (Feb. 12, 1992). Mr. Weinberg uses several examples of Federal Aviation Administration regulations to rather cleverly make a case that if private schools accept public funds they should be required to adhere to the same regulations as public schools--the old “level playing field” saw.
I found Mr. Weinberg’s arguments too intelligent, valid, clear, and concise. His presentation was replete with common sense and there was little room for argument or divisiveness.
Harry Weinberg shouldn’t feel smug or satisfied. Once the educational bureaucracy and government officials pounce on his rationale, it will never fly.
Paul C. Krouse
Publisher Educational Communications Inc. Lake Forest, 111.
To the Editor:
Despite the misleading comparisons by Chester Finn and the legal arguments of William B. Ball, Harry C. Weinberg got closer to the truth about the rush to privatize public education. In his Commentary, he called for a “level playing field” that seems curiously like the one our politicos want in our marketplace competition with Japan.
Public education in the United States is over-regulated, while private schools operate in a laissez faire, buyer-beware fashion. When the privatization pushers proclaim the unproven values of competition for students and public funds, they fail to mention the private-school competitive edge that Mr. Weinberg revealed--unlicensed teachers, unregulated curriculum content, lower building-safety standards, vague standards of accountability, and the ability to reject students who don’t match their requirements.
Mr. Weinberg hinted at another subtle pressure that may be prompting the push from privatized public education--population demographics. As the United States approaches the 21st century, when minorities will outnumber whites, we should not be surprised that many of those who fear for their privileged status seek to protect it by creating an educational caste system on the ashes of an overburdened, underfunded public system forced into the “competition” with both hands tied by ridiculous regulation. For shame!
Should more gentle readers react unfavorably to my rhetoric, I ask them to do some research. Show us how recent revisions to improve competition helped improve our savings-and-loans, banks, airlines, or telephone service. Let’s not “Milken-ize” our public schools.
Dennis W. Doggett Belie Mead, NJ.
To the Editor:
After reading your article headlined, “Opposed to Whole Language, Houston Schools Revert to Phonics” (Nov. 20, 1991), I felt I could not let such biased reporting pass without a response.
Not until I was nearing the end of the story did I find the fact that there are 162 Houston schools that plan to continue whole-language programs, while only 8 wish to revert to another program. Isn’t your headline somewhat biased in light of this fact?
In the second paragraph, you state that the children concerned are from low-income families and that the families are not able to provide the at-home support needed to make whole-language programs work. Many schools in the country that have low-income children are making a success of whole language. While it is wonderful for any program to have parental involvement and support, it is not necessary to make whole language work.
Your article also infers that reading instruction is either phonics or whole language. Reading is not an either-or proposition. People who do not believe phonics instruction is involved in whole-language teaching simply do not know what whole language means. It is a part of the skill activities involved in whole language.
Simply knowing the sounds and repeating the words louder and faster does not mean a child can read, or understand what he is reading.
I believe you point out the real problem without realizing it when you quote someone as saying that “the [Houston] teachers were never as gung ho about [the whole-language approach] as they were about DISTAR.” The real problem then, is with the teachers, not the program. Perhaps you need a new headline, something like “Teachers Cause Whole Language Programs To Fail Because They Do Not Like the Approach.” There are some basic facts we have known about reading instruction for years: (1) the teacher’s knowledge and enthusiasm about a program make the program work; and (2) the amount of time spent teaching the program makes the difference as to whether or not children learn to read.
I wish teaching children phonics was the solution to having every child read. If that were true, then all we would have to do as teachers would be simply to drill every child long enough, until the student had learned all the letters and sounds and could blend those together. But that has been going on for years and the end result is that we have hundreds of thousands of children who cannot read.
Anna L. Heatherly
Associate Professor of Education
University of Arkansas
at Little Rock
‘Little Rock, Ark.
To the Editor:
Kudos for your article “‘Supply Side’ Reform or Voucher? Charter-School Concept Takes Hold” (Jan. 15, 1992). Not only did it thoroughly cover current charter concepts, it correctly traced the evolution of the concept over the past several years.
We were particularly pleased that the article correctly credited Ray Budde for first placing the idea before the public in his book, Education by Charter: Restructuring School Districts, which our regional laboratory published in 1988.
Mr. Budde first introduced the charter concept at a conference in 1974 and in subsequent years refined it to incorporate many of the research findings and recommendations of the 1980’s. He continues to lecture and offer workshops around the country on its central constructs.
Notable features of his system that are particularly relevant to the current debate are a strong program for ensuring accountability and suggestions for a year-round calendar.
David P. Crandall
Regional Laboratory for
Educational Improvement of the
Northeast & Islands
A version of this article appeared in the February 26, 1992 edition of Education Week as Letters to the Editor