Education Letter to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

December 02, 1992 7 min read

To the Editor:

In his Commentary, “Computers Meet Classroom; Classroom Wins’’ (Nov. 11, 1992), Larry Cuban seems to be underestimating and overlooking recent developments in telecommunications. The technology has changed and advanced so much over the past few years, making much of the information on the effectiveness of educational technology inconsequential. It is really impossible to describe likely scenarios for the future, given the pace and competitive nature of technological innovations.

Granted, computers and telecommunications technologies have had marginal uses in, and effects on, school instruction. But, the last 20 years is not a prologue to the future. Cautious optimism, if not real skepticism, may be warranted after assessing the results of past experiments. And, technologies will continue to reinforce and duplicate existing practices and procedures within traditional schools.

Rather than analyzing past experiences and demonstrations that failed to affect the structures of schools and the conventional ways of teaching and learning, I suggest a more careful examination of the current wave of technologies that will reshape the way we all do business. The transformations predicted by earlier advocates may not have come about, but the digital wireless and broadband technologies revolutionizing so many institutions in the private sector and in the health-care sector should have a profound impact on traditional educational institutions. And if schools and teachers don’t look forward to these developments, they will be the losers.

Mr. Cuban’s anxieties may be well founded. Many of the advanced technologies will not be designed to complement and improve educational institutions. Educators should always be guarded against what Saul Rockman describes as “techno-hype.’' But I am among the converted, among those recognizing that recent developments in telecommunications will contribute to substantial changes in work, family life, and in education; changes far greater than those brought about by telephone service and broadcast television.

I would like to ask Larry Cuban and your readers to read George Gilder’s Life After Television: The Coming Transformation of Media and American Life (1990). Also, reports from the Aspen Institute’s Program on Communications and Society, and the recent Youth Policy Institute publication Future Choices, a special roundtable on telecommunication. These reports suggest the unprecedented and enormous implications of new digital video technologies for integrating the delivery of community services, including education, and for changing existing institutions.

The transformation scenario, which Mr. Gilder and other economists and analysts envision, is often described as a “field of dreams,’' a field that may not necessarily be built on a school or college campus. Therefore, the equity issue that concerns Mr. Cuban and others may have less to do with the number of computers in schools and classrooms, and much more to do with the current policy debate and battles between telephone companies and their competitors over “universal service,’' about who will have access to the increasing amount of information that is digitized and accessible presently to a limited few.

Arthur Sheekey
Washington, D.C.

To the Editor:

I have had this conversation with Education Week once before.

I’m referring to your page 1 story on the report by the National Association for State Boards of Education (“Winners All: A Call for Inclusive Schools,’' Nov. 4, 1992). I’ve not read the report yet, but your article indicates it endorses the “full inclusion’’ of disabled students in regular classrooms rather than in special-education programs.

The “full inclusion’’ proposal is certainly a noble ideal from the point of view of a democratic society, and there are excellent local school programs that have integrated these students into their regular-education programs. However, the solution to this educational problem is not a theoretical, one-answer-fits-all response. For example, for deaf students a special school may very well be the “least restrictive environment’’ envisioned in the law, that is, a communication environment in which they can receive not only an appropriate academic education but also the social and emotional support of other deaf children and adults.

Such an option has been recognized by U.S. Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander in the Federal Reqister for Oct. 30, 1992: “Deaf Students Education Services: Policy Guidance.[''] In that notice, the department states that the “Secretary is concerned that some public agencies have misapplied the [least-restrictive environment] provision by presuming that placements in or closer to the regular classroom are required for children who are deaf, without taking into consideration the range of communication and related needs that must be addressed in order to provide appropriate services.’'

Interestingly enough, an Oct. 22, 1992, press release from the Clinton-Gore campaign indicated that while Governor Clinton would support “efforts to integrate children with disabilities into their school’s regular activities ... in certain instances where it is felt that people with disabilities have particular needs, I will encourage these communities to develop the resources and facilities which they feel are best for them.’'

The press release specifically mentions deaf children and is a counterbalance to your “Ballot Box’’ item reporting of a series of letters from the Clinton-Gore campaign to disability-rights advocates “promising a program of ‘inclusion not exclusion’ for children and adults with disabilities’’ (Nov. 11, 1992).

The confusion in the minds of some well-meaning educators between deaf students merely attending a local school with hearing students--what some have called mainstreaming--and their meaningful academic, social, and communication integration in and outside the classroom has not resulted in either the academic or emotional development of many deaf students.

One final comment on the NASBE report calling for changes in teacher-certification rules. I imagine prospective teachers will be delighted to learn they should add a variety of accomplishments to their already extensive repertoire: educating deaf children, blind children, learning-disabled children, and others requiring very specialized knowledge and skills. Or will we go back to that obsolete model of “mainstreaming’’ children of various disabilities all together into a single separate but equal classroom?

Arthur Schildroth
Senior Research Associate
Gallaudet Research Institute
Washington, D.C.

To the Editor:

Your article on the Carnegie School Choice study (“Advocates React Angrily to Study Questioning Merits of Choice,’' Nov. 4, 1992) clearly demonstrates the dire need to experiment with full schools of choice somewhere.

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s president, Ernest L. Boyer, talked in his well-known book Ready to Learn about building bridges between home and school. For those of us who are empowered, this means selecting the school that best meets the needs of our children. For Mr. Boyer, it would seem, it is joining the P.T.A.

What kind of a nation emasculates poor parents by relegating their children to inadequate schools while having all kinds of choice for those parents with means? We have got to end this social engineering and strengthen the family unit by trusting parents. In the words of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, “Let’s give choice a chance.’'

Ronald T. Bowes
Director of Educational Planning and
Diocese of Pittsburgh
Catholic Schools Office
Pittsburgh, Pa.

To the Editor:

The polling question in the recent study on school choice by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching did not measure parental support for a real policy choice. The only recent poll I know of that actually put a “choice’’ decision in front of parents is one conducted by the Reason Foundation in June 1992.

Reason polled parents (in English and in Spanish) living within the Los Angeles Unified School District with children under 16 years of age, who currently send or who plan to send their children to public schools. After disclosing the average costs of attending a religious and a secular private school, the parents were asked if they would transfer their children to a private school if they could use a $2,600 voucher to pay for tuition.

A whopping 52 percent of all parents said that they would leave public schools for private schools. Over two-thirds of African-American parents said that they would leave. Support was greatest among households earning less than $25,000 a year. A staggering 64 percent of parents with children not yet attending public school said that they would instead place their children in a private school if they could use a $2,600 voucher.

Now that is a real poll. My only question is, why was the Reason Foundation poll ignored by the mainstream media while the Carnegie Foundation poll made headlines?

David Barulich
Director of Research
ExCEL (Excellence through
Choice in Education League)
Los Angeles, Calif.

A version of this article appeared in the December 02, 1992 edition of Education Week as Letters to the Editor