Education Letter to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

February 15, 1995 6 min read

Finn’s Goals 2000 View:'Crypto-Statist’ Masquerade?

To the Editor:

Chester E. Finn Jr.'s tiresome and laborious attempt to show that there are significant differences between President Clinton’s education policies and those of former President George Bush (“related story, 01/25/95 ) merely obscures the fact that Mr. Clinton’s program basically follows through on the policies set by Mr. Bush and the governors at their famous education summit held in September 1989 at Charlottesville, Va. Then-Governor Clinton was a major par-ticipant in that summit.

Mr. Finn notes that Goals 2000 and the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act impose layer upon layer of new federal regulations on the public schools. But nowhere does he call for the repeal of Goals 2000 or the E.S.E.A. He just wants his versions in place, even though the Brookings Institution did a major study revealing the “fatal flaws” in the E.S.E.A. No-where does Mr. Finn call for the elimination of the federal Education Department, which is the source of so much educational mischief.

Is Professor Finn a moderate, a neoconservative who prefers Stat-ism Lite to Statism Full-Bodied? America’s government education system is the epitome of statism, having been imposed on Americans in the 19th century by the admirers of Prussia’s government education system.

It is presently being sustained by crypto-statists like Mr. Finn masquerading as conservatives. If he had any philosophical integrity, he’d advocate getting the government out of the education business. What we need in America is a true restoration of educational freedom, not a neoconservative “market” version of government-monopoly education.

Samuel L. Blumenfeld
Waltham, Mass.

Bracey Critique Omits Inconvenient Data

To the Editor:

Gerald Bracey (related story, 01/25/94 ) makes some important points regarding the misinterpretation of test scores and education expenditures over time and across countries. The following are additional problems he failed to mention:

  • Apples and oranges. Mr. Bracey notes that U.S. expenditures for education include cafeteria and transportation services that might overstate the country’s true expenditures on purely educational services. However, international data also fail to adjust for differences in total hours and numbers of school days between countries. For example, Japanese children attend 20 percent more days of school per year, and they have longer school days. Japanese teachers and staff members are on campus for a longer period of time than their American counterparts, thereby overstating Japanese education expenditures and salaries in comparison with those of the United States.
  • International comparisons. Comparisons of aggregate data between nations are fraught with many problems. Therefore, it is surprising that Mr. Bracey failed to mention the exhaustive research by Harold Stevenson and James Stigler, presented in their book, The Learning Gap. Their studies provide the most solid, scientific evidence of the inferior performance of American elementary school students when compared with their peer groups in Japan, Taiwan, and China.
  • S.A.T. scores. The pitfalls of using average Scholastic Assessment Test scores are well known. However, Mr. Bracey neglects to slice the S.A.T. data in a way that demonstrates that academic achievement among our public school graduates has declined over the past two decades. For example, in 1972, over 116,000 students scored above 600 on the verbal S.A.T. In 1982, fewer than 71,000 scored that high even though a similar number took the exam. In other words, those “data-proof ideologues” could still be right about declining achievement even if they used the wrong statistic to prove their point.
  • Utah versus California. Comparisons between public schools in different states may be the most fruitful way of testing education-policy differences supported by left and right. As of 1992, both Utah and California had average class sizes of 28 students. On the 8th-grade NAEP math scores, Utah ranked eighth; California ranked 29th. Utah spent $2,993 per pupil; California spent $4,826 per pupil. Utah’s education code contains 400 pages; California’s, over 7,500 pages. If California spends over 60 percent more per pupil and still gets worse results than Utah, then you don’t have to be a right-wing ideologue to hypothesize that K-12 education can be improved without spending more money.

People on the left, like Gerald Bracey, are a lot like people on the right. They are more vigorous critics of their opponents’ ideas than their own paradigms. That is why open debate is so important.

David Barulich
Education Consultant
Los Angeles, Calif.

Rodeo Story Illustrated ‘Mixed Messages’ on Drugs

To the Editor:

The Focus On: Athletics article, “The Young Riders,” in the Jan. 18, 1995, edition is an interesting study in mixed messages.

While the article comments that “good manners in the arena and ... the family atmosphere of a rodeo” are benefits of the sport, and Betty Tate, the spokesperson for the North Texas High School Rodeo Association says, “Each profanity the kids spit out when they hit the ground, it cost them $5,” the lead photograph of “five young cowboys in colorful team jackets prepar[ing] for their physically punishing sport” clearly shows one “young cowboy” whose team jacket clearly displays the Budweiser Light beer logo.

Club sport or sanctioned, one must question whether alcohol advertisements have a place in any high school sport, given that the legal drinking age is 21 in every state.

Good manners and family atmosphere will both be enhanced when clear and consistent messages about ethical behavior are supported.

David Friedli
Project Director
Toward a Drug-Free Nebraska Project
Hastings, Neb.

FairTest Defends Stance On Cleveland Test Data

To the Editor:

Superintendent Ted Sanders of Ohio charges that FairTest “reported inaccurate data for the Cleveland public schools” to support our suggestion that the increase in the state proficiency test’s passing rate may be due in part to an increase in the number of dropouts (related story, 01/18/95 ). But a recheck of the Cleveland data shows that our essential claim is correct: The graduation rate in Cleveland dropped sharply this past year, the first year in which passing a state test was a condition for graduation. Rich Nielson, who directs desegregation monitoring for the Cleveland schools, was one of two Cleveland school officials to explicitly confirm this fact. He suggested that the state may be calculating its rates differently than the city does.

After rechecking our data, the only error we found was in relying upon an incomplete count for 1994 graduates. We compared the number of “June graduates” in 1994 with the number of “August” graduates from previous years. That misinformation led us to say that 36 percent of the grade 8 cohort graduated, when it was actually 39 percent--a slightly less precipitous decline. (If any reader wishes to look at our data, please contact us.)

FairTest used grade 8 as the base year because we were informed that grade 9 is a “holding grade.” Many students who enter 9th grade never get past it, causing a balloon effect in enrollment that would artificially depress the already-low graduation rate. Using 9th grade as the base, the graduation rate declined from 39 percent in 1993 to 31 percentin 1994.

We did not claim that fewer blacks than whites in Cleveland graduate because a slightly higher percentage of blacks than of “others” graduate in that city. Our questions are whether the drop in the graduation rate in Cleveland, whose student body is about 75 percent African-American, is representative of blacks or urban students across the state, and whether the 90 percent black test-pass rate is inflated because of an increase in the dropout rate. In Cleveland, there were 1,406 black graduates in 1994 out of a cohort that had 4,212 blacks in grade 9. So, 2,806 did not graduate. Where did they go?

As Superintendent Sanders says, students need to be in school to pass the test. The question that he does not answer--nor did the U.S. Education Department’s office for civil rights--is whether the test itself and a test-driven curriculum play a role in driving them out.

Monty Neill
Associate Director
National Center for Fair and Open Testing
Cambridge, Mass.

A version of this article appeared in the February 15, 1995 edition of Education Week as Letters to the Editor