Education Letter to the Editor


April 16, 1997 4 min read

Research Gap’s Real Culprit Is Teachers’ Lack of Time

To the Editor:

I commend the American Educational Research Association’s effort to seek a greater impact for educational research (“Scholars Seek New Audience for Research,” Mar. 26, 1997.) As a school administrator, I believe it is one of my primary responsibilities to find, read, and reduce important studies into a form consumable for my staff.

There is a bigger problem, though, than simply “finding” the audience.

My teachers are each responsible for the education of 180 students. If they spend one minute per child per night, that’s three hours a night of reading already.

California has taken the first major step toward addressing what I believe to be the real culprit in teachers’ lack of knowledge beyond their own four walls: reducing class size in the primary grades. Now it is not a complete embarrassment to work in education in this state. But steps must be taken to improve the professional work environments for all teachers.

The outgoing AERA president, Penelope L. Peterson, scratched the surface of this problem in her response to the important 1993 study by Margaret C. Wang, Edward Haertel, and Herbert J. Walberg: “Northwestern teachers know their students, and they keep journals on what they know about their students; they reflect a lot on what they know and they talk about what they know about each student.” I bet they didn’t teach 180 students each.

I hope that the AERA will look closely at the professional settings (or lack thereof) of their desired audience. We could use some studies that lead to policy changes in this area.

Rebecca Shore
Assistant Principal for Curriculum
Westminster High School
Westminster, Calif.

Some Charter Schools Excel With Special-Needs Students

To the Editor:

Your recent article about charter schools and special education missed a great deal (“Spec. Ed. Rules Pose Problems For Charter Schools,” Feb. 19, 1997.) You did not describe any charter schools in which students with disabilities are being well served, quote any parents of students with disabilities who helped start charter schools or enrolled their children in charter schools because of their frustration with the current public education system, or quote any students with disabilities who are doing much better in charter schools than they were in existing schools.

There are many charter schools which could have been cited. Our inner-city charter school, which recently had its contract renewed by the Minneapolis public schools and which was featured recently on CBS’s “This Morning,” is one such place. We have used the opportunities of the charter movement to implement innovations which currently are not available in traditional public schools. We have three professional clinics on-site serving both our own students and Minnesota families from throughout the metropolitan area. We integrate developmental innovations with traditional pedagogy in the classroom. A number of our students who enrolled with special education services have made so much progress that they no longer qualify for special education services.

Several schools in other parts of the country have replicated parts of our curriculum. They have reported improved student achievement consistent with our results. Special education policies and procedures are complex, but they were developed to protect the rights of students with special needs. Charter schools, and not just our school, are providing important new opportunities for children with disabilities.

I hope Education Week continues to cover developments in this area and describes opportunities and successes, not just problems and frustrations.

Bob DeBoer
New Visions School
Minneapolis, Minn.

A New England Headmaster Who Misses Albert Shanker

To the Editor:

In 26 years, I have never had a Sunday New York Times within my reach without looking for Albert Shanker’s column, “Where We Stand.”

Is it odd that the headmaster of a small, private school in New England would be interested in the ruminations of a New Yorker, a former public school teacher, and a teachers’ union boss?

I certainly didn’t agree with Mr. Shanker about everything (especially the worth of teachers’ unions). But he always understood that good teaching is dynamic and difficult. He always understood that high standards come from good teachers, not from blue-ribbon committees and government mandates. Those understandings alone put him light years ahead of the educational general staff.

Find any important book on American education published in the past 15 years. Check the index. While many pundits, college presidents, professors, and education theorists will be conspicuous by their absence, Al Shanker will be there. Why?

The answer lies partly in Mr. Shanker’s voice. If you’ve ever had real experience in a classroom and tried to make something happen there beyond covering the questions at the end of the chapter, you recognized in Mr. Shanker someone who had shared that experience. He understood the often draining, often exhilarating engagement good teachers bring to students they must coach and lead.

He was never sidetracked by the trendy recipes for mediocrity promoted in educational circles that saw teachers as bland “resource people” or limp “facilitators.” He knew better. He always spoke for the teachers’ teacher--the teacher who brought heart, soul, mind, and a higher standard to the tough, daily negotiation of the classroom.

Albert Shanker combined the authentic experience of real teaching with a powerful mind that had taken Samuel Johnson’s advice and cleared itself of cant. He was one of the best.

He stood, often alone, untainted by the many expensive educational fads and enthusiasms we are still paying for as a nation, to remind us of the courage, dignity, and importance of real teaching.

Bruce Buxton
Falmouth Academy
Falmouth, Mass.

A version of this article appeared in the April 16, 1997 edition of Education Week