Districts Play a Role In Funding Crises
To the Editor:
The planning problems that arise from uncertain state funding levels are certainly real, but school districts should recognize their role in causing such uncertainty (“Writing Budgets a Guessing Game for Calif. Schools,” April 9, 2003).
In California and Ohio, to name but two places, school districts have lobbied for the replacement of stable local property-tax revenues with variable state revenue.
This has inevitably resulted in less local aid, and more concern during state budget deliberations.
Director of Research
Chicago Consortium: A Member’s View
To the Editor:
Your article “Windy City’s Schools Look to Consortium for Practical Research” (April 9, 2003) did not express my position on social promotion correctly. As a member of the steering committee of the Consortium on Chicago School Research, or CCSR, I do not support retention, social promotion, or the referral of students who have not been taught to read to special education as consequences for failure.
These strategies address the symptoms of inappropriate or ineffective teaching, not the real instructional problems. I prefer interventions that create a curriculum that fits students’ needs and instructional strategies, and is designed for their learning styles and culture.
Nevertheless, I do support other attempts initiated and implemented by Paul G. Vallas, the school system’s former chief executive officer, to address the egregious achievement problems in the Chicago public schools, including the use of standardized tests to determine student achievement and school actors’ competence, the imposition of high standards, and the establishment of a longer school day and year, such as occurs with after-school and summer school programs.
A few past district leaders, like Ruth Love and Argie Johnson, were also concerned about the very low achievement of predominantly minority schools prior to Mr. Vallas’ administration. If some CCSR members opposed him, it was primarily because they had been supporters of the 1988 governance reforms, which they felt he had undermined.
Arne Duncan, the current CEO, is quoted in the article as saying “they are not ivory-tower researchers,” when discussing the researchers from the CCSR. They do go into the schools, but generally for short-term analyses from a distance. Few actually teach or observe in the public schools for long periods of time, as did Carol D. Lee of Northwestern University and Eric Gutstein of DePaul University, now at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Most of the CCSR’s data come from surveys, interviews, and test and demographic statistics. Classroom observations seem highly selected and too brief. There are exceptions. Arne Duncan has included the CCSR as a part of his team. It will be interesting to see how their bias is controlled in future studies.
Barbara A. Sizemore
Delaware Was First To ‘Wire’ All Classes
To the Editor:
Someone needs to inform Gov. Ronnie Musgrove of Mississippi that Delaware is the first state to place an Internet-connected computer into every classroom (“Technology Spreads Slowly But Surely in Miss.,” April 2, 2003). Delaware began this project in 1996, under the leadership of then-Gov. Thomas R. Carper (now one of our U.S. senators) and completed it in 1998.
In fact, the Delaware Center for Educational Technology (the state agency responsible for implementing the project) received a Computerworld Smithsonian Award in 1998 for connecting all classrooms in Delaware to the Internet. (Details of the project are available online at http://www.dcet.k12.de.us/award.htm l.)
Lake Forest School District
Give ‘Real Reasons’ Women Lag Behind
To the Editor:
I find it interesting that the same argument posited for the dearth of female executives in business echelons during the 1990s is rearing its head again to explain education’s glass ceiling (“Survey Studies Barriers to Women Leaders,” March 5, 2003). Conflicting time demands between work and family are not unique to women, and therefore inadequately explain why we find ourselves in this predicament.
Why don’t we capitalize on lessons learned in business and focus our efforts on rectifying the real culprits: exclusion from mentored networks, lack of access to decisionmakers, and inadequate opportunities to take on executive-level challenges that enhance competencies and help to build public profiles.
Standards Mania Limits Reflection
To the Editor:
Carolyn Bunting’s argument that schools can be made right only by teachers who extricate themselves from the herd is eminently sound in principle but fatally flawed in practice (“Quiet Transformations,” Commentary, April 9, 2003). In today’s accountability mania, teachers don’t have the freedom to follow her advice. They are incessantly pressured to conform to prescribed classroom practices in order to boost standardized-test scores.
The drive to standardize everything that takes place in school has gone so far that some schools in Los Angeles and Chicago hand out daily, heavily scripted lesson plans that teachers are expected to follow rigidly or face the consequences. In light of this absurd approach to educational quality, why do schools need teachers in the first place? Why don’t they merely hire any adult who is capable of reading and following directions?
Ms. Bunting’s advice is best reserved for the day when the bankruptcy of the standards movement is revealed. Perhaps then her ideas will stand a chance. Until then, however, they’re best remembered as a relic of “yesteryear.”
Los Angeles, Calif.
Certifying Teachers: What’s Wrong With the Process?
To the Editor:
In response to Arthur E. Wise’s Commentary “What’s Wrong With Teacher Certification? (April 9, 2003):
What’s wrong is the education schools’ stranglehold, and the barriers those schools help erect to prevent qualified people from teaching.
We don’t need more so-called “rigorous” barriers put up; we need to break some of them down.
We can begin by rethinking the qualifications needed to be a teacher of grades 7-12. I feel that we should do as Frederick M. Hess has suggested: Require candidates to have only (1) a bachelor’s degree; (2) subject-matter competence; and (3) clean police and medical records.
That’s for openers. The above traits get the candidate to the interview room, with school district personnel taking it from there. We have to trust that our school administrators will do the jobs they are assigned to do, and will hire the best candidate for the job. That person may (or may not) have been subjected to the abuse inherent in far too many of the relatively costly “Mickey Mouse” ed. school teacher-training/education programs.
Mr. Wise adds nothing new to the argument for teacher certification. His Commentary is pretty much the same old same old, pitched from the well-worn podium of those servers of the special interests of education schools and their associations.
The kids and the public deserve far better than that. It seems to me that it’s truly well past time to develop more sound, district-based alternative programs for teacher certification (without education schools’ input).
We ought to have had new paths to teaching a long time ago—and in my opinion, we likely would have, if the likes of Mr. Wise and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education had not presented or supported so many education school and associated “special interests and job security” barriers and impediments.
To the Editor:
I was elated to read Arthur E. Wise’s Commentary discussing teacher certification. At long last, someone has recognized the fact that while being armed with classes and content makes you certifiable, it does not confirm that you are able to facilitate learning in another individual, or groups of them.
As a teacher without a master’s degree (a requisite in Michigan to keeping certification current), I am thought to have one, due to much quality time spent in seminars and conferences that focused on teaching, not content.
Teachers are teachers. And students need to be prompted to learn, to be engaged through every facet of their beings in their own educational process.
I find it interesting also that our places of higher learning do not generally have certified teachers as professors; instead, their doctorates are the requirement for imparting information—poorly or perfectly. Again, the focus is on content, not contact with the learner. The student must learn to adjust to the giver of information ... or else.
Thank you, Education Week!
To the Editor:
Arthur E. Wise’s thinly veiled pitch for making NCATE accreditation a universal requirement for teacher training includes many assertions.
Teachers generally get only four years of college training, while other professions require six to nine. Yet the strongest teachers in my state come from four-year programs, and a study of the state’s lone five-year program has found that the extra year is superfluous. Moreover, one country that trains elementary teachers in three years produces students who surpass U.S. students on international test scores.
Despite the need for new teachers to have more content knowledge, the deficit in assessing teaching performance is supposedly even greater. Sadly, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education has a long track record of ignoring the content requirements of its learned societies, but faulting programs that fail to defend some “conceptual framework"—any framework will do as long as it follows some education fad.
The current movement touted is outcomes-based standards and documentation, which ironically, if applied to law or medicine, would overload those schools with a frenzy of paperwork and overtesting.
Graduates of accredited schools supposedly pass state licensing tests at a higher rate. But many schools, faced with losing their education programs if the pass rate for “program completers” drops below 80 percent, have redefined “program completer” to be those students who pass the tests, producing a false 100 percent success rate.
There are more than 600 NCATE-accredited schools that are supposedly “on the move,” while the remaining 600 unaccredited schools would not, in other professions, be tolerated. Nevertheless, far from being the backwater of teacher training, many very respected and productive university teacher-training programs are not NCATE-accredited. Some that are NCATE-accredited would rather be free from this educationist tyranny, but are members for political reasons: Other state colleges would claim superiority, or state agreements coerce them to membership. Many of us envy the Iowa universities, which over a decade ago withdrew as a block from NCATE.
For 15 years I have watched as weak-content programs of teacher education at large schools of education breeze through NCATE accreditation, while strong-content programs at the smaller and midsize schools (where teacher education is heavily integrated with liberal arts) struggle to gain accreditation because of supposed shortcomings in their educational frameworks.
This is not the time to turn all of U.S. teacher training over to the educationists. In teacher education, NCATE is not part of the solution. It is part of the problem.
John Richard Schrock
Director of Biology Education
Emporia State University