Education Opinion


June 09, 2004 17 min read
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Protecting Children From Pluralism?

To the Editor:

Retired U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. T.C. Pinckney’s proposed resolution urging Southern Baptists to withdraw their children from the public school system (“Vote Sought on Public School ‘Exodus’,” May 26, 2004) is profoundly disturbing.

First, it is based on erroneous and abused claims, such as that schools “promote homosexuality.” Yet, in fact, what schools seem to promote is harassment of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender: The 2003 GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network) National School Climate Survey found that four out of five lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender high school students routinely experience harassment while at school, and, in 42 states, they still lack the routine protections against such harassment that are afforded to those who are singled out because of characteristics like race or religion.

It is unfortunate that Mr. Pinckney chooses to advance his campaign by demonizing a vulnerable population already suffering grave harm in our schools.

On a deeper level, his call represents the continued retreat of some in America from the pluralistic values that make us unique as a nation. Yes, Mr. Pinckney, it’s true: If your children go to public schools, they won’t just be taught “Christian” values. Instead, they will meet people of different faiths and values, and may even learn to appreciate and understand those perspectives. What is so scary about that?

Fortunately, in America, we have an education system that allows us to choose to opt out of the public school system and pursue other educational options if we so desire. This is a good thing, and I am glad our freedoms allow Mr. Pinckney that option. But given his reason for wanting to pull children out of the public schools, I have to wonder how committed Mr. Pinckney is to preserving such freedoms for those who don’t share his particular point of view.

Kevin Jennings
Executive Director and Founder
Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN)
New York, N.Y.

Dept. Official Questions Use of Technology Data

To the Editor:

Education Week’s annual report on educational technology, Technology Counts 2004: Global Links: Lessons From the World (May 6, 2004), is informative, and the narrative provides a valuable snapshot of activities in educational technology taking place around the world.

The opening highlights the United States’ current emphasis on effective use of technology for teaching and learning and offers a glimpse of the data to follow. As the United States moves toward the effective use of technology, one of the areas of focus is on drawing reliable conclusions from valid data. It is disappointing that the data used in the comparison chart on Pages 10-11 does not rise to this standard. The data is misleading, and as a consequence, the inferences drawn from it are unreliable.

First, the data is old. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey was conducted in 2000. Four years is a long time in technology terms, and given the significant investments in educational technology in the United States alone—the U.S. Department of Education has invested more than $2.1 billion over the past three years in the Enhancing Education Through Technology Act of 2001—use of data this old is questionable.

Second, the quality of the data is suspect. For example, there was only a 56 percent response rate in the United States, a rate below what is generally accepted as reliable by both PISA and our own National Center for Education Statistics. Despite this low response rate, the survey data was weighted for student enrollment in the United States and every other country. Comparable data from the NCES is at odds with the PISA data, even for 2000.

Last, notwithstanding the fact that the 2000 data was used because it was a rare source for retrieving similar data from different countries, showcasing current, higher-quality data for the main comparison chart would have served your readers better, and more accurately represented the United States’ current standing among other countries as a leader in educational technology. This need not have invalidated your central thesis that there is much the nation can learn from other countries; rather, it would have put this observation into the proper context.

A look at the facts: According to the NCES, which conducts an annual survey on Internet connectivity in schools and classrooms, 99 percent of all schools and 92 percent of all classrooms are connected to the Internet. These are statistics that you cite on Page 65 of your own report, yet make no attempt to reconcile with the data 55 pages earlier.

Technology Counts 2004 is a valuable resource, and the content is intriguing. Let’s work together to provide accurate, timely educational technology data to create a clear picture of where we are today, and explore valid comparisons of the United States and our neighbors around the globe.

Susan D. Patrick
Office of Educational Technology
U.S. Department of Education
Washington, D.C.

Move to K-8 Schools: ‘Back to the Future’

To the Editor:

There truly is nothing new under the sun in education, as is demonstrated by the wave of K-8 reorganizations in urban school districts (“City Districts Embracing K-8 Schools,” May 19, 2004).

The affluent Beverly Hills Unified School District in California has always had four K-8 elementary schools feeding students into its one high school for grades 9-12. In the past half-century, the district has not changed its configuration.

But the neighboring Los Angeles Unified School District, and various districts nationwide, have experimented with middle schools for grades 6-8 since the 1980s. Emphasizing students’ personal development and self-esteem, rather than rigorous coursework, middle schools have followed a curriculum more similar to an elementary than a secondary school approach.

Middle school teachers have been pulled from elementary schools where, at least in California, content preparation was less rigorous. Yet in many subject areas, student coursework in grades 7 and 8 builds foundations for high school curriculum in those and related subjects. Thus, pre-algebra is taught in grade 8, and algebra in grade 9, for most students. But teachers in those linked subjects never meet, as they reside in separate school buildings differentiated by grade level. At a crucial time, when continuity of students’ learning is essential, there is no communication between schools, grades, or teachers at all.

You report, “The young teenagers don’t act up as much as they do in stand-alone middle schools. They serve as tutors, safety patrols, and role models for the youngest students.” Funny that middle schools were designed to raise students’ self- esteem. Didn’t the experts realize that having young teenagers role-modeling for younger children is preferable to their jostling for social position among themselves? Or that continuity in curriculum and communication promotes academic achievement?

Let’s hope going “back to the future” will leave fewer children behind.

Betty Raskoff Kazmin
Retired Los Angeles Teacher
Willard, Ohio

Do ‘Multiple Pathways’ Lead to More of Less?

To the Editor:

Robert Shireman’s recent Commentary posing the question “Where Do ‘Multiple Pathways’ Take Us?” (May 12, 2004) hit a nerve. The alacrity with which some in the business of high school reform have begun to toss around this phrase is disturbing. To suggest that there are great options in store for students who choose one of the less academically rigorous “multiple pathways” when selecting their high school coursework may be doing a disservice to students. In fact, promoting and offering “multiple pathways” could very well circumscribe future options available to these young people.

Let’s make sure that this handy new catchphrase is not simply a “get out of jail free” card for reformers and others who have not been able to identify good substitutes for the core courses high school students must have for “deep cognitive engagement, ... attentiveness and active problem-solving that will promote learning, understanding, and the development of new skills.”

I fear that most of the students who are being pointed in the direction of these “multiple pathways” are those who already suffer from a lack of opportunity in both secondary and higher education. These are the students who attend underresourced high schools, lack many of the benefits afforded their contemporaries who attend schools in wealthier districts, have no one at home who has attended college and can guide them through their high school course selection, and, consequently, must spend much of their freshman year in college enrolled in remedial education—if they are fortunate enough to enroll in college at all.

I hope that those charged with the important work of high school reform will carefully examine what it is they are promoting to these young people who are already operating at a serious disadvantage.

Christina R. Milano
Executive Director
National College Access Network
Cleveland, Ohio

GAO’s ‘Diploma Mills’ Report Was Misread

To the Editor:

In your article on the federal investigation into “diploma mills” (“Federal Investigators Target ‘Diploma Mills’,” May 19, 2004), you report that a U.S. General Accounting Office report found “at least 463 federal employees ... held bogus degrees from diploma mills.”

I suggest you have a second reporter read the GAO report. It states that 463 individuals received degrees from legally operating unaccredited schools—not diploma mills.

I understand that, based on the testimony, reasonable people could conclude that Kennedy-Western University is a diploma mill, but the report does not say so. There is nothing in the report or the testimony that implies California Coast University is a diploma mill. California Coast was mentioned only because it provided to the government all the information it requested.

David L. Boyd
William Howard Taft University
Santa Ana, Calif.

‘Fast Track’ Degrees Should Shame Us

To the Editor:

I’m pleased that Education Week is covering the issue of “diploma mills” (“Federal Investigators Target ‘Diploma Mills’,” May 19, 2004; “Evaluator Reverses Position on Degrees From Saint Regis,” May 19, 2004). As the federal investigation you cite indicates, professionals in educational administration are the most likely to obtain these degrees.

There should be a clearer definition of “diploma mill,” and of what constitutes a legitimate degree. The need for one is well illustrated by the fact that, in the same issue of Education Week that carried these two articles, an advertisement for a “fast track” doctoral degree also could be found. The advertised merits of this program were not scholarship, research, or learning, but that the program is “accelerated” and “flexible.” According to the ad copy, a person can earn a doctoral degree in 10 weekends and two four-week summer sessions—significantly less class time than it takes to become a licensed hairstylist.

One of the conveniences for students in many of these proliferating “fast track” graduate programs is the ability to receive academic credit for previous work experience. Previous work experience may be vitally important in preparing educational leaders, but it is not academic achievement. If graduate students are to get academic credit for work experience, it should be in the form of a professional internship designed collaboratively with the university and another institution. It should not be credit granted after the fact, as a convenient way to legitimize an “accelerated” program.

Universities, of all institutions, should understand that work experience is no substitute for attending class, reading books, or having a dialogue with a professor. Granting credit for previous work experience is simply a disingenuous, shoddy practice. It is a form of double-dipping that is misleading and deceptive to those who evaluate university transcripts for employment and promotion purposes.

Universities that participate in the marketing of degrees openly advertise these degrees as commodities that can be acquired with little expense and effort. Unfortunately, many educators respond to the marketing and are well aware of what they are obtaining, with little concern about its lack of intellectual weight. They are in search of a degree that will not interfere with their personal or professional responsibilities. Yet, these same educators are often adamant that they be referred to as “Doctor.”

How can those who possess one of these degrees implement and regulate standards-based education with a straight face? If we are going to promote educational standards for children, the least we can do is maintain standards for ourselves.

Craig King
Woodland Jr.-Sr. High School
Baileyville, Maine

Teacher-Quality Group Rebuts ‘Baseless Attack’

To the Editor:

I am compelled to respond to David Marshak’s baseless attack on my organization, the National Council on Teacher Quality, in his letter of May 19, 2004 (“Teacher-Quality Group’s Partisan Ties Obscured,” Letters). I can only guess at Mr. Marshak’s real motivation for his voluminous letter, though it was ostensibly to denigrate our recent study on state progress toward meeting the No Child Left Behind Act’s teacher-quality provisions.

Mr. Marshak bypasses substantive critique, charging that “everything else about the NCTQ is of, by, and for the George W. Bush Republican Party.” However, he was not able to identify a single inaccuracy or methodological flaw in the study itself. Neither was he able to quote any line from the study that substantiated our supposed bias, though this was the real core of his complaint. The source of his fury against the NCTQ is a mystery, unfounded and unsubstantiated.

Quite purposefully, the NCTQ is an independent and nonpartisan organization. We are not affiliated with any organization, including the Education Leaders Council. While we helped launch the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, it is now a fully independent organization. We stand behind that organization and, equally so, other alternative routes into the profession, and for good reason. By any measure, the traditional systems for preparing and licensing teachers are demonstrably failing to meet the nation’s needs. To dismiss this need with accusations that we are motivated by partisan politics is pure nonsense.

Teacher quality is a bipartisan issue that demands bipartisan solutions. The composition of our board, which includes persons who have served in Democratic and Republican administrations, demonstrates this resolve.

I urge your readers to visit our Web site (www.nctq.org) for a more accurate picture of our work.

Kate Walsh
National Council on Teacher Quality
Washington, D.C.

Australians Oppose Nonpublic School Aid

To the Editor:

Your article on government support for nonpublic schools in Australia (“Private Schools in Australia Share in Public Largess,” May 12, 2004) was informative, but several comments are in order:

1. Tax aid to nonpublic schools Down Under, though long opposed by most Australians, has weakened public schools and brought about a net decline in Australian education.

2. Tax aid to nonpublic schools in Australia resulted from the intense intrusion of sectarian special interests into politics after World War II, such as we in the United States did not see for another generation.

3. As one who was intimately involved in the unsuccessful legal challenge to nonpublic school aid in Australia in the 1970s, I must agree with the brilliant dissent in the case by High Court Justice Lionel Murphy, Australia’s counterpart to our Justice William J. Brennan Jr., that the majority ruling ignored appropriate legal precedents and the clear intent of the authors of the Australian Constitution’s Section 116, adopted in 1900. Justice Murphy (see Lionel Murphy: The Rule of Law, ed. by Jean and Richard Ely, Akron Press, Arncliffe, New South Wales, 1986) showed that Australia’s Section 116 shares exactly the same meaning as the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing (1947) and its interpretation the First Amendment.

Given the U.S. Supreme Court’s mistaken ruling on vouchers in 2002 in the Cleveland case (Zelman v. Simmons-Harris), this country is in danger of following the bad example of Australia and other countries despite the strong public opposition to such misuse of public funds.

Edd Doerr
Americans for Religious Liberty
Washington, D.C.

Our Schools Should Be Democracy’s Laboratory

To the Editor:

We applaud your front-page story “Students’ Voices Chime In to Improve Schools” (May 12, 2004). Clearly, a movement is afoot to include the voices of students in the process of meaningful school change, and Education Week is right to cover it.

At the First Amendment Center and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, we share this vision for public schools as laboratories for democracy and freedom. That’s why we joined forces in March of 2001 to sponsor a project called First Amendment Schools: Educating for Freedom and Responsibility—a national reform initiative designed to help schools teach and practice democratic principles throughout the community.

At a First Amendment School, students and all members of the school community are given meaningful opportunities to practice democracy; students learn how to exercise their individual rights with responsibility, and experience what it feels like to serve the common good; parents, students, and educators work together to help shape the school culture; and civic education is translated into civic engagement through service learning and civic problem-solving.

As the schools in our network continue working daily to bring democratic principles to life, we join the chorus in applauding all other foundations, organizations, and individuals who share this vital mission. May we all continue to fight the good fight.

Sam Chaltain
Program Coordinator
First Amendment Center

Molly McCloskey
Project Director
First Amendment Schools
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
Alexandria, Va.

‘Reasonable’ Discourse Assumes Alternatives

To the Editor:

It is hard to disagree with Jon Snyder’s observation—and his frustration—that the current public debate on education reform is often filled with partisan rhetoric in favor of certain points of view (“Let’s Be Reasonable: Kids, Content, and Teaching,” Commentary, May 5, 2004). Unfortunately, his passionate call for removing ideology and rhetoric from the debate is unrealistic.

Since the very beginning of American public education, what children are supposed to learn, and how, have been hotly debated and constantly changed. This is because there has never been a complete consensus on what is best for individual children and the society as a whole. Philosophical difference on public education is inevitable, and so is partisan rhetoric.

So, for those who take a different view of education reform, the challenge is to convince the general public and policymakers that there is another side to the discussion and a better way to educate our children. It is not enough to cry foul about the way the other side behaves in the debate.

Yuhang Shi
Columbus, Ohio

Brown v. Board Missed the Point

To the Editor:

On the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision, we are engaging in a media orgy of recollection while, ironically, acknowledging that the decision doesn’t seem to have accomplished much educationally (“The Brown Decision,” Commentary, and Hearts and Minds,” On Assignment, “Brown at 50,” May 19, 2004). We shouldn’t be surprised by this, because the Brown case missed the point.

Forced segregation was merely a superficial example of the deeper problem, which remains unresolved today—namely, that the states have the right to expropriate our personal education funds, thereby rendering most of us unable to send our kids to the schools of our choice. The ongoing injustice of the public schools is not that they once forced segregation upon us, but that they now continue forcing busing, mediocrity, and an endless series of unsupportable educational fads upon everyone. In that respect, nothing has changed in these past 50 years.

David Ziffer
Batavia, Ill.

We Should Tell Others About Depression’s Toll

To the Editor:

I would like to thank Morton Sherman for his Commentary about depression in teenagers (“A Story of Hope,” May 12, 2004), and would urge him to continue to speak out for our young people. As he writes, “If it could happen in our family, it can happen in yours.” And it did happen in mine.

I was given leave from my job as a school social worker to monitor my daughter on suicide watch at home. She made it through high school, thanks to a 504 plan (under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973), and went on to college, only to die in a tragic house fire her freshman year. Impulsiveness may have contributed to her death.

I would add my voice to Mr. Sherman’s in calling for parity in mental-health benefits, and for more trained school personnel to work with depressed and self-injurious teenagers.

Betsy Allen
Preschool Social Worker
Wake County Public Schools
Raleigh, N.C.

A version of this article appeared in the June 09, 2004 edition of Education Week as Letters


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