Letters To The Editor
Gee, I am really glad to know the members of the American Bar Association favor performance pay for teachers ("Bar Association Members Favor Performance Pay," Education Week, Feb. 22, 1984). Perhaps I can sit on a bar-review board to establish lawyers' fees.
Edward A. White Principal The Flynn School Burlington, Vt.
You recently printed a graph on "Handicapped Children Served, 1976-77 and 1982-83" (Education Week, Feb. 22, 1984). In the graph, you refer to hearing-impaired students as "hard of hearing." Why don't you refer to the blind as hard of seeing and the crippled as hard of walking? I truly find this a gross lack of intelligent thought. I think it would have been a much wiser choice of words had you used the term "hearing impaired."
Martha Newell Dayton, Tenn.
Editor's note: The terminology was that of the U.S. Education Department, which was the source of the table.
You do your readers a great disservice by allowing Gilbert T. Sewall, in his commentary on St. Benedict's school, to rave about all the characteristics that make this school so effective when, by his own admission, the school is not effective based on the measure by which all other high schools are judged--Scholastic Aptitude Test scores ("Great Expectations, Successful Schools," Education Week, Feb. 29, 1984).
Despite the fact that St. Benedict's students are "selected" for motivation and ability--a luxury not enjoyed by public schools--the median sat scores of all seniors in 1982 were "well below the national average." But Mr. Sewall neatly absolves the school of any responsibility for this by saying that it reflects "the student body's uneven capabilities." He then proceeds throughout the article to refer to the school as "by any measure an effective school," "a superior school,'' and a "model of quality for public schools."
Describing what he thinks contributes to the school's "success," Mr. Sewall cites high academic demands and expectations, sturdy moral principles, an extended school year (11 months, including a mandatory six-week summer-school session), small class size, firm rules, peer support, and small school size. These factors are cited daily by researchers, school administrators, and politicians as being what America needs to make its high schools effective. Yet here we have a school that incorporates these factors and even has a student body that was selected for motivation and ability, and still this school produces a senior class with sat scores well below the national norm.
This situation can be interpreted in various ways. If we want to be negative, we can say that St. Benedict's shows that none of the hallowed effective-schools factors make schools more effective because they don't improve academic achievement. Or we might say that these factors should be incorporated into high schools because, at the very least, they give schools an appearance of orderliness and fit with our common-sense notion of how schools should operate. And we might say that maybe sat scores are not really the measure we want to use to define effectiveness in high schools.
But whatever our interpretation, we should resist making a blanket endorsement of one high school as being "effective" and hold it up as a model for all others to follow when it is not at all effective based on the specific measure that we use to judge all other high schools.
John H. Hollifield Assistant Director Center for Social Organization of Schools The Johns Hopkins University Baltimore, Md.
I was disappointed to see a lack of information about the first magnet school, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Laboratory School in Evanston, Ill., District 65 in your recent article on magnet schools ("Magnet Schools: The New Hope for Voluntary Desegregation," Education Week, Feb. 29, 1984).
As far as I know, this school, established in 1968, was the model for many magnet public schools throughout the United States. Many of the founding staff members are still employed by the school and are still dedicated to the success of integration and high educational goals for all. In addition, the staff members have been instrumental in bringing about high-quality changes in many parts of the country.
Judy Baumann Bordwell Evanston, Ill.
Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education ... The human mind is our fundamental resource." So said John F. Kennedy in an address to the Congress more than 20 years ago.
Recently, I attended a New Jersey Education Association legislative conference in which Gov. Thomas H. Kean and Congressman James J. Florio, Democrat of New Jersey, were sounding the same theme. Based on the substance of their remarks, it seemed like they were beginning to rev up their political machines for a gubernatorial primary.
Governor Kean sounded many of his educational themes during the address to the njea members. He began by insisting that there is a need for more rigorous instruction in our schools. Granted! The Governor also said that if we do not want dislocated children, we must improve because our shared future depends on it. Agreed! He also indicated that the purpose of his proposals is to improve the quality of education in the United States. That is laudable!
However Governor Kean indicated that he is quite concerned and upset with the level of opposition he is receiving from the njea Unfortunately, that opposition will continue until his proposals are more clearly defined. The njea is not a self-serving political entity. We are actively involved in improving the quality of schools and making continual improvements in the area of professional development. If there are, as Governor Kean indicated, incompetent educators in the schools of New Jersey, it is not the fault of the njea, but the administrators who carry out the evaluative process. If the administrators concerned themselves more with the quality of instruction going on in each classroom and less with the quantity of paperwork received from each teacher, schools would truly be better places for learning.
The Governor also addressed the area of teacher salaries, but there are problems with his proposal. He thinks the public will support higher salaries as long as they know we are getting "the best and the brightest." And if the public knows a teacher has passed a test, they will assume the person is competent.
Tests are not a major stumbling block unless they are used as the sole criterion in hiring or retaining teachers. We must develop an evaluative technique that encompasses more than just one test score.
I have no problems, though, with test taking, especially if administrators and school-board members also had to pass a competency test. After all, if they are going to establish policies and determine the future of others, they should be tested for their own proficiency. This would seem to be a more equitable solution to the testing problem.
In addition, it can be assumed that if these administrators pass a competency test, they are then qualified to serve as master teachers or mentors in their school district. Originally, the principal or head teacher in a school was the person other teachers sought out when they had education-related questions. The principal was responsible for setting an example of educational leadership. Principals today are often too busy managing everything in a school except learning. If principals concentrated on setting an example of instructional leadership instead of mulling over paperwork, schools would be better places for learning.
By restructuring and eliminating much of the needless paperwork that flows through a school district, principals could concentrate more on improving the quality of instruction in their building. This would eliminate the need for a master-teacher program and the many negative ramifications inherent in removàing more excellent teachers from the classroom. The monies not expended on the master-teacher program could be applied to the minimum salary guidelines now being proposed in the Assembly. After a period of time, it could be assumed that we would have the most competent people working at all levels of our educational structure.
I agree with Governor Kean that educators hold the most important jobs in society and I applaud the concluding message of his address: "This is the most opportune time for education in the United States. We must move now. We can't allow the window of opportunity to close. It must be kept open!"
Kennedy preached the same message more than 20 years ago when he said, "Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation."
Let's work together.
Barry J. Kaiser Lindenwold, N.J.