Letters to the Editor
Herbert Chester Superintendent of Schools Bloomfield Public Schools Bloomfield, Conn.
You recently reported on the arrests of parents for allegedly "stealing" educational services from the town of Bloomfield, Conn., ("Parents Allegedly 'Stole' Educational Services," Education Week, April 17, 1985, "Equity Claim Will Figure in Illegal-Enrollment Cases," Education Week, April 24, 1985, and "Jackson Lauds Parents Who Face Charges on Educational 'Theft,"' Education Week, May 8, 1985).
Lest your readers get the wrong impression, it should be known that the Bloomfield Board of Education did not request the arrests, was not involved with the arrests, and was not supportive of the arrests. The arrest action was taken independently by the police as a result of what they felt was a violation of state statutes.
The board of education's long-time process for dealing with questions about a student's residency has been to schedule "due-process" hearings before the board. Following the hearing, at which a student's parents are entitled to counsel and the school administration and parents or their representatives present evidence, a determination is made as to whether the pupil is entitled to attend our schools.
In past cases in which the board found a pupil ineligible to attend the Bloomfield schools, it has not sought to recover tuition costs from the parents. Over the many years of hearings, not one case has been appealed by the parents to either the State Board of Education or the courts--testimony to the diligence of the administration and the board and to their quiet process of ensuring that only those students who are legal residents are entitled to free school privileges in Bloomfield.
In response to the Rev. Jesse Jackson's suggestion that black parents take their children to Bloomfield, I would say, "We're flattered, and thank you for the compliment, but that is not the answer."
At least one family involved in the case said they enrolled their child in our schools from Hartford because they wanted the child to receive a better education. I can assure your readers, as one intimately aware of the Hartford school system, that if a student desires to, he or she can get as good an education in Hartford as in any of the 169 towns in Connecticut.
I hasten to add that a voucher system is not an answer to the need for better education. Running from the perceived or real problem does not alter it. Our so-called reformers and innovators, bereft of ideas for improving schools, seem to throw up their hands, let the problems remain, and offer the voucher system as a solution. Perhaps their problem is that they have not been intimately involved with what goes on in the public schools. I suggest they get their hands a bit dirty first, and then they may think of other solutions besides a voucher system.
This might also assist in easing the teacher shortage and provide these reformers with insights that will help them offer better solutions. They might also begin to realize that the schools are not the sole place to cure society's ills.
A voucher system places the public schools in the position of being the last resort--left for the economically disadvantaged and those without power. It would appear that proponents of vouchers could care less about the cities, the disadvantaged, and the future of the public schools.
Jo Ann Seker Former Elementary-School Physical-Education Teacher Gaithersburg, Md.
Your article on the issue of union agency fees ("Agency Shop: Individual Freedom Versus Collective Interest," Education Week, April 24, 1985) was an excellent piece on a subject neglected too long by the education media. I commend you.
Teachers, former teachers, and prospective teachers are just beginning to understand the enormous power coercion like this can give to a union in a school system. Furthermore, those of us who value independent thought and individual freedom are appalled that this can actually happen in America!
Right here in Montgomery County, Md., the officials of the Montgomery County Education Association tried to create an "agency shop" in the schools just last year. Unable to get the whole thing, they "settled" for forcing every new teacher to join or pay dues. They restricted the ability of current members to resign from the union by announcing that if members did not resign by Sept. 10, they would be locked in until 1987. More than 400 teachers did resign from the union, which should tell officials something about their "representation."
When any organization has to force people to join or support it, we should be very wary. But when elected public officials connive with union officials to make this legal as a condition of employment, we should be outraged!
It is obvious that you made a special effort to be evenhanded in this article by giving ample space to all sides of the issue. You give the appearance of bias, however, when you use the denigrating term "so-called" in front of the phrase, "right-to-work laws."
Citizens of the 21 states that have opted to guarantee individual freedom of choice for their workers have passed right-to-work laws--that's what they call them and they are not put in quotation marks. The term appears in Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, as well as in the World Book, and major encyclopedias. Surely it is a term that deserves the respect of writers, readers, and reporters.
As a former teacher who was active in her local, state, and national teachers' organization--yes, I belonged to the National Education Association when it was voluntary--I thank you for exposing this critical issue. You have again lead the way in education reporting.
Editor's note: The writer raises an interesting point that semanticists somewhere are no doubt debating. We typically use the term "so-called" in its primary American Heritage Dictionary meaning--"Designated thus or known by this term"--with no pejorative intent. We erred, however, according to Copperud's American Usage and Style, in putting quotation marks around right-to-work laws, which Copperud says indicates irony or sarcasm. No such meaning was intended.
Charles Rice Assistant Director for Student Services Coosa Valley Vocational-Technical School Rome, Ga.
I read with interest a letter by Nellie B. Quander responding to a Commentary that criticized Secretary of Education William J. Bennett's call for higher standards for low-socioeconomic and minority groups ("Higher Standards Will Not Bring Academic Success To Disadvantaged Students," Education Week, April 24, 1985).
In her letter, Ms. Quander cites studies that tend to show a correlation between socioeconomic status and success in school. These studies are said to prove that teachers are biased against minorities and those unfortunate enough to be children of low-income parents. The writer asserts that teachers' attitudes and practices must change before these students can be challenged by higher standards.
I have been an observer of the progress made by minorities and members of low-socioeconomic groups for 20 years because of my interest in history and the historical experiment that has been in progress since the integration of schools in the 1960's. (I live in the South where it is easy to see this process being carried out.) We have great numbers of both minority and low-socioeconomic-status students in Georgia and raising standards has made the greatest impact on their achievement of all the schemes so far attempted.
Ms. Quander calls these students victims, and they are sociological victims. However, she fails to deal with the reality of placing these ''victims" in classrooms with teachers who are expected to educate them to standards set by a middle-class society. I assert that the teacher is also a victim--in this case, of a system that fails to recognize the need for all students to conform to the standards set by the school.
I get the impression that the writer would like to blame the educational system for the plight of low-income and minority students who, for sociological reasons, tend to be low achievers. Many of these students bring behavioral, cultural, and psychological problems to school with them on the first day of the 1st grade. The fact that they do not become high achievers is not very surprising and it shouldn't take a researcher too much time to arrive at this conclusion.
What is disturbing is that the teacher is blamed for these students' low achievement. Methods used by teachers are criticized if they tend to reward some students for success and punish others for not conforming to the standards set by the school. In some places, this is suspected of being racial discrimination.
I have seen the progress made by Asian refugees in our country. They were certainly "victims" who did not have our middle-class culture but applied their energy toward academic achievment as a way to escape poverty, crime, and the problems of living in a low-socioeconomic environment.
I see too many native Americans (black and white) who are content with mediocrity. I believe we have established sociological excuses for those who can succeed and do not--whether the "victims" are students or teachers.
I support the highest standards for all students, rich or poor, without regard to race or other factors, as the best way to overcome mediocrity. Let's not expect less from our poor or black students than we do from our wasp, middle-class, teacher's pets. Everyone needs some encouragement and support--especially teachers and low achievers--and setting goals is one way of ensuring that an effort will be made to encourage all students to meet a school's standards.
Dennis Berry Principal Scotus Central Catholic High School Columbus, Neb.
Lynne Glassman's Commentary on the role of the federal government in private education was very intriguing ("The 'Paradox' of a Growing Federal Role in Private Education," Education Week, May 1, 1985).
She states that "the essential policy issue remains as to whether or not the federal government should provide additional aid for a sector that is already a beneficiary of not only considerable political and philosophical support but also substantial fiscal resources."
I strongly disagree. The essential issue is that aid in any form should be for the child, not for the school. Aid must be distributed to people, not institutions, regardless of whether the child attends public or nonpublic schools.
The government correctly believes it must provide education for its citizens. Aid to schools, all schools, should stop. Assistance should be given to people and they should be allowed freedom of educational choice.
Public schools have nothing to fear if they are good schools. They will have high enrollments and support. If they are poor systems they should fall by the wayside.
Let us not forget, aid was designed to help all children receive an education. Aid was not intended to build a public-school monopoly.
A strong case has been made that nonpublic schools more often than not operate more effectively and efficiently than do public schools. Parents and students need to receive additional governmental assistance to continue selecting nonpublic education.
Legislators need to be aware of how a lack of assistance affects people who select nonpublic education. If these individuals are asked to pay for their nonpublic-education choice in addition to the public-education system, nonpublic systems could be financially phased out of existence. The public would then lose a system that has a history of providing a high-quality education at a bargain-basement cost.
Legislators also need to know that when nonpublic schools close their doors, all citizens will be taxed even more to provide education for the hundreds of thousands of students currently in nonpublic schools.
Please, let's keep the issue on what is best for kids, not what might be best for public schools.
Dave Ulmen Principal Assumption Catholic School Spokane, Wash.
I do not expect Education Week to always provide opinions with which I will agree. However, I do expect that information contained in your Commentary section will be accurate.
The recent piece by Lynne Glassman contains inaccurate descriptions of the direct and indirect financial "advantages" of private schools. The statement, "... nonprofit private schools pay no income, use, or sales tax," is one example of its inaccuracy.
Other points are debatable, such as identifying our property-tax status as government-subsidized, which is misleading at best. Do public schools or other nonprofit institutions pay property tax?
Your reputation depends on accurate, rational information. Please don't lead your readers astray in the future. It demeans a significant public debate.
William R. Fernekes Social Studies and Spanish Teacher Hunterdon
Regional High School Flemington, N.J.
Lynne Glassman's Commentary smacks of the thinking of the misinformed. She mixes hyperbole with myths in a way that is unsatisfactory for reporting the facts.
Ms. Glassman quotes a study about Chapter 2 (ecia) funds. She states that this study, which I believe was completed by the American Association of School Administrators (a public-school superintendents' group), revealed that "in 1984 private schools received nearly three times as much federal aid under Chapter 2 as they had under the separate categorical programs."
The charges stemming from the 1984 aasa report were refuted and proven false by another study entitled "Setting the Record Straight: What ed Knows About Private-School Participation Under ecia Chapter 2," which was conducted by the U.S. Education Department. The aasa report was an exaggeration.
Ms. Glassman would have us believe that nonpublic schools are snatching the last morsels from the public coffers. With the exception of two federal programs dealing with asbestos and conservation--one a health program and the other a national effort to conserve energy that benefited nonpublic hospitals and other nonpublic buildings--I know of no nonpublic school that receives any state or federal funds.
Nonpublic schoolchildren and their parents in some states do receive aid in the form of textbooks, bus transportation, school lunches, and other auxiliary services. In these cases, any aid they do receive flows through the local public-school district or some other state agency.
In reference to this, the author states: "... local education agencies are burdened with the expense of administering the use of these funds ..." Don't kid yourself, Ms. Glassman. The agencies are paid handsomely. Are you aware, for example, what percent of Chapter 2 funds from the federal government are "skimmed off the top" from your state and what these funds are used for? You might be surprised.
Ms. Glassman would also have us believe that tuition tax deductions, tuition tax credits, and other forms of legitimate tax relief provide money that the nonpublic schools are receiving. This is ridiculous! Tax-relief measures are not nonpublic-school issues, they are tax issues. Furthermore, tax deductions and tax credits are part of public policy. Hundreds of other groups that save the government money also receive deductions and credits in the form of tax relief.
Ms. Glassman would also lead us to believe that if tax relief were not granted to nonpublic-school parents, the money that is saved would go to public schools. This is not only an exaggeration, but a non sequitur. Wouldn't it be possible for these funds to go to our national defense or some social program? What guarantee is there that they would go to the public schools?
In her last exhortation, Ms. Glassman asks us to accept that "it is clear that financially and philosophically, federal support for private education is growing." I take issue with this statement. What is becoming clearer is that justice is being granted to all parents, regardless of where they choose to send their children to school.
The paradox is not the "ever-increasing support for private education," but rather that, without public funding, parental choice is an abstraction.
William Rhody Education Director Minnesota Catholic Conference St. Paul, Minn.
I read with great interest Secretary of Education William J. Bennett's remarks to the Ethics and Public Policy Center on the teaching of history in the nation's schools ("For the Record," Education Week, May 1, 1985).
It is important that our nation's highest-ranking education official place the teaching of history on his agenda for school improvement. However, the manner in which Mr. Bennett has done so suggests that he is more of an idealogue than an intellectual.
Mr. Bennett begins his remarks with the suggestion that today's social-studies teachers are failing to teach the "essentials of American democracy" to students. I also recognize that surveys such as that of the National Assessment of Educational Progress indicate that secondary-level students are less informed about the structure of the U.S. government than I would like.
But Mr. Bennett does not support his implication that social-studies programs are totally at fault for this. He presents no evidence whatsoever that adults in the past were more active participants in political life because of their educational training. He also fails to show that he is aware of the large body of research on citizenship education that has spanned this century and reflects a lively debate regarding democratic citizenship.
If Mr. Bennett had presented one clear cause-and-effect argument to show that history instruction improves political participation and informed democratic decisionmaking, his thesis would at least invite serious consideration. In these comments, however, Mr. Bennett violates a major tenet of historical argument by failing to show change over time through clearly articulated cause-and-effect analysis.
Mr. Bennett proceeds to portray social-studies instruction in the nation's schools as a captive of "cultural relativism" and as the result of uninformed and nonintellectual teaching. It is clear that Mr. Bennett wears his own values on his sleeve, justifying the inclusion of particular historical content on the basis of his conservative political ideology.
He says we must teach about the Cuban missile crisis, the Russian Revolution, and the Monroe Doctrine in order to understand the "urgency in Nicaragua" and the "intrusion of the Brezhnev Doctrine in Central America." By implication, this means that the nation's history teachers must present historical content as a form of nationalistic ideology. For if today's students fail to learn how evil Marxism/Leninism is with all its historic manifestations, then the United States will fall prey to the onward march of Soviet influence, according to Mr. Bennett's views.
It is interesting to note that the Secretary fails to present alternative historical interpretations of the Central American conflict, or even mention whether or not the history of any nation not in North America or Europe is worth studying. Again, Mr. Bennett fails to recognize the value of a broad historical perspective on social change.
If our students study only the Magna Carta, the Greek polis, and the Federalist Papers, they may well emerge as narrow, parochial citizens who fail to comprehend the achievements and problems that have confronted civilizations in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and other areas of the globe.
Mr. Bennett decries cultural relativism because he claims it offers ''no real criteria for good and bad, right and wrong, noble and base." He substitutes it with a form of Eurocentric history that is dedicated to making sure that American values (whatever those may be--he doesn't say) are understood and learned to the exclusion of conflicting and competing world views.
Mr. Bennett suggests that history instruction as it now exists fails to meet some sort of "intellectual" test. If not, why does he suggest an "intellectual initiative" for the teaching of history? As a social-studies educator, I take this as a personal insult, and I believe I speak for more than myself when I claim that Mr. Bennett is not only patronizing in his approach to social-studies educators, but that he is grossly uninformed about the history of social education in the United States.
If Mr. Bennett had done any reading at all about the past 100 years of social-studies education in this country, he might have realized that faults in teacher preparation in the United States have as much to do with college and university history departments as with any teacher-education faculty in this nation.
Where do today's social-studies teachers do most of their coursework? In history departments, sociology departments, and political-science departments--and this has long been the case. Who are the role models for social-studies teachers during their education at the university? The very professors of history and other social-science disciplines that Mr. Bennett believes will lead history instruction toward a golden age.
Does Mr. Bennett recognize that professional historians were strong advocates of the social studies in the first four decades of this century? The entire tone of Mr. Bennett's remarks contradicts his claim that we should tell our children "the whole story," since he clearly does not exhibit knowledge of anywhere near the "whole story" about history education or social-studies education.
Let Mr. Bennett meet his own test of "intellectual" rigor by doing his homework on the history of social-studies education. Perhaps then he will be better able to conduct an informed dialogue about this vitally important issue.
I sincerely hope that other educators in our nation take up the challenge.
Emlyn I. Griffith Member New York State Board of Regents Rome, N.Y.
Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, has issued a clarion call for educational change that must be heeded by all Americans concerned about our nation's future ("aft Head Backs Voucher Proposal for Public Schools," Education Week, May 8, 1985).
In his bold, innovative proposals presented at the annual meeting of the New York State United Teachers in April, Mr. Shanker went beyond the obvious need to reform curriculum, instructional methods, and building administration. He challenged all members of the school community to change their ingrained attitudes and their traditional mindsets so that the students of this decade will receive the education they must have to become productive, responsible citizens in the next century.
That change will not come quickly or easily. But it must come if today's children are to be adequately prepared for tomorrow's increasingly complex, competitive, yet interdependent world.
To facilitate the transition from teaching methods that have been appropriate in the 19th and 20th centuries to those that will be required in the 21st century, I suggest three coordinated approaches.
First, a private foundation could bring together this nation's leading thinkers and practitioners in elementary and secondary education to make recommendations for change. The common agenda item would be how to provide the best possible instruction and ensure the most effective learning by our young people.
Second, the Forum of Educational Organization Leaders, a Washington-based organization, could draft proposals for restructured delivery systems.
And third, state boards or governors could convene conferences of local and state constituents to respond to the proposals and develop plans for action.
If teachers, principals, superintendents, local board members, state legislators, and state education officials do not change their attitudes, if they do not become more collegial and less adversarial, if they do not adopt new management styles during the 1980's, America's educational system will go the way of America's steel and automobile industries during the 1970's.
The president of the aft has described a strategic vision for the 1990's and beyond. It is not perfect, but it challenges concerned Americans to find practical ways to adapt and make it work.
For the future well-being of our children, we must resolve our "turf" concerns and legal differences, lock arms, and move forward with Mr. Shanker.
Roger Magyar Director Education Policy Studies Sequoia Institute Sacramento, Calif.
The latest U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring the government to reimburse parents who, without the approval of public-school officials, place their handicapped children in private schools represents a significant extension of parents' rights ("Justices Clarify Placement Rights of the Handicapped," Education Week, May 8, 1985).
And, given the recent furor over aid to the handicapped created by an Education Department staff member during testimony before Senator Lowell P. Weicker Jr., the ruling is instructive.
First, the Court has reaffirmed that parents, not the state, are and should be the responsible authority in educating children. Second, the Justices clearly believe parental authority is meaningless if parents are unable to exercise choice.
With these two principles, the Court has correctly challenged the monopoly control of our government education system. How can we deny normal, able-bodied youngsters the same rights that we grant to the physically or mentally impaired?
How can we dismiss the concern of parents whose healthy offspring are disabled by the tenured protection of inadequate teaching or ineffective administration?
Children ravaged by poverty or a legacy of discrimination, and those simply stuck in bad schools, are no less deserving than the handicapped of a chance for something better.
The National Commission on Excellence in Education did not focus on the plight of handicapped children in its criticism of government schools. It addressed the failure of public instruction to serve the needs of healthy youngsters.
Our Constitution extends equal protection of the law to every citizen. It must now be the task of those formulating public policy, whether through vouchers, tax credits, or some other mechanism, to ensure that all parents have a choice about how their children are educated.
Johnola Jordan K-1 Transitional Teacher Blue Lake Elementary School DeLand, Fla.
Education Week provides its readers with numerous articles on education reforms, merit pay, public-school vouchers, school incentives, last-chance schools, and special reading programs.
But I'm still waiting for someone to write about the real and not-so-secret solution to the problem of "why Johnny can't read."
It doesn't take millions in research. Just ask any teacher. Teach Johnny in a classroom that has only 10 to 15 students and he will learn to read.