Letters To the Editor:
Your article on the Senate testimony regarding federal funding of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards ("Teaching Panel's Backers Seek $25 Million in Aid," Feb. 24, 1988) accurately reported that, while recognizing the unusual nature of the request, the board's proponents do not expect to be given money free from government oversight.
Unfortunately, the assertion in your front-page news index that the ''certification body's backers ask the Congress for $25 million in aid--with no strings attached" was misleading.
The "strings" would not be those recommended by Chester E. Finn Jr., the U.S. Education Department's assistant secretary for educational research and improvement.
But the board would submit reports directly to the Congress, be subject to auditing by the General Accounting Office, and award research contracts on a competitive basis.
Why must the board remain outside the aegis of the Education Department?
It must avoid association with anything resembling a national curriculum or a federal teacher-preparation program. State governments and local school districts should decide for themselves how best to use the board-certified teachers.
If the need for a revitalization of our teaching force were not exacerbated by the impending teacher shortage, the board might have the luxury of taking the time to seek all of its funds from the private sector. Even in making its $25-million request, the board plans to solicit dollar-for-dollar matching grants from nonfederal sources.
The board is asking for this money only once--to support the research and development projects necessary to create a reliable assessment system.
As one of the two teachers testifying in favor of the board's request, I was disappointed to hear Mr. Finn question "how much research is necessary before [the board] gets to its work. We already know much about good teaching."
Yes, we do know a lot about good teaching, but I am unaware of any system of assessment that adequately encompasses a variety of teaching styles and methods, and avoids a deterministic formula of instruction.
If teachers are to volunteer for assessment, they must have confidence in the board's ability to evaluate objectively an extremely personal and, at its best, artistic vocation.
Brad Blanchette English Teacher Colchester High School Colchester, Vt.
The Harvard University report that claims coaching for the Scholastic Aptitude Test does not help students raise their scores is suspect in several important respects ("Harvard Study Casts Doubt on Effect of Test Coaching," Research and Reports, Feb. 24, 1988).
First, the study was conducted by Dean K. Whitla, who is not only director of the university's office of instructional research and evaluation but also a trustee of the College Board, the firm that earns $70 million annually selling the sat and related products.
This is a blatant conflict of interest, akin to having Lee Iacocca do a study on what cars Harvard should buy for its campus police fleet.
The College Board and its hired guns naturally want to disparage coaching. If coaching works, then the well-documented racial and gender biases of the sat would be compounded by the inability of some students to pay for test-preparation courses.
It would also prove that the exam measures nothing more than test-taking skills. No wonder the College Board itself has written, "If the board's tests can be regularly beaten through coaching, then the board itself is discredited."
Second, the methodology of the study was poor: Incoming students were asked whether they had been coached. Such self-reporting is a notoriously unreliable survey technique. Many freshmen may have thought it unwise to tell Harvard they had been coached.
Third, the claim that those who admitted being coached did not show score increases much different from those of students who said they were not coached is contradicted by the facts. Harvard says those who were not coached showed gains averaging 67 points, while those who were gained 94 points.
This 27-point difference is highly significant as an average for a large group of people. The sat's margin of error, within which the 27 points supposedly fall, applies only to individuals, a fact well known to any quantitative researcher in this field.
Ironically, when the national-average scores of minorities rise a point or two, the College Board touts this as an important gain.
Fourth, the gains of both groups are inconsistent with other College Board claims. The board says the expected increase from junior to senior year for initially high-scoring students is only around 10 points. Something is wrong with either the Harvard data or the test-maker's claims.
Half a dozen recent independent studies all conclude that well-run test-preparation courses can increase scores by 100 points or more.
If the College Board really wants to test its claim that coaching does not work, it should join in co-sponsoring a blue-ribbon panel to independently study sat-preparation courses.
FairTest--the National Center for Fair and Open Testing--asked the board's president, Donald Stewart, to do just that a year and a half ago. We're still awaiting his response.
John G. Weiss Executive Director National Center For Fair and Open Testing Cambridge, Mass.
The Council for Basic Education's evaluation of New Jersey's "alternate route" to teacher certification has all the elements of a parody save one--it is serious ("'Alternate Route' Said a Success," Feb. 24, 1988).
Think of it: A group that has always devalued serious intellectual training in pedagogy "evaluates" the New Jersey plan and finds it to be a "notable success." That's like the kgb evaluating Soviet mental institutions and judging them free of politically motivated abuse.
Of course, the cbe's evaluation does note a few problems. First, the alternate-route candidates think that the required crash course in pedagogy is a bit much. It needs to be more "practical"--perhaps cut back to something less than the Boy Scout merit-badge status it enjoys now.
Second, the report observes that school districts hire provisional teachers but do not provide the resources to support them. How surprising!
Finally, it seems that many of the ungrateful initiates are moving out of urban schools, where their incompetence doesn't affect anyone with clout, and moving into suburban teaching jobs.
If New Jersey keeps "improving" teaching in this manner, it will soon solve its problems with unemployment.
Gary K. Clabaugh Director, Graduate Program in Education LaSalle University Philadelphia, Pa.
I was filled with a sense of deja vu as I read the article on New Jersey's "alternate route" to teacher certification.
As a former Teacher Corps intern, I have often felt that I entered teaching through the back door.
That back-door entry--an instructional internship with mentor teachers coupled with a community-education component and on-site graduate study--was baptism by immersion.
Just as we need to be sensitive to the different learning styles of our schoolchildren, we need to be sensitive to the needs of our prospective teachers. Many talented people have been repelled by the traditional models of teacher education.
Such people need to be drawn into the profession, no matter what their age.
The Teacher Corps was adept at doing just that. It vitally involved the intern teacher in the education process and school community in ways that no traditional program could hope to equal. Administrators, education professors, veteran teachers, community leaders, parents, and students all helped transform interns into creative, compassionate, and competent teachers.
Teachers' unions, state education agencies, teacher-education schools, and local districts would do well to glean lessons from the Teacher Corps model as they search for "new" ways to train teachers.
Malcolm Ian MacKenzie Marcus Whitman Junior/Senior High School Rushville, N.Y.
In distinguishing between "professionalism" and "prescription" (''On 'Professionalism' in Teaching," Commentary, Feb. 24, 1988), Paul E. Heckman and Carol A. Wilson echo the classic distinction between "education" and "training."
The authors are justifiably concerned about the current emphasis on narrow, prescriptive training.
I am currently studying the Leadership in Educational Administration Development applications approved within each state.
In 1987, lead programs were established to train administrators in accordance with mechanistic formulas derived from the effective-schools correlation research.
Following U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett's Principal Selection Guide, issued last June, programs are developing selection ''pools" of prescriptively trained administrators.
With a few notable exceptions, these programs are not recognizing either the limitations of the effective-schools knowledge base or the need to approach educational administration from a broad liberal-arts perspective.
If this movement establishes a closed loop encompassing its prescriptive training, selection, and evaluation procedures in both teaching and administration, the impact will be disheartening for the education profession and disastrous for student learning.
Louis Wildman Associate Professor Educational Administration California State College at Bakersfield Bakersfield, Calif.
In your article exploring possible ramifications of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, Mark Goodman of the Student Press Law Center sounded an ominous note: "Now it looks as if California students are the only ones who have the protections against arbitrary censorship" ("'Ripple Effect' of High Court's Press Ruling Seen as Test of Schools' Journalism Policies," Feb. 10, 1988).
A little research, however, shows that the "little-known California law" referred to in the article, which limits the reasons for administrative action, is not unique.
Many people in Pennsylvania apparently have also forgotten that in 1974, Chapter 12 of the State Board of Education regulations set forth restrictions for withholding any articles from publication.
As with the criteria in California, justification is limited to "obscene or libelous material" or "material that would cause a substantial disruption or interference with school activities."
When contacted on Feb. 11, a spokesman for the state education department in Harrisburg expressed surprise that mine was the first inquiry they had received since the Hazelwood ruling.
It seems inevitable that other states responded to the Supreme Court's 1969 decision in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District with similar regulations. A bit of investigating could clear up some of the current speculation.
Regardless of the outcome of the search, however, principals should not see the Hazelwood decision as an invitation to overreact.
Instead, recognizing that school publications play a significant role in the educational process, they should take the initiative to create an environment of trust between students and administrators. It is unthinkable that any responsible educational leader would argue that it is ever appropriate to "censor or restrict material simply because it is critical of the school or its administration."
What is left is honest disagreement over what is "inappropriate" for a young audience.
While students who are 15, 16, or 17 years old are capable of tremendous responsibility, they are not infallible. We train teachers to view mistakes as learning experiences.
The Supreme Court has told us, however, that student journalists should be held to higher standards than their professional brethren, that they can be robbed of the opportunity to make--and learn from--mistakes.
Only in an open atmosphere can education thrive.
William J. Gallagher Vice President Pennsylvania School Press Association Sunbury, Pa.
In his essay "'Pressures' for Creationism To Be Resisted" (Commentary, Feb. 10, 1988), Gerald Skoog makes several statements that cannot go unchallenged.
First, he would have us teach the theory of evolution as fact while not affording the theory of creationism the same privilege.
There is as much "fact" to support the concept that God created this world as there is to support the idea that man has evolved from some slime that washed upon the shore some billions of years ago.
Second, many of us who believe in the biblical account of creation also believe that study of The Wizard of Oz and "Romeo and Juliet" serves some literary purposes. We are also keenly aware of the problems which threaten the world.
I do not object to the teaching of the theory of evolution as long as it is taught as a theory and as long as the theory of creation is also taught.
Last, Mr. Skoog would have us believe that the public support for creationism stems from a misunderstanding of what science is all about. I suggest that this support comes from the fact that people are tired of being told that man evolved from some lower life form. They are tired of having their children subjected to the teaching of a theory as fact. And they are tired of having their faith in the Bible challenged and ridiculed by people who for some reason cannot believe in it.
Richard Risener Rainier, Ore.
Vol. 07, Issue 25