Letters to the Editor
Louise W. Hammond abe/ged Teacher Center for Employment Training Santa Maria, Calif.
Your article concerning charges that the Job Training Partnership Act neglects the individuals most in need ("jtpa Said To Neglect Neediest," Oct. 5, 1988) came as no surprise.
Recently, the agency for which I work--the Center for Employment Training--came under the jtpa's ax: Our funding was drastically cut in deference to other programs.
The cet has a long history of training disadvantaged individuals--high-school dropouts, welfare recipients, single parents, and Hispanics with limited English proficiency--and placing them in jobs.
We provide classes in skill training, preparation, and English as a second language. We also stress self-esteem and responsibility.
During the past year, 48 people obtained General Educational Development certificates while attending the cet
Considering the odds, our performance was excellent; nevertheless, our funding was cut by 80 percent. By contrast, programs stressing on-the-job training received about a 30 percent cut.
Showing their concern with feasibility and cost effectiveness, the jtpa's administrators focus on individuals with high potential rather than those who are hard to train.
When will statistics stop getting in the way of decisions affecting people's lives?
David R. Mandel Vice President for Policy Development National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Washington, D.C.
In his recent Commentary, "No Federal Funding for Standards Board" (Nov. 2, 1988), Alan Heslop warns that teachers should not permit the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards to accept federal support for its research and development program.
In so doing, he opines, teachers risk losing control of the opportunity to define their own profession. Better to adopt the model of medical specialty boards, he suggests, where the profession sets the standards and oversees the assessment process.
The irony of Mr. Heslop's argument is that the national board has been established precisely for this purpose.
For decades, the education community has watched physicians, architects, lawyers, and accountants set high standards for their professions. Only now have leaders of the education community come together to do the same for teaching--by creating a national standard-setting body, two-thirds of whose members are from the teaching profession.
Mr. Heslop also recommends that like other professional boards, a teacher board sustain itself financially from the fees it collects. We will do so.
But at the outset, a substantial investment in research and development is required to produce a state-of-the-art assessment process. And the board seeks half the needed development funding from nonfederal sources.
Mr. Heslop suggests that the public interest in teaching is difficult to distinguish from the public interest in other professions. The problem with this line of reasoning is the facts: Teachers are predominantly employed in public institutions; other professionals are not.
Teachers are, in fact, the front-line practitioners in a $150-billion public enterprise. For this reason, government officials at all levels have an overwhelming interest in the quality of teachers, the institutions where they are educated, and the work settings where they practice.
Policymakers also have a responsibilty to prevent school failures. In other professions, unsatisfactory performance may have harsh consequences for an individual client, but the effect of school failures is felt by an entire society.
Finally, Mr. Heslop sees this board only as a mechanism to improve the status of teachers. But the leaders of state and local government, business, and education who sit on the board along with teachers have a much richer vision.
They see it first as a means to improve the nation's schools--to improve student learning.
They also see it as a catalyst to redefine teaching so that we might attract especially able people and hold the excellent teachers now in the schools whose expertise, commitment, and energy go unrecognized and underutilized.
Such opportunities to strengthen teaching and learning do not come along every day. The bipartisan coalition of U.S. senators who introduced the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Act of 1988 understands this. It is a shame that Mr. Heslop does not.
Joseph D. Delaney Principal, Spartanburg High School Member, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Spartanburg, S.C.
Alan Heslop's ideas on politics appear puzzling and his comments on teaching misinformed.
Education is one of the reserved powers the U.S. Constitution leaves to the states.
But on many occasions in American history, the federal government has found the national interest more compelling than the states' right to exercise authority over education.
In the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, for example, the federal courts required the dismantling of separate-but-equal school districts.
And in the wake of Sputnik, the federal government properly responded with an infusion of money to enhance science and mathematics teaching.
Is the establishment of the standards board of so compelling a nature as to justify federal expenditure for a concern usually reserved to the states? This, not funding, is the key question.
All professions are practiced in or on the public, as Mr. Heslop says, but no other is regulated and defined by the states as is teaching.
Federal funding in this case is not intended "for sorting out the elite members of their numerous ranks," but rather for establishing criteria to improve the entry level of all teachers who choose to be certified by the board.
Mr. Heslop suggests that teachers themselves "establish procedures ... to rate their colleagues' qualifications and expertise." In fact, this is the express purpose of the board.
The issue of teacher competence is of such a compelling nature that funding at the federal level can be justified.
Indeed, improving the quality of teaching is so significant to our national well-being that federal intervention should be expected.
Jeannette Dorsey Lafayette, Calif.
As Alan Heslop points out, teachers are capable of empowering their own profession.
We do not need the Congress delving into teacher assessment and certification procedures, and the $25 million could be much better spent in providing programs that directly enrich teachers themselves.
I would like to see teachers, not the Congress, establish standards of excellence and procedures to rate qualifications and expertise.
A voluntary program would provide incentives for those teachers striving toward excellence, without turning off those who are not challenged.
Brother James Wisecaver, S.M. San Francisco, Calif.
I am responding to your article "Los Angeles Puts Standardized Testing on Hold After Furor Over Cheating Incidents" (Nov. 2, 1988).
My concern is not for the teachers or the administrators, but the students.
I was an assistant principal in an urban, private high school in the Los Angeles area for several years. During that time, the students took the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills annually.
The test was an invaluable tool. The students could take pride in not only their individual progress, but also the progress of the school as a whole over the year.
The different academic departments could also pat themselves on the back if their students gained greater than a year's growth over the academic year.
And if progress were not evident, the student or the department could be asked, "Why not?"
In the current situation, the role model that educators are giving the students is appalling.
It appears that the United Teachers-Los Angeles is using the "teachers' integrity" issue as an excuse to do away with standardized achievement tests in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
In this case, the students lose. Can't we be rise above some erasure marks, teach the students, and then let the standardized tests show how well both teachers and students are doing?
Myra H. Jones Gifted Programs Macon County Schools
James Crouse and Dale Trusheim's challenges to the utility and validity of the Scholastic Aptitude Test ("Five Challenges to the sat," Commentary, Oct. 26, 1988) did not go far enough.
I would like to add another challenge to the Educational Testing Service and the College Board.
Is the National Merit Scholarship program worthwhile? Or is it just a self-serving marketing device with which to induce hundreds of thousands of high-school students to take the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test?
Many of the program's scholarships are given out by industry and universities; they do not come from the ets
And recent criticism has suggested that the test discriminates against girls--that even though their grades are better than those of boys in college, they do not win as many Merit Scholarships as boys (the figure I saw was 36 percent).
I wonder, too, how much young gifted students benefit when they are induced to take the sat while they are in the 7th grade as part of the Talent Identification Program.
I agree with the authors that an independent blue-ribbon investigating panel might be in order.cw-1
John E. Beach Fairless High School Navarre, Ohio
Beyond the weaknesses cited in your recent article ("Panelists Flay Biology Curriculum as Outdated, Filled With 'Factlets'," Oct. 19, 1988), two serious problems hinder the teaching of biology.
First, the subject is usually taught to students with no knowledge of chemistry and physics--even though a familiarity with those sciences is necessary to understand biological principles.
The second problem is even more serious: Because it is almost universally taught as an organization of knowledge, biology is the worst subject for teaching students what science is all about.
Few students learn that science is a structure of ideas based on observation.
"Hands on" experiences are sometimes used to illustrate principles, but never to begin investigations that lead to major ideas.
Not only would genuine investigations take too much time, they would also require materials that are fragile and often inaccessible.
For students with a background in physics and chemistry and a knowledge of the scientific process, teaching strategies could be devised to show how the process works in biology.
We were pleased to see your article "Study Urges Dropout-Prevention Efforts in Middle Grades" (Oct. 19, 1988).
We agree with Dale Mann that the middle years are crucial in dropout prevention.
But all too often, attention to the problem has been directed to the upper grades.
Recent efforts in Rhode Island have been geared at improving basic skills in grades K-3--once again leaving out the middle years.
A team of teachers at our junior high school has been working on a droput-prevention program for the past four years. Our students are drawn from a list of repeating 7th graders who are over age and have a history of attendance and disciplinary problems. We offer them the opportunity to catch up with their peers by earning a promotion to 9th grade after successfully completing the program.
Some of the characteristics our program shares with the recommendations your article describes are a team approach, immediate and personalized response to absence and discipline problems, attention to remediation of basic skills and study habits, and efforts to show these students that some adults in their lives do care about them.
The program also makes a strong attempt to improve the linkage between school and home.
Students who stumble into junior high school are often carrying heavy luggage from years of failure. We are trying to lighten the load for the transition into high school.
Maurice Berg, Carolyn Colaluca, Robert Feinberg, Lee Jacobs, Frank Mattiucci, Rebecca Ruscito
Coventry Junior High School Coventry, R.I.
Vol. 08, Issue 13