Letters to the Editor
To the Editor:
I very much enjoyed the description that Jack Kaufhold gave about school-board members he has known ("A Superintendent on Why He Quit,'' Commentary, March 18, 1992). Ironically, I have a similar list, only they are superintendents that I have known.
- The Mushroom Farmer. He or she simply believes that school-board members should be treated like mushrooms, meaning being kept in the dark and fed nothing but manure.
- The Garbage Truck Operator. In order to make sure that the school board never gets in his or her way, this person makes certain that the board members are buried in lengthy reports, filled with education jargon which cannot be read in time for the next board meeting, never mind understood.
- The Silver-Tongued Orator. This superintendent is a model of double-speak, loves to give speeches at the drop of a pin, has great delusions of adequacy, but can't manage anything and wonders why he or she is in trouble. But have newspaper reporters or a television camera anywhere within five miles and this superintendent can tell anyone what is wrong with American education and that he or she, single-handedly, can solve all of the problems in the district if the board would only permit it.
- The Savings & Loan Robber Baron. Having been selected to be superintendent, this person immediately finds the best attorney available to make sure that his or her contract is for the maximum amount of money and years possible, contains the least amount of requirements for his or her accountability, and contains a massive package of fringe benefits that include such things as money to join all types of clubs and associations, adequate time off to make speeches (the expenses of which are paid by the school district), and permission to engage in consulting services within the United States and foreign countries. The effect is that he or she rarely has time to do the job required for the education of the children in the district.
In my nearly 30 years of board service, it has been my privilege to serve with three different superintendents, and three different New York BOCES District Superintendents, all entirely different individuals, but none of whom exhibited the total unsuitability for the job that Mr. Kaufhold's letter reflects.
In reality, most superintendents are hard-working professionals, part of a management team dedicated to improving education. To be sure, there is frustration because of the complexities of the job and the myriad of outside pressures. However, one needs to be careful in asking for a change, because it might happen in an unexpected way. Would we all be happy when education became a division of city or county government and the superintendent had an office between the public-works director and the chief of police?
Peter A. Huyler
New York State School
To the Editor:
It strikes me that federal and state Chapter 1 policymakers are so caught up in seeing who can "out accountability'' the others that they haven't noticed how increasingly desperate the circumstances of inner-city children have become ("Improvement Plan For Chapter 1 Seen Needing Overhaul,'' March 25, 1992).
The fact that urban school districts like my own have managed to sustain and even slightly improve student achievement in Chapter 1 schools in the face of well-documented decreases in employment, health, and family circumstances is a remarkable accomplishment. Until the Chapter 1 evaluation design includes covariates for poverty factors, the impact of the program will continue to be obfuscated behind Normal Curve Equivalent's and their middle-class cousins.
James H. Lytle
School District of Philadelphia
To the Editor:
Richard Sagor ("The False Premises of 'Strategic Planning,' '' Commentary, April 1, 1992) may wish to discredit the strategic-planning process as a tool for educators to use in continuous improvement, but I see merit in using it.
While my research on strategic planning failed to show major statistical differences in social forces and production function areas between eight Ohio school systems that conducted strategic planning and eight comparable districts that did not, it did point out that the pass rates on state proficiency tests among the two types of districts significantly favored the strategic-planning districts. In addition, pass rates on composition and citizenship tests were significantly higher in strategic-planning districts.
It may be that districts that elect to conduct strategic planning have a greater commitment to organizational problem-solving and organizational learning, which might translate into better performance. Such an idea is consistent with research that suggests that collecting organizational information, such as districts do when they use the strategic-planning process, can facilitate organizational learning.
Quality-improvement experts such as W. Edwards Deming believe that 85 percent of the barriers to quality reside in the system, not the worker. But systems cannot learn by themselves! It is the people within institutions who bring about learning. Strategic planning is a process whereby systems can learn. It can spark an enthusiasm for learning within educators that in turn creates an atmosphere for organizational learning.
Because it can bring about this kind of individual and organizational learning, I would hesitate to reject the strategic-planning process because it seeks, in Mr. Sagor's words, to bring "harmony'' rather than "survival.'' There are criticisms that can be made about the process, but that it is a fad or doesn't focus on student achievement is not an accurate condemnation.
Strategic planning's use began in the military, evolved into international policy and geopolitics, moved into the not-for-profit sector, and finally entered education via higher education in the early 1970's. It is not a current fad.
Neither is it a tool to falsely comfort the public. If the process doesn't focus on student achievement, the internal-scanning procedure is not being used properly.
Janice L. Chappell
Director of Staff Development
Greene County Schools
Yellow Springs, Ohio
To the Editor:
In their article "Private Versus Public, Research Versus Rhetoric'' (Commentary, April 15, 1992), John Chubb and Terry Moe reveal that they are not professional educators. The Commentary brings to mind their book--Politics, Markets, and America's Schools--which this former teacher read in a decade of inquiry into our educational dilemma.
The book is an elaboration of this statement from the Commentary: "We believe that private schools have valuable lessons to teach public schools.'' Having taught in both public and private schools, I take issue with that opinion and propose that the authors have much to learn about schools in particular and education in general.
Baton Rouge, La.
To the Editor:
Though many letters and articles tempt me to write, I seldom have time for replies. The diatribe by Burel Block on entrepreneurial spirit ("Our 'Entrepreneurial Spirit' Will Not Save the Schools,'' Letters, March 11, 1992) is an exception.
First, the Japanese do not operate by a "Spirit of Cooperation.'' It is called "do or die.'' I grew up in a Japanese community and have been there three times in the 80's. I know they are "survivors,'' and believe in using techniques that are successful: hard work, discipline, and no B.S. They believe kids can learn to feel good from achievement and parental guidance--they learn academics and competition at school. The Japanese cooperate in order to compete. They compete to win.
Second, America wasn't built on "feel good'' cooperation programs. People have shared goals and then created cooperative arrangements because it meant survival. We may have become soft and complacent in our comfort, but our entrepreneurial ability is what will keep us alive. While we may have lost our work ethic (anyone who gives his employer or business only 40 hours per week is barely adding to productivity), we still can create products and markets better than anyone in the world. Why? Because we're not spending all our time trying to "cooperate'' for the collective good of everyone else.
Sounds selfish? Perhaps, but it is what separates our economic system from that of the former Soviet Union, Cuba, Ethiopia, and other communist/socialist parent states. The problems Mr. Block outlined have been created by a "cooperative'' welfare state that attempts to replace parents with institutions, create level playing fields for all people (thereby killing incentive for hard work and entrepreneurship), and control free choice in business and personal environments.
We have massive alcohol/drug abuse and behavioral problems because the government has removed all semblance of morality and ethics from the classroom and replaced a foundation that had worked for thousands of years with self-indulgence, self-governance, and self-centered morality.
Contrary to popular belief, this country's greatness was not built by thousands, or even millions, of workers lining up and "cooperating'' on assembly lines and/or farms. It was built by entrepreneurs and pioneers who wanted to find better solutions to people's needs, better places, and better lives--whether or not anyone helped them.
Since few professional educators have any real-world experience to relate to students, public education may not survive the century without entrepreneurs.
Kenneth W. Koester
Nevada State Board of Education
Las Vegas, Nev.