Letters To The Editor

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To the Editor:

I want to provide your readership with information needed to understand the crisis affecting the Los Angeles Unified School District ("Anton, Union Official Go To War Over Los Angeles Budget,'' Sept. 16, 1992).

The article discussed tensions between the district superintendent, William R. Anton, and the union, United Teachers of Los Angeles. It did not mention the district's six other employee organizations. The U.T.L.A. represents only 35,000 of these employees, while the six other organizations represent 40,000 full- and part- el5ltime workers. Most of the other unions are united in their willingness to work toward a solution that doesn't compromise the education program.

The article also does not cite the findings of two independent investigations of this crisis. Both said that cuts in employee compensation were necessary, since that spending makes up more than 86 percent of the district's total budget. Both also cited an overly generous series of salary increases for employees averaging 8 percent per year for the five years between 1986 and 1991. Those increases were double the cost-of-living increase the district got from state and local revenues. In order to pay the burdensome wages, the district has gone into debt. Now it is faced with the necessity of reducing expenditures to meet current income while at the same time repaying this debt.

Finally, this is not a war between the teachers' union and the superintendent. This "war'' was declared by the teachers' union against the Governor, the city, and all other unions representing district employees. While all this is happening, Los Angeles is suffering. This county has double-digit unemployment and has taken massive budget cuts in all public services.

The United Teachers of Los Angeles has waged a campaign of disinformation that does not solve problems, but rather creates the illusion of a solution where none exists. This only causes confusion and undermines public confidence in our education system.

The "war,'' as you characterized it, typifies a broader problem facing public education. Is the role of a teachers' union--or any employee union--to heighten professional standards and capabilities, or simply to protect the jobs and wages of the existing labor pool at the expense of the mission of public education?

As a follow-up to your coverage of the Los Angeles situation, an analysis of labor's influence on education across the country would add a great deal to this dialogue. In such an analysis, I would hope you might highlight examples of constructive kinds of professional associations that recognize the good of public education, not merely wages, as the highest purpose of the negotiation process.

Eli Brent
Associated Administrators of
Los Angeles
Los Angeles, Calif.

To the Editor:

I read with interest your recent article on choice and the blurring of lines between public and private schools ("New Approaches Blurring the Line Between Public and Private Schools,'' Oct. 7, 1992). I thought it did an excellent job of framing the issues. Unfortunately, given the context in which I was quoted, some readers may conclude that I advocate the abolition of boards of education. Nothing could be further from the case.

I was quoted accurately. I did say, "If boards of education are the problem, then the fact that they contract out to someone else doesn't change the fact that you have a board of education.'' However, I went on to say that the alternative is either to reform and restructure boards or to find some other means of insuring accountability to the community while insuring that schools are responsive to parents and children.

As an article I wrote for the Commentary section of Education Week ("Education Services as a 'Regulated Monopoly,''' April 10, 1991) indicates, I am not opposed to public school choice, nor am I an apologist for the way many boards of education now perform. But community control of education is a value I hold dear. Furthermore, the obligation of the entire community to provide for the education of all children is a sacred duty in a decent society.

What we have here is a systems problem; such problems must be addressed systemically. Vouchers, privatization, and contracting out simply bypass these systemic problems rather than address them head-on.

My hope, however, is that we can find ways to make boards operate like boards, rather than like quasi-legislatures. When boards operate like boards--concerned first with the needs and interests of children and the future of society--the system works. When they engage in interest-group politics, boards become dysfunctional.

I know that you did not intend to misrepresent my views. Indeed, most readers probably interpreted my remarks as I would like for them to be interpreted. Just in case they did not, thanks for helping me set the record straight.

Phillip C. Schlechty
The Center for Leadership in
School Reform
Louisville, Ky.

To the Editor:

The findings of the National Research Council panel reviewing the two major U.S. Education Department studies of bilingual-education programs ("Panel Faults Methods of E.D.'s Bilingual-Education Studies,'' Aug. 5, 1992) range from the insupportable to the bizarre.

One of the basic incompetencies of the N.R.C. review is that its authors based their critique on the final reports of the two studies. Each of these runs over 1,000 pages, but they are a small part of the nearly 10 feet of shelf space the full set of reports from the studies takes up. Neither study can be understood in sufficient detail for a methodological critique from the final reports; despite their length, they lack important details.

I can safely say that I am the only person to have read nearly every report from the two studies. As far as I know, there is only one report I have not read. One of the studies produced two final reports. The Education Department, in violation of the Freedom of Information Act, refuses to release the first of these final reports. Instead, the department gives out a second final report, produced more than a year after the contractor finished the original final report. The Education Department won't let me read the censored final report, but I have read everything else from the studies, and it is clear that the N.R.C. panel does not know what it is talking about.

The N.R.C. panel found that both studies supported the theoretical foundations of native-language instruction. In fact, both studies clearly contradict the theory.

The N.R.C. panel recommended more theoretically based studies, an absolutely bizarre suggestion for a field with no theoretical foundation. Bilingual education is replete with wild speculations trying to pass as theory, and building a research program on them would be an exercise in futility.

"The N.R.C. panel faulted the studies for relying too heavily on elaborate statistical methods to overcome'' design problems, we are told. The N.R.C. is wrong again. The studies used some very esoteric, very powerful statistical procedures made possible only by the strengths of their design. Some of the world's leading statistical experts practically drooled over the data base when consulted on how to analyze the data. Educational-program evaluation has rarely had such high-quality data to work with, and data of the caliber of these studies are not constrained in analysis the way most studies are. In short, the quality of these studies lets the data be analyzed the way data ought to be analyzed but rarely are.

The N.R.C. panel apparently had its collective mind fixed on the analysis of the usual poor-quality data encountered in educational evaluations and didn't understand the analytic ramifications of good data.

The N.R.C. panel rejects the studies and recommends instead that the Education Department embark on a series of true random-assignment experiments. The N.R.C. overestimates the value of true experiments. True experiments do not assure valid results. The only value of true experiments is that they permit a more efficient control of a subset of possible threats to the validity of a study. True experiments do not control all the threats to validity, nor are they the only way to control the subset of threats they do control. Quasi-experimental designs can equal and even surpass the validity of true experiments.

"The review panel concluded that the studies suffered from the absence of clear agreement on the objective of bilingual education.'' Quite the contrary. The studies repeatedly make the point that English literacy is the objective evaluated. Many bilingual educators argue this definition is too restrictive, but that is neither the issue raised by N.R.C. nor is it relevant.

Like the Education Department's official pronouncements on the studies, the N.R.C. panel missed the most important finding of the studies. Both studies show that bilingual education is superior to all-English instruction in the early stages of learning English. The Education Department misinterprets the studies to claim they support the Reagan-Bush Administration's policy on bilingual-education programs. Since there is no reason to think the N.R.C. is committed in advance to the Education Department's policy, the N.R.C.'s failure must result from incompetence.

The panel recommends no further analysis of the data because of design weaknesses. Yes, there are problems with the data. Nevertheless, the panel is wrong. In spite of the problems, these two studies are the best set of data ever collected on the effects of bilingual-education programs. Moreover, they are not likely to be bettered any time soon, if ever. They will never be improved on if the Education Department follows the N.R.C.'s silly advice.

Keith Baker
Silver Spring, Md.

The writer was for five years the project director for one of the U.S. Education Department studies he cites.

To the Editor:

Concerning your article "Teacher Survey Cites Students' Lack of Readiness'' (Sept. 23, 1992): Ernest L. Boyer has written that "when children are socially and emotionally supported by caring adults, their prospects for learning are wonderfully enhanced. If, however, children are denied this supportive home environment during the first years of life, it will be more difficult for them to succeed fully in school.''

To realize their potential as centers for human growth, schools must find innovative and constructive ways to meet the needs of today's changing families. One way of doing this is by offering parenting programs that empower parents to raise emotionally mature children. Increasing parents' sense of self-esteem and competence in their role as primary educators will benefit all children, who ultimately mirror their parents' abilities and sense of self-respect.

Eileen Gorman
All Souls School
South San Francisco, Calif.

Vol. 12, Issue 07

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