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To the Editor:

The issues surrounding the firing of the Delaware teacher, Adele Jones ("Not Making the Grade,'' Sept. 15, 1993), demonstrate the necessity of replacing our time-driven, sorting-focused educational system with a system that is outcomes-based and in which student evaluation has a clearly defined meaning. The problem in the debate described in the article is that both sides are right in their criticism and wrong in their solution.

Giving students inflated grades for poor or mediocre work does not improve students' achievement or raise their self-esteem. As the students interviewed for the article clearly expressed, they know when they did or did not do high-quality work. Giving unearned high grades undermines the grading system in use and contributes to the meaninglessness of high school transcripts. Failing large numbers of students, however, is equally harmful.

The teacher involved in this case had a reputation as "tough'' and demanding. This clearly did not motivate large numbers of students to work harder, do high-quality work, or learn more.

Neither of these options increases students' achievement in math or their responsibility for their own learning. As long as we give students a grade for their work, we send a message that it is acceptable, even if the grade is an F. We have a grade for any level of work. The grade is entered in the record book, and everyone moves on to the next topic or unit. A low or failing grade reinforces the student's belief that either he/she or the material is not that important.

If we truly believe that our students and what we teach are important, we can no longer afford to reward poor performance with D's and F's. If we really want to send students--and anyone else who will ever look at a transcript--a message, then the only possible grades should be A, B, or Incomplete. The work is not done until it is completed at an acceptable standard of performance. This would let students know that they and their learning matter. It would let anyone who reads a transcript know that an A or B meant that the students really did master the significant goals of the course of study. It would also encourage faculties to define what is significant and agree on standards of performance.

We say that we believe all students can learn. Our grading system, however, is based on a belief that there will be winners and losers. We should not be surprised that many students assume they can't learn and that no one really cares.

Debora Banner
Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

To the Editor:

Gerald W. Bracey is at it again, fast and loose with the truth ("George Will's Urban Legend,'' Commentary, Sept. 29, 1993). Under his thin veneer as debunker, Mr. Bracey is simply full of bunk, using the ruse of an attack on the syndicated columnist George Will to attack research that Terry Hartle and I did nearly eight years ago. Flattery will get you nowhere, Mr. Bracey.

He opens with a quote from Mr. Will's Aug. 26, 1993, column that "nationally, about half of all urban public school teachers with school-age children send their children to private school'' and goes on to say that this is the stuff of "urban legend,'' like "crocodiles in the sewers of New York City.'' As it happens, the Wall Street Journal "column four'' article of Sept. 22, 1993, is about "urban legends'' and Mr. Bracey mixed his metaphor, just as he misinterprets my work: According to the Journal, the "urban legend'' is not "crocodiles in the sewers,'' but alligators. He got the rest of the piece wrong as well.

And like the "dog that didn't bark,'' what Mr. Bracey doesn't say is as important as what he does say. A few days after the Aug. 26 column, Mr. Will appeared with the National Education Association's president, Keith Geiger, on "This Week With David Brinkley'' (Aug. 29) and used the 50 percent figure, to which Mr. Geiger responded, "It's about 40 percent.'' To which Mr. Will responded: "O.K., 40 percent send their children to private school. What do they know that we should?'' Perhaps Mr. Geiger knows something that Mr. Bracey doesn't.

Beginning with a classic ad hominem argument, Mr. Bracey notes that "commentators of all political stripes choose statistics to fit their needs'' and goes on to archly observe that I'm a conservative. Address the argument not the messenger, Mr. Bracey. And when you quote, provide the full quote in context. My source for the 46 percent figure is the May 1984 Chicago Reporter ("a monthly information source on racial issues in Metropolitan Chicago''): "a count of the children of Chicago public school teachers who live in the city shows that nearly half--46 percent--attend private school.''

Mr. Bracey avers that the operative quote is from the same Reporter article, to wit: "38 percent of teachers who work for the Chicago Board of Education and live in the city send their children to private schools.'' That's where Mr. Bracey stops quoting. He goes on to speculate that "unless one makes the unlikely assumption that each teacher has only one child, the proportion of teachers with children in private schools will be smaller than the proportion of teachers' children in private schools'' (emphasis in the original). So much for idle speculation: Mr. Bracey's got it exactly backwards. The 38 percent have all their kids in private school. Other teachers have some in private, some in public school.

The next sentence in the Reporter article, in context, reads: "Another 18 percent of these teachers have children in both private and public school.'' The article goes on to note that the reporter interviewed "50 teachers chosen at random from throughout the city. The majority--30--had at least one child in private school. Most expressed little confidence in the public schools.''

Thirty teachers out of 50 is 60 percent; add the 38 percent of teachers who enroll all their children in private school to the 18 percent who enroll one in public, one in private school and the sum is 56 percent of Chicago public school teachers who use private schools. That's close enough to 50 percent to satisfy most analysts. As a "conservative,'' I chose to use the smaller number--46 percent--in the study Mr. Hartle and I did, rather than the larger number.

Mr. Bracey's attempt to create the impression that my study exaggerated the impact of public school teachers' choosing private schools led to wholesale omissions on his part. Here are a few of the items the Reporter article included:

At Carver High School "only three teachers out of 55 who live in Chicago have a child in a public school.'' This quote is from James Daniels, who was also a teachers' union delegate. And while Mr. Daniels had one son, a senior, in public school, he rather wistfully said that if his son were younger, "in all fairness to my child, I don't think I would have a choice but to pull him out of public school.''

Mr. Bracey might have commented on the matter of race. In examining racial categories, the Reporter "found the teacher sample too small to be statistically accurate.'' The Reporter went on to note, however, that "some educators feel black teachers are a particularly discriminating group.''

"Because the black world has had to struggle so hard, schooling for kids is seen as a way to maintain a foothold,'' said Eleanor Nicholson, the principal of the Ancona Montessori School. The Reporter: "So many teachers enroll their children at Ancona that she schedules parent-teacher conferences on public school holidays, Nicholson says.''

Finally, Mr. Bracey refuses to address the central point of our research--what urban teachers do. Again and again he quotes statewide figures, using states with historically low private school enrollments. He neglects to note, for example, that in New Orleans's center city, 52 percent of teachers enroll their children in private schools, that in Albuquerque 30 percent do, that in Charlotte, N.C., 25 percent do, that in Nashville's center city 40 percent do.

Mr. Bracey's final shot across the bow is his grand assertion that this is all explained by family income. Of course families with higher incomes are more likely to use private schools; it takes money to spend money. As we reported in 1986, "in the District of Columbia, 31 percent of teachers with incomes below $50,000 send their children to private schools, compared with 54 percent of those with incomes above that level.''

In Mr. Bracey's second-to-last sentence, he finally sorts out his "urban legend'' and warns us to watch out for "those alligators'' (not crocodiles). Too bad he couldn't have gotten it right earlier.

Denis P. Doyle
Chevy Chase, Md.

To the Editor

In my judgment, the Sept. 22, 1993, article "Pennsylvania Parent Becomes Mother of 'Outcomes' Revolt'' belongs on the comment/editorial pages rather than pretending to be a news article.

I cannot recall ever having read a "news article'' in which so much bias has been allowed to creep into the writing. The article reads like a publicity release for Peg Luksik. There were too many back-handed slaps at the Pennsylvania educators to quote, but perhaps this following example will suffice. These are the actual words in your "news'' article (emphasis mine):

"But not everyone was so sanguine about the new plan. Between the lines of its recipe for a happy, smart, and productive student, critics spotted a state bureaucracy overreaching its mission, out of touch with real people, and embarrassingly lost on some wild journey into pie-in-the-sky school reform and lockstep political correctness.''

There is no way a person bold enough to work those thoughts into a "news'' article could objectively report on this very important educational question. It is beyond understanding how Education Week's editors allowed this to happen.

The topic of the article is an important issue in education today. There certainly is room for parents and other education customers to become involved in the final decisionmaking of what changes should occur in U.S. education as we prepare students for the 21st century. The article did a good job of presenting the thoughts of Ms. Luksik, et al., but let's put it where it belongs--on the Commentary pages.

John R. Baker
Janesville, Iowa

Vol. 13, Issue 06

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