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To the Editor:

I am writing to correct an erroneous reference to a "sample 'portfolio assessment' prompt from Maryland'' in an essay by Pat Hinchey ("Lost in Translation,'' Commentary, Oct. 2, 1993). Professor Hinchey makes an important point about insuring that intended reform efforts are not distorted into harmful interventions during the translation and implementation process.

In her essay, Ms. Hinchey describes in some detail a prototype performance-assessment task for integrated reading-writing assessment, developed in Maryland in 1990 to illustrate our early thinking about performance-assessment tasks for the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program. However, she poses the task as a bad example of a portfolio-assessment prompt. This prototype task certainly does not exemplify characteristics of what might be regarded as good portfolio-assessment guidelines. But it was never intended to be used as guidelines for developing and selecting entries for an assessment portfolio.

Professor Hinchey may have received the example from a public speaker who incorrectly referred to this task as a portfolio prompt, but the fact that the speaker made an error does not excuse Ms. Hinchey for continuing and disseminating the error.

The same prototype that the public speaker incorrectly referred to as a portfolio prompt was correctly identified in the May 1992 edition of Educational Leadership, and in a 1992 book by Ruth Mitchell, Testing for Learning: How New Approaches to Evaluation Can Improve American Schools, as a performance-assessment task.

Steven Ferrara
Director of Student Assessment
Maryland Department of Education
Baltimore, Md.

To the Editor:

Albert Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, has called for a moratorium on "inclusion'' initiatives by states and districts to place students with special needs in regular classrooms ("A.F.T. Urges Halt to 'Full Inclusion' Movement,'' Jan. 12, 1994). His rationale is that placing all special-needs students in regular classes is too often inappropriate and threatens the academic achievement of all students.

Mr. Shanker focuses on an extremely small group of students that display severely disruptive behaviors or require extreme medical interventions. Most would agree that such students require intensive psychological or medical therapy outside the regular classroom. Yet, Mr. Shanker calls for a general moratorium on inclusion for all students with disabilities, the majority of whom have mild disabilities and are not disruptive in regular classrooms.

The A.F.T. recommends that teachers have the right to determine which special students will be placed in their classes, promoting the tradition of discriminatory placement of students in special education, particularly those from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Ironically, the opponents of inclusion who once cried that it was prohibitively expensive now have the audacity to argue that it is implemented merely as a "cost-cutting measure.''

The rationale for inclusive classrooms was established on the basis of civil rights, moral imperative, and a widely held belief that all children deserve equal access to the core curriculum and have the right to learn with their peers. Research shows few, if any, positive effects for students at any level of ability who are placed in segregated classes. I am unaware of substantive evidence that indicates that placing special students in regular classrooms will jeopardize the achievement of typical students. Studies indicate that when conducted appropriately, inclusion benefits all students.

"Special education'' was conceived to address the individual needs of atypical students. We now recognize that all students differ from one another and benefit from individualized attention. Inclusion forces schools away from tracking children and toward recognizing individual needs, including those of nondisabled students who might be unmotivated, gifted, poorly socialized, or simply unable to sit for long periods at a desk. Effective techniques exist to address these needs, such as cooperative learning, computer-assisted learning, tutorials, curriculum and instructional adaptations, collaborative teaching, mentoring, and use of paraprofessionals and volunteers.

Change is a disruption of the status quo and encourages a search for solutions and innovations. Unfortunately, Mr. Shanker and the A.F.T. seem to be carrying a torch to lead the masses against inclusion, rallying around the bonfires of resistance to reform. Such scare tactics draw needed resources and energy away from successful implementation of federal law.

Children with disabilities should not be the scapegoat upon whom we place blame for the serious problems in American schools, such as lackluster performance or violence. The A.F.T. should focus on the individual needs of all students and support teachers and administrators in this endeavor rather than elevating the complaints of the "not in my job description'' crowd.

Inappropriate inclusion, or "dumping,'' of students into classes where teachers are hostile or unprepared should not occur. But using poor implementation as a rationale for stopping inclusion is unacceptable. As an expert witness and court monitor in inclusion cases, I have observed intentional sabotage by unwilling administrators and teachers. Educators' refusal to implement inclusion in good faith is a common cause of failure. Conversely, I have seen very difficult cases resolved with dedicated teachers using the proper approach.

Some of the finest schools and teachers in the nation educate students with disabilities in regular classrooms. These schools seek training for their teachers and make use of innovative techniques to meet the needs of all children. They don't exhibit the "unbearable conditions'' Mr. Shanker depicts; they are compelling models for the nation.

The policy of exclusion championed by Mr. Shanker hails a return to the unjust policies of the past. If it is legitimate to discriminate against people with disabilities, why not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, culture, or socioeconomic status?

JoAnne Putnam
Associate Professor and Chairman
Department of Special Education
University of Alaska
Anchorage, Alaska

To the Editor:

I am appalled by the terms of the new settlement in the Cincinnati school-desegregation case ("Cincinnati Agreement Will Rate Teachers on Discipline,'' Nov. 10, 1993, and "The Discipline Dilemma,'' On Assignment, Jan. 19, 1994.) When I first read about it, I was sure what I was reading was a misprint. In the rush to be "politically correct,'' do we now intend to discipline the teachers for the misbehavior of their students? This reminds me of the trial in Alice in Wonderland.

Could it be that the reason for a disproportionate representation of black students among those the schools suspend or expel is not the fault of the teachers, but a result of disproportionate bad behavior by these black students? Have any of the people involved in this travesty considered (no, obviously) that the reason a higher proportion of black students are disciplined is because a higher proportion of those students need it?

The parties to this farce need to be reminded (for obviously, they have forgotten) that one of the prime reasons for the existence of schools is to socialize the students into behavior that is acceptable to the society. That this is not, in some cases, happening is obvious to all. The solution is not to blame the teachers for misbehavior of the students, but to look to the students who misbehave and correct their errors.

William L. Taylor, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, had it right, but was referring to the wrong group, when he was quoted as saying "[i]f you have a positive impact, you will be rewarded. If you have a negative impact, maybe you should be taking on something else outside the school system.''

Even Jesse L. Jackson realizes, and has said, that African-Americans need to get their act together and stop hurting their own cause. There are some students--black, white, or whatever--who will not be socialized. It is these students, not the teachers who identify them, who must be removed from the school so they will not have a bad influence on the students who are there to learn.

Walter M. Clark
Moreno Valley, Calif.

To the Editor:

Thank you for the essay by Douglas Carnine on the need for research-validated educational innovations ("Facts Over Fads,'' Commentary, Dec. 8, 1993). Very early in my career I made the decision that if I was to keep my sanity I had to ignore most of the "do this; do that; do something else'' advice with which classroom teachers are bombarded.

In my judgment, the continual demand that one must change--regardless of what is currently being done--is self-defeating. It is the educational equivalent of the propagandistic "new and improved,'' market-driven advertising mentality commonly associated with breakfast cereals or detergents.

In the same issue, your long article on the work of the social psychologist Jeffrey Howard ("Howard's Third Movement,'' On Assignment, Dec. 8, 1993) contained no address through which the reader could get in touch with Mr. Howard's Efficacy Institute. Unless there is some objection, I would like to be able to contact his organization.

Brant Abrahamson
Brookfield, Ill.

Editor's Note: For the many readers who have asked, information on The Efficacy Institute is available from the institute at 128 Spring St., Lexington, Mass. 02173; (617) 862-4390.

To the Editor:

Admittedly, although I have taught in public schools in the past, and maintain my commitment to public education, I like my position as a principal of a parochial school. Admittedly, maybe, just maybe, we get the cream of the crop in students, but demographics for years have proved that there are successful parochial schools in unlikely places. When is someone in the public education field going to ask a sociological WHY?

Are the kids smarter? No. Are their parents wealthier, higher socioeconomically? No. Is it their ethnic background that predisposes academic success? No. Teachers better qualified? Better paid? A resounding NO to that. Is it religion that makes them study harder? No, certainly not. Do their parent groups care more? Maybe, since they go to great effort to keep kids in parochial schools. Some other fringe factor?

The key is the strong sense of community.

Parochial schools are smaller, and don't follow the theory that larger is more efficient when it comes to education. Children do not do well in factory-style systems at any age, just as adults don't do well when dehumanized. The fundamental difference in parochial schools is that they are K-8 schools (sometime with preschool, too) that keep families in the same place for a very, very long time. The people in them feel personal ties. The parents know all the teachers, and the administrators, and those professionals know the whole family.

Parents know other parents for years, too. When kids hit the junior high level (and start avoiding parental involvement), parents still know what is going on and whom to see when there is trouble. Junior high kids can see their new self relative to younger children, and they know they are beginning to arrive, and they know someone will find out when they misbehave. They have opportunities to play big-kid just about every day, relative to somebody, in constructive ways. Former teachers see them, and notice their personal growth. This is real family and community.

Public schools used to be community/neighborhood-based, all grades. They were the center of neighborhood life. Everyone knew everyone. Even now, notice the uproar every time a district redistributes kids to schools, or implements some busing plan that's supposed to improve education for someone. Add in the fact that families move several times during a child's elementary years, and then add in school transitions required by districts. Add in multi-track plans, which may look like money-savers on paper, but if they end up alienating kids and parents save nothing. That approach doesn't build community or support for schools; it is psychologically destructive.

Public schools are tearing down their own houses. Kids haven't changed. They need a nurturing, stable community that knows them as individuals for a long time. And they are not getting it. Their parents need it, too, and they aren't getting it. Schools are headed in the direction of providing all sorts of social services, a trend that also leads us back to neighborhood-centered education, the natural direction, which would support families and children and educators, too.

The dehumanizing that can happen with increasing reliance on new technology can be countered. The problems of unequal opportunities for education require a direct response, not the busing of children or the greater fragmentation of education. And someday we may be able to address the problems of responsibility for learning along with the right to the opportunity to learn. Alienated children and parents aren't very willing learners.

I have been on this soapbox before. My public school friends accuse me of waving flags, and talking apple-pie-and-Mom rhetoric suited to some "good old days'' that never were. One friend recently came nearer to the truth, however, when he told me, quite frankly, "Yes, but we just convinced them to build a junior high.''

A wrong turn at the beginning of a trip can be corrected in a variety of ways. Denying that a wrong turn was made keeps us traveling away from the goal.

I work in private education, but I truly want to see every public school succeed. Every child needs to be attended to with care. I want to see every school provide the favorable conditions for learning that exist at my school, that is, long-term family involvement, on-site management, personal interest and understanding.

The job of raising children is a tough one, but not the job of the school. Schools should assist parents, not take their place. Something about the ways schools are structured isn't "helping'' enough.

There is no simple formula for producing solid citizens from the next generation. But neighborhood schools should be the starting place.

Mary Rivera
Archdiocese of Portland, Ore.
West Linn, Ore.

Vol. 13, Issue 18

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