Letters To the Editor:

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To the Editor:

The new mission of the U.S. Education Department's office of educational research and improvement closely aligns itself with Ann Cook's challenge to break down the barriers that divide teachers and researchers ("Whose Story Gets Told?,'' Commentary, Jan. 19, 1994). For too long educational researchers have invaded classrooms with their theories (and mythologies) while often ignoring the wealth of experience and knowledge school communities bring to our understanding of the dynamics of learning and teaching.

Teachers obviously have a lot to say and could be invaluable partners in our efforts to build a new paradigm of research. If we are to understand accurately what works and what is meaningful to teachers and students, the research community needs to form close ties with school communities. And we need school people to guide us along the path of understanding what it takes to help all children learn.

If we are to build confidence in research-based innovation, researchers and school communities need to acknowledge the complex nature of schooling and identify valid methodologies for analyzing a wide range of problems. Legislation currently before Congress will focus the O.E.R.I.'s leadership efforts and research in five priority areas: the education of at-risk students, school governance and management, postsecondary education, lifelong learning, and student achievement.

The bills also call for an office of reform assistance to be established to make better connections between what we are learning from our investment in research and development and serving practitioners who are engaged in the work of school improvement.

Our new legislation promises to create a significant opportunity to demonstrate that close working collaborations between researchers and teachers will not only provide better research but also will enhance the efforts for improving student achievement.

Sharon P. Robinson
Assistant Secretary
Office of Educational Research
and Improvement
U.S. Education Department
Washington, D.C.

To the Editor:

Maybe all of us need a reality check.

I read recently that Gov. Mario M. Cuomo of New York was going to recommend the enactment of laws requiring every school in the state to call the homes of children absent from school on a given day. Obviously, this is a direct response to the recent tragedies in New York State and across the nation as a result of kidnapping and child abduction. In a related move, a New York legislator is sponsoring a bill that would mandate the teaching of child-abduction-prevention techniques in schools.

I applaud the proposals. Daily checks on absenteeism would not only help protect youngsters from the psychopaths who make them their victims, but would also be productive in home-school cooperation for student success. (We have been doing it in my district for years.)

In addition, the abduction-prevention recommendation was put into place in our district more than a year ago when high school students took the initiative and taught and developed a special program on child-abuse-prevention techniques through the local chapter of Students Against Driving Drunk and the county child-protective agency.

These and other statewide mandates are positive and beneficial, but legislators need to check in with reality when it comes to the all-important area of funding.

For example, in New York City the number of students absent from school on a given day is larger than the number of students enrolled in the entire Buffalo, N.Y., district. How many people will be needed to make the proposed mandated phone calls in New York City alone (not to mention the remainder of the state), and who will pay them to do it?

Simply stated, we are asking our schools to do more with less, again. When I hear people saying that the schools should go back to the good old days and teach reading, writing, and arithmetic, I often chuckle to myself. It seems sometimes that if we only taught those things and had no other responsibilities, we could send the children home by noon.

Reality is that these are not the good old days. Schools, in addition to teaching the traditional 3 R's, are now asked to deal with serving breakfast and lunch to students, meeting intricate transportation requirements, providing AIDS-awareness instruction, drug-abuse-prevention instruction, sex education, driver education, meeting the counseling needs of students, parents, and families, having day-care programs, dealing with violence in classrooms, and many, many other other responsibilities.

I am very proud that my school system and many others have been able to respond to these challenges from the larger society. But the fact of the matter is that we can no longer do it with smoke and mirrors. We cannot continue to pit local school districts against their citizenry each spring in heated battles over the passage of district budgets, while calling for cooperation between schools and communities.

Reality check: We need to find ways to fund our schools to enable them to do the ever-expanding job we ask them to do with our children each day. They are up to the challenge, but it cannot be done through mandates alone anymore.

John G. Metallo
Superintendent of Schools
Fort Plain, N.Y.

Vol. 13, Issue 23

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