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To The Editor:

Your generally informative article about education reform in Arizona ("Voucher Proponents Seek Special Legislative Session in Arizona,'' Feb. 23, 1994) slightly mischaracterized the Edison Project's role in the current reform drama in that state.

Your reporter stated that we have been seeking "to drum up support for Sen. [Bev] Hermon's measure.''

In fact, we've been trying to help generate support for some important education-reform ideas contained in both Senator Hermon's bill and the "omnibus'' bill sponsored by Rep. Lisa Graham. We have testified in favor of both measures, emphasizing--in both cases--their comprehensive and far-reaching charter-school provisions and also--in the case of Senator Hermon's bill--an imaginative program called "21st Century Schools.''

Each bill has many other desirable features, too, as well as some that are regarded as "controversial.'' The Edison Project's sole mission in the Arizona school-reform goings-on is to help legislators (and others) understand the kinds of exciting educational innovations--including but not limited to "Edison schools''--that would become possible for interested Arizona communities to undertake if and when either of these two bold and comprehensive measures becomes law. In the best of all possible worlds, perhaps key features of both measures would be amalgamated. Meanwhile, however, it's inaccurate to suggest that we are supporting only one of them.

Chester E. Finn Jr.
Founding Partner and Senior Scholar
The Edison Project
Washington, D.C.

To the Editor:

Your March 9, 1994, obituary for Ralph W. Tyler tremendously understated the contributions he made to curriculum, particularly through his role in the Eight Year Study.

Mr. Tyler co-authored, with Eugene Smith Appraising and Recording Student Progress, as one of several volumes detailing the Eight Year Study. Though written in 1941, the book has proven invaluable to me as I have worked with schools attempting to plan and implement alternative-assessment, portfolio-based instructional systems, for Mr. Tyler documented--right down to giving models of "alternative style'' report cards promoting narrative, criterion-based reports to parents and students--the means by which schools could evaluate both students and curricula without resorting to traditional, Carnegie-based grading systems.

Schools grappling with defining "essential learnings'' could do no better than adopt the Eight Year Study's compendium, on which Mr. Tyler collaborated. Though some of the terminology is dated--he used "habits,'' rather than "skills,'' for example--thousands of hours of professionals' time could be saved if they read Mr. Tyler's work and profited from it, rather than reinventing the wheel, as educators are too often prone to do.

Stephen E. Phillips
Alternative High Schools and Programs
New York, N.Y.

To the Editor:

John Merrow's essay, "'Don't Offend': Our High-level Policy of Cowardice'' (Commentary, Feb. 16, 1994), is well-meant but a waste of a teacher's time. I'm glad to know he doesn't blame us for not standing up to various self-righteous fanatics, but we don't blame ourselves either. How much better if Mr. Merrow had offered some solutions. All his Commentary shows is that, in a democracy, it's not the best ideas that prevail, just the best organized.

Richard Handelsman
Lithia Springs, Ga.

To the Editor:

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the landmark desegregation decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, Brown v. Board of Education. It is a fitting occasion to examine both the results of those four decades of effort and the continuing vitality of the rationale underlying that decision. To that end, the National School Boards Association Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) published a study and report by the Harvard University professor Gary Orfield ("Desegregation Study Spurs Debate Over Equity Remedies,'' Jan. 12, 1994).

The Orfield report documents the regrettable but irrefutable fact that our nation's public schools are resegregating racially, despite (and, perhaps, in part because of) Brown. The Court held in Brown that racially identifiable schools within a school district are, and inevitably will be, inherently unequal. The ruling resulted in massive busing, affirmative action, magnet programs, and multifarious litigation. Yet, today, most of our urban public schools have predominantly minority enrollments, and fully 66 percent of all black students attend racially identifiable schools. In the West, the same is true of Hispanic youngsters. The white kids in our metropolitan centers can be found in segregated suburban districts.

Based on the dictates of Brown, our society has segregated between adjacent school districts, and that racial separation has preserved the same inherent inequality that existed before, as documented by Jonathan Kozol in Savage Inequalities.

The Orfield report has generated intense reaction from around the world, from reports airing on the BBC to nationally syndicated columns by the conservative Edwin Yoder and the liberal Carl Rowan. The reaction by Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools ("Urban Segregation: Who's To Blame?,'' Commentary, March 2, 1994), however, was disappointing. He characterized minority residents in the urban school districts as the victims of resegregation and wrongly claimed that the report blamed them for the resegregation phenomenon.

Certainly the report did suggest several explanations for the resegregation that has occurred, including relative birthrates among the races, as well as housing patterns (e.g., white or economic flight among public schools) and immigration. The purpose of identifying causes was not to place blame, as Casserly suggested. The purpose was to give a complete picture of the phenomenon, which should help in figuring out what to do about it. If you want to change effects, you must accurately identify causes and address those. Of the identified causes, we have some chance of impacting housing patterns if we go about it intentionally.

Mr. Casserly's call for more funding for segregated urban schools in order to equalize opportunities among white and minority youngsters is O.K. as far as it goes. But, it stands as an implicit rejection of the Court finding that racially separate schools are inherently unequal. The Supreme Court has a better grasp of the political reality of school funding, both in 1954 and now, than does Mr. Casserly. More important, he misses a significant point: Minority youngsters in our urban school districts are not the only victims of racial resegregation. Majority youngsters in the segregated suburbs are victims of the phenomenon as well.

Quality education, to which all children in this country are equally entitled, means good preparation for functioning productively in the real adult world. Given the real world as we know it, quality education requires an effective multicultural experience. Our kids will have to get that in our schools or in the school of hard knocks. You can't get it from a book in suburban or urban schools that are racially isolated. Yet, it remains equally indispensable to the quality education needed by minority and white students alike.

Assuming for a moment that we could actually achieve the equality in funding that Mr. Casserly calls for, we are shortsighted if we satisfy ourselves with seeking enough funding so that we achieve equal public schools that remain racially separate. We should not be content, regardless of our race, to settle for a separate but equal opportunity for something less than quality education. And, the racial separation itself stands as a political hurdle to achieving that theoretical equal funding.

The Supreme Court finding in Brown--that racially separate schools are inherently unequal--remains true, even when it is achieved between independent, but adjacent, school districts. Racially separate schools are also inherently incapable of providing a quality education for the real world in which we live. We should be intentional about reversing the trend which was documented by the CUBE-Orfield report, not only for reasons of equality, but also for the sake of real quality education for both white and minority youngsters. The report suggests just some of the means to that end and informs the continuing debate on Capitol Hill and across the nation over educational achievement in our public schools.

Jonathan Wilson
Immediate Past Chairman
National School Boards Association
Council of Urban Boards of Education
Alexandria, Va.

Vol. 13, Issue 27

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