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English-Standards Project Shows Need for Cheney Panel

To the Editor:

The news that Lynne V. Cheney will create "an independent panel to critique proposed voluntary national education standards" is, indeed, good news (related story ). Another article in the same issue, "E.D. Scraps Funds for New English Standards Project," makes the need for this panel clear.

The latter article informs us that, after losing their federal funding, the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English are effectively back in sole charge of setting standards for their field, as a result of thousands of letters that urged the U.S. Education Department not to finance a new project. The article also notes the $500,000 investment by each of the two organizations for completing the project, and the fact that the department had earlier given nearly $1 million to the I.R.A., the N.C.T.M., and the reading center at the University of Illinois to undertake the standards project.

These organizations have been responsible for the deterioration of the teaching of reading. Standards in the teaching of language arts and literature have fallen because our best teachers have not been in charge. And now the foxes are back in charge of the hen house.

Ann Mactier
Board of Education
Omaha Public Schools
Omaha, Neb.

Look at Trenton Families Draws Different Responses

To the Editor:

I am a senior attendi~ng Trenton Central High School and I feel as though the way my city and district are represented in the article "Voices From the City" (related story) shows the most negative possible side of Trenton, N.J.

Out of the four families interviewed, only the Woods family had a positive attitude about Trenton. Some of the comments made in the article were unrelated facts taken out of context and exaggerated. For instance, the article stated that Trenton is a very depressed city that is welfare dependent, "marred by violence and poverty," and that more than one half of the students drop out. I for one am insulted by this article. There are many people on welfare in this country, most living in cities where transportation and services are easier to get. Many people who are on welfare can't get off because as soon as they make a little money, they lose their help and their medical care. Let me tell you that Trenton is nowhere near the "depressed city" the article says it is. It is, in fact, improving every year.

I know the numbers say that the school system has a bad dropout rate, but you did not show how many students leave Trenton High and go to one of the private schools or move out of town. Many that do drop out end up going back to school the next year, or go to night school or get their G.E.D.

I will also tell you about our superintendent, Bernice P. Venable. She does not just stay in her office waiting for people to come to her. She comes to Trenton High, finds out what we think, and does the best she can to get us the books and computers that we need.

I think Education Week should come back to Trenton, spend some more time in the city and the schools, and talk to the kids. I have lived here for seven years and I don't see the depressing, hopeless place that was described.

Kisha Sherrill Hughes
Trenton, N.J.

To the Editor:

I recently read "Voices From the City." I normally read Education Week to keep up to date on events in elementary education throughout the country. It was s~tartling to see an article about my old high school, especially when I had just spent some time in the area.

You struck a nerve, whether you intended to or not. When I attended Trenton Central High School, it was a whole different picture. Now it seems there needs to be a house-cleanin~g.

I hope your article opens some eyes as to what is really going on at Trenton High. It startled me.

Charles K. Dyer
Lincoln Elementary School
Lamar, Colo

Our Reading Recovery Results: 'Conclusive'

To the Editor:

Let's explore the word "inconclusive" as it applies to the effectiveness of Reading Recovery (related story ). In fact, to witness firsthand the "conclusive" results of Reading Recovery into grade 4 and beyond, I wish to invite Elfrieda Hiebert to our school system in Massachusetts where 1st graders in Reading Recovery who have successfully completed the program and who have been discontinued are followed annually (to 2nd, 3rd, 4th grade, etc.).

Even though a "drop-off" in reading level can occur in Reading Recovery as the child passes from grade to grade (due to the number of variables over time that may negatively affect a child's reading achievement), our drop-off rate into grade 4 is zero. Not only are all students still reading at the same discontinued level, but some have registered improvement: In 2nd grade, 61 percent of Reading Recovery students read in the top two-thirds of the class, but this increased to 71 percent in 3rd grade last year (now in 4th grade). In the Medford, Mass., schools we work ~daily to maintain the integrity and purity of Reading Recovery--no easy task--but in my 30 years in education, no support program has shown these results. Our success rate is an astounding 92 percent.

We agree that Reading Recovery is initially expensive, but what is more costly than the failure of a young child? What is more costly to the school district than continued failure over the 12-year span of education?

Yet, compared with other early-intervention strategies, Reading Recovery takes an average of only 40 hours over half a year, compared with, for example, the average Title I intervention of 360 hours over three to five years, or special-education intervention of 1,620 hours over five to seven years. Even retention "costs" 900 hours over one additional year.

But with Reading Recovery, even our retention rate has plummeted, and the referral rate to special education in the primary grades has dropped from approximately 18 percent to 3 percent. Ms. Hiebert must attach a price tag to these factors in order to truly understand the huge paybacksavings--achieved by investing in Reading Recovery.

For those of us who witness daily the power of Reading Recovery, it is both an emotional and an intellectual experience: the dramatic change of a withdrawn 1st-grade nonreader to (only three to four months later) a confident reader who asks to perform for his class. With improvement in reading ability comes improvement in self-image--an impact that lasts a lifetime.

David J. Moriarty
Director of Language Arts, K-12
Medford Public Schools
Medford, Mass.

'Sociopolitical Angst' and Gender-Neutral Software

To the Editor:

After reading the piece on the Education Development Center's recently acquired "Imagine" software, it's tempting to ask which came first, the newfound infatuation with constructivism or the politically correct concern about "access" and "equity for girls" (related story ). The jargon of both polemics is similar, what with their references to open-endedness, problem-solving as a gender attribute, and a biologically ordained and culturally reinforced female monopoly on collaboration and contextual learning as "approved" mechanisms for "acquiring meaning" and learning.

Instructional tools that possess such traits, be they print, software, or something in between, don't need an ideologically charged boost of such highly suspicious origins. To justify instructional design and its philosophical foundations with references to ephemera that will be jettisoned with the next wave of guilt-ridden, sociopolitical angst is to tread dangerously close to the boundary between enlightenment and indoctrination.

Alan Hull
Marietta, Ga.

Focus on Academic Mission, Not Therapeutic One

To the Editor:

Respecting Professor William E. Davis's response to the Committee for Economic Development's report, I would add that however much we might wish to remediate the unpleasant out-of-school circumstances impacting upon children, the schools and their teachers make poor platforms for this intervention (related story ).

Schools are not child-guidance clinics or psychiatric facilities; their very architecture militates against such use. Teachers are not educated to provide family counseling or to dispense psychotherapy. Michigan's teachers are, in fact, proscribed from engaging in either in the absence of a postbaccalaureate credential or license. This is as it should be. Our society is saturated with armchair therapists, with all of the attendant cultural and psychological harm. We ought not to be developing yet another army of well-meaning but unprepared "practitioners" to descend upon the classroom.

Aside from the jurisprudential reality of most state school codes, Mr. Davis also ignores the reality for which schools have been erected and teachers callededucation. The ultimate well-being of every child, as well as our civilization, is ineluctably tied to its continuance; each of us is permanently at risk without it.

One might argue, as I suspect Mr. Davis would, that the number of special-education and community-agency personnel are too few to meet existing demands. Perhaps, but the case for having schools and classroom teachers set aside the academic mission for a therapeutic one would still need to be established.

Walter G. Lewke 2nd
Director, Teacher Education Program
Hillsdale College
Hillsdale, Mich

Teacher Asks for Old Job; Tired of Being A 'Parent'

To the Editor:

Recently, when I was listening to Paul Harvey's radio program, a commercial came over the air that caught my attention. It was not for a Chevy truck or a Nordic Track. It was just a local sponsor, advertising a home educational program.

I'm a schoolteacher, and I often contemplate the need for such programs. I'm supposed to teach those exact skills that are being advertised, but I must often take time from the three R's to teach and monitor other activities.

My school, for example, feeds children breakfast and lunch. Some children receive new clothing from us. We purchase winter coats for others. We monitor eating habits and remind the children of their manners. We give childhood vaccinations. We have conducted the weekly swish-and-spit routine (fluoride rinse). We teach children about getting along with others, about sharing and cooperation. We teach about drugs, positive self-esteem, safe sex, and sexually transmitted diseases. We spoon-feed the severely handicapped, and counsel the emotionally disturbed. We assist the specialists in screening vision and hearing. We check for scoliosis and head lice. We administer physical therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy. We change colostomy bags.

We also teach about voting and choosing honest, respectable leaders. We try to explain that it's O.K. to lie, insult, argue, and break promises if you're running for public office, but it isn't acceptable behavior on the playground. We teachers are cautioned about teaching values. But if we do, make sure that all of our statements about families and other touchy issues are politically correct.

I would like to voice my concern for a trend that is sneaking up on us. As I think back to all the commercials I've heard on the radio, about one out of every five is for a home-education program: phonics, basic-math help, and writing programs. The commercials imply that children aren't getting enough of the three R's in school and need extra help at home. The programs must be selling or the advertisements would have stopped years ago.

My question is this: Have teachers and parents switched roles? If so, may I have my old job back?

Thomas Lee
Snowflake, Ariz.

Vol. 14, Issue 18

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