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Teacher-Attrition Studies: Old Headlines, New Again

To the Editor:

I respectfully suggest that your headline "High Teacher Attrition Grabs Attention in North Carolina"(June 19, 1996) was incomplete. Insertion of "Again" or "Still" after "Attrition" would meet my need for accurate reporting. The National Longitudinal Study conducted in 1972 included North Carolina and the prognosis then was that the good teachers are leaving teaching after a few short years.

Because teacher attrition was a large component of my own research, completed at Fordham University in New York City last year, I am sensitive to the topic. The data reported as current is a replication of findings dating back to 1982. Almost 10 years ago, the study "Teacher Attrition: The Uphill Climb To Staff the Nation's Schools" (Grissmer & Kirbey, 1987) concluded that data on teacher attrition have the most uncertain historical estimates. Data on teacher attrition are not collected at the national level. The National Center for Education Statistics projections use a mid-range, 6 percent teacher-attrition factor in their projection of teacher demand, and this dates back to data collected in 1969. States have the data to estimate attrition, but they tend to project constant attrition rates based on previous years' rates, failing to recognize the dynamic nature of teacher attrition and the underlying factors that cause it.

As a teacher and a leader in education, I am continually dismayed at the abundance of information and the absence of application or transfer of knowledge. Dan Lortie's seminal work School Teacher: A Sociological Study concluded that teachers struggle with problems and anxieties privately, never developing a professional support system. Twenty years later, we still make this headline news. I guess it is always easier to restate the problem than to work for solutions.

Ruth A. Connolly
Superintendent of Schools
Office of Catholic Schools
Diocese of Scranton
Scranton, Pa.

Technology-Updating Insights Ring True to This 'Zealot'

To the Editor:

I would like to add my assent to the Commentary entitled "Upgrading School Technology," by Lin Foa, Richard L. Schwab, and Michael Johnson (May 1, 1996). Having worked to integrate computers into public school curriculum and instruction for the past 10 years, I was impressed by the number of their observations that, unlike those contained in many other articles on this subject, sounded like reality. Simply put, I believe they got it right.

I'll cite just a few of their insights. First, their suggestion to "identify and support the zealots" has been verified in my own experience. In fact, it seems that if a district has such champions, it advances technologically; without them, it is much harder to progress.

The writers' finding that "training is at least as important as technology" may seem mundane--in the best-selling business writer Tom Peters' words, a blinding flash of the obvious--but, I've found, it is a maxim often overlooked in practice. Teachers without training often ultimately resort to asking "What is it we're to do with these computers?"

Finally, the guideline to "move forward with those who are ready: don't waste time, dollars, or energy on those who are not yet interested" echoes advice offered nearly a decade ago by Joe Hoffmeister, technology guru at Cincinnati Country Day School ("HyperSchool"), who said, "Spend time among the living." The advances of his schools--and others, like those in Canfield, Ohio, that heeded this suggestion--indicate he was on to something.

Joe Rottenborn
Columbiana Exempted Village Schools
Columbiana, Ohio

America's Racial Problems Were Never Just Black-White

To the Editor:

It is unfortunate that Leonard B. Stevens' timely call for a more complex understanding of race in America ("The Place of Race in America,"Commentary, June 19, 1996) rests upon the misleading idea that race here is "no longer just a black-white issue."

The problem with this argument is not that race concerns now extend beyond blacks to include Asians and Latinos, but that--perceptions aside--race in America has never been just a black-white issue. From the Europeans' first arrival it has always been, at least in part, a red-white issue. Mr. Stevens' view is no exception, though it is the norm among thinkers offering their "complex" visions of race in America.

I suspect that this blindness persists precisely because an honest examination of U.S-Indian relations raises the most difficult questions of all about our national character. But until we do face the whole history of race in America we will destine ourselves to inadequate solutions to our most fundamental problems.

Mitchell V. Bogen
Somerville, Mass.

Ala. Principal's Rise Shows Need for Affirmative Action

To the Editor:

Your news item "Controversial Alabama Principal Headed for Superintendency" (News Roundup, July 10, 1996) raises doubt regarding the quality and integrity of the decisions this man will make in his new position. The soon-to-be superintendent allegedly opposed interracial dating at his school's prom and reportedly issued directives to that effect. His impending elevation by local voters is precisely the reason some continue to argue in support of affirmative action policies in this country.

In today's social climate, where bigotry is not only tolerated but fashionable, it is difficult to believe this principal possesses the ability or inclination to make decisions that are "colorblind." Opponents of affirmative action disingenuously suggest people should be "judged by the content of their character, and not the color of their skin."

The problem with this noble theory is that in real life the people who make the judgments are too often persons with the apparent beliefs of this Alabama educator and his considerable number of supporters. Those who contest affirmative action should genuinely busy themselves taking action to affirm the equality of all until justice becomes the practice rather than the promise.

As long as America has public (and private-sector) officials who appear to make decisions implying racial or gender superiority and are then elected (or promoted) to higher positions, those who suggest affirmative action is no longer needed are in denial, or worse.

Joseph W. Lee
Chicago, Ill.

Put College-Failure 'Blame' On Early Reading Methods

To the Editor:

Your article "Chain of Blame"(On Assignment, May 22, 1996), which asked who is to blame for the poor preparation high schoolers get for college, can easily be answered. The chain of blame does indeed begin in the 1st grade, where the greatest damage is done to children when faulty teaching methods are used. The introduction of look-say methodology in the early 1930s, which eventually metamorphosed into the whole-language approach of the 1980s and '90s, is the chief culprit in the decline of reading skills and the subsequent decline in academic achievement as a whole. Obviously, if you can't read, you can't do much of anything else of an academic nature.

By now we also know that look-say, whole language, or whatever else you want to call it can cause severe cognitive dysfunction among some children. Samuel T. Orton, the famous expert on dyslexia, recognized this as far back as 1929 in an article entitled "The 'Sight Reading' Method of Teaching Reading as a Source of Reading Disability," published in the Journal of Educational Psychology.

Why does the sight method produce cognitive dysfunction? Because when you impose a sight, or ideographic, teaching method on an alphabetic, or phonetic, writing system, you get symbolic confusion which, if not remediated with intensive phonics early enough, can result in permanent cognitive dysfunction. An example of this sad condition was revealed in the statement of a college student who, when asked by her teacher to think of a topic sentence from her own experience for an essay, replied: "I can't; my head will explode."

Why are so many young Americans who want to go to college academically crippled? The answer is to be found in America's kindergartens and 1st-grade classrooms, which have become the incubators of reading disabilities, dyslexia, attention-deficit disorder, and other dysfunctions that now plague millions of young Americans. The unwillingness of the education establishment to recognize this and make the necessary changes in teaching methods and classroom configuration means that we shall continue to be plagued by cognitive dysfunction for many years to come.

Samuel L. Blumenfeld
Waltham, Mass.

Vol. 15, Issue 41

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