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Hispanic Culture Is 'Ours' and Should Be Taught

To the Editor:

The headline of your front-page article "Hispanics Want School Courses To Reflect Their History, Culture," May 14, 1997, dismayed me. I object to the use of the word "their," in that it reflects the view of the writer.

Until we accept the experiences of all groups in our country, we cannot say that our children have received an accurate view of their country's history. Why should anyone, much less a person who calls him or herself an educator, disregard the poetry and literature of their brothers, sisters, neighbors? We should not be talking about "their" history or "their" literature, but of our history, our literature.

It is absolutely astonishing that the two Vaughn, N.M., high school teachers, Nadine and Patsy Cordova, must defend themselves in a courtroom for attempting to educate the children in their care. And shame on that school board, which obviously is dominated by fear and ignorance.

Maria Elena Reyes
Fairbanks, Alaska

To the Editor:

A critical assumption in the work that scholars such as Norma Gonzalez and Luis Moll at the University of Arizona at Tucson have carried out over the past 10 years is that many educational institutions do not know about (or care to know about), understand, and value the social and intellectual resources that working-class language-minority students bring to school. The results of their extensive research efforts reveal and amply support the fact that schools and others have much to learn about their students.

These researchers have argued convincingly that the "funds of knowledge" available within students, their families, and neighborhoods provide insights and guidance that "can engender pivotal and transformative shifts in teachers and in school relations between households and schools and between parents and teachers."

Public schools have every duty and responsibility to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate and responsive educational services to all of the students on their campuses. This simply means that schools have to do their homework and make every effort to incorporate their students' funds of knowledge into the general curriculum. To do otherwise is to shortchange the high standards that all American schools are being called on to achieve.

Gil N. Garcia
Education Research Analyst
National Institute on the Education of At-Risk Students
Washington, D.C

Florida Does Not Yet Have a Conversion Charter School

To the Editor:

"The False Friends of Charter Schools," April 30, 1997, mildly describes the stonewalling of Florida's school boards in regard to the establishment of public school charters.

Florida first attempted to pass a charter school bill in 1995. It failed because of a school prayer amendment. In 1996, the bill passed but allowed only the local school boards to sponsor charters. The first school-within-a-school conversion to apply under the law, the Cocoa Academy for Aerospace Technology, located on the Cocoa High School campus in Cocoa, Fla., was rejected even though parents of academy students and academy teachers voted to request a charter. The reason given by the Brevard County school board for the rejection was that the board was not ready to accept an application. The superintendent made policy recommendations during the meeting.

The Cocoa Academy for Aerospace Technology resubmitted its application in 1997 and was turned down by a 3-2 vote. The superintendent recommended denial because it was, in his words, "contrary to law." Because Florida's charter school bill limits charters to local school board sponsors, the charter school organizers appealed to the state Cabinet. The appeal was successful, the school-within-a-school was deemed legal, and therefore the application was remanded to the Brevard County board for reconsideration with instructions to approve the application or show just cause for rejection.

At a special board meeting on May 2, the superintendent recommended rejection, stating that "the academy is contrary to law and contrary to the best interest of the community." The board chairman allowed five people three minutes each to speak in favor and five others to speak against the academy. The chairman then allowed the academy 30 minutes to present its case. The board again denied the application, this time by a 5-0 vote, after Cocoa High School teachers and administrators presented 30 minutes of subjective testimonials as to why the board should not grant the charter. There was no rebuttal allowed. The attorney for the academy stated that this was a violation of due process and that the case would be taken to federal court.

Florida does not have a conversion charter school in operation.

Bob Brewster
Cocoa, Fla.

Give Us Innovative Models, Not Recitations of Problems

To the Editor:

I have been reading Education Week, cover to cover, for years, and admire the quality and timeliness of your articles. There is, however, a continuing gap in your coverage. I see very few articles about tremendously innovative, pioneering public schools that state educators across the country need to discover as best-practice models. If you paid as much attention to those as you do to the handful of new charter schools and inner-city problems, we would all benefit.

Florida (and, I am certain, most other states) has a wealth of these innovative, cutting-edge, reform-minded public schools. Back in 1992, the state department of education began investing in innovative models by giving competitive grants to the most exciting proposals, with only $250,000 each year to invest. Now, five years later, we have a network of remarkable schools, and the commissioner of education now has a $9 million state appropriation to dramatically expand this investment strategy.

As examples, we have Rutherford High School in Panama City, which opened a satellite center at Tyndall Air Force Base, where students attend class half time and intern at the base the other half. We have Sherwood Elementary in Melbourne, which places each of its 5th grade classes in rotation at the Brevard Zoo for nine-week periods, during which the classroom teacher and zoo staff members provide joint instruction. We also have Centennial Elementary in Pasco County, which has mastered the continuous-progress model, and a network of elementary magnets which outflank any charter school in test scores and exciting hands-on instruction.

Please do your readers the favor of publicizing the best and most innovative public schools to balance your coverage of problems, controversies, and all the latest buzz topics.

Pete Kreis
Program Coordinator
Office of Business & Education Alliances
Florida Department of Education
Tallahassee, Fla.

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