Letters to the Editor

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Educators Are Intimidated by Economic Arguments

To the Editor:

The Commentary by Alfie Kohn in your Sept. 3, 1997, issue ("Students Don't 'Work,'--They Learn") is one of the most valuable things you've published in a good long while. Mr. Kohn is right to raise the questions that he does about the way young children are devalued when we are compelled to view them only as small economic units--"workers," "products," or "producers"--rather than as people who have human value in themselves for what they actually are.

But try making this argument at any of those business-sponsored "education summits" that are advertised so often in your pages. I'm sure Mr. Kohn tries to do this. So do I. But teachers feel intimidated by these economic arguments; and superintendents, bullied by the corporations, often parrot these commercial ideologies and in this way betray their own real knowledge and their own vocation. They need a lot more reinforcement, not just in Education Week. But thank you for giving Mr. Kohn some space to say this.

Jonathan Kozol
Byfield, Mass.

ED's Reading-Test Decision Harms Millions of Students

To the Editor:

On Sept. 3, 1997, the U.S. Department of Education dealt a devastating blow to its efforts aimed at national testing and national school reform. In a letter to Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley made clear that the Clinton administration's national testing initiative will ignore the millions of children whose primary language is not English (limited-English-proficient, or LEP, students) but who are developing their reading abilities in that primary language through many instructional programs funded and approved by the department itself.

In his letter, Mr. Riley indicates that "the purpose of the 4th grade reading test is to test student proficiency in reading in English, not in general reading comprehension." This assertion contradicts the specific test guidelines and previous articulations by the department and the administration regarding the national testing initiative.

As a former staff member of the Department of Education, I am particularly disheartened by this decision, since it works directly against previous policies that were built on an inclusionary philosophy and predicated on the assumptions that "all children can learn" and that any form of accountability must be of service to "all" children. My days in the department were guided by these presuppositions. The policy articulated now runs counter to legislated mandates under the 1994 Goals 2000 legislation, which directed the department to "create clear guidelines regarding the nature, functions, and uses of assessment, including assessment formats that are appropriate for use in culturally and linguistically diverse communities."

Most significantly, according to the Council of the Great City Schools, the national reading test could exclude anywhere from 16 percent to 36 percent of students enrolled in urban districts considering participation in the volunteer national testing program. Such an exclusion could be significantly reduced if a reading test were developed in Spanish.

Not often have I agreed with Republicans about the federal government's limited role in education or the "intrusive" actions of the U.S. Department of Education. I subscribe, rather, to the department's stated mission: "to ensure equal access to education and promote educational excellence throughout the nation." But in this particular case, the department has consciously intruded into the realm of local educational programming by indicating that reading in English by 4th grade, rather than reading proficiency, should be the goal of local school districts. And this comes at a time when the department is stressing, in its very own programs, the importance of high achievement and the need for local flexibility regarding the forms of curriculum and instruction that will allow children to learn English and basic skills such as reading.

We have learned very painfully that allowing children to maximize their linguistic capital to master the reading enterprise in their native language--as we do for those students who speak English as their first language--enhances reading and subject-matter achievement in English. This decision by the department leaves out of the national realm of accountability those students who have acquired highly proficient reading abilities in languages other than English and who are on their way to English reading proficiencies.

Lastly, Mr. Riley's letter suggests that efforts will be made to use other tests that are appropriate for LEP students. Quite frankly, that can be done for all students, including those whose first language is English. Why have a national test at all? The logic for a national test for English-speaking students is the same as for those students who are non-English-speaking: We need a national assessment that informs us about how students are doing in the critical area of reading. What is good for one student should be just as good for another under an administration that purports to promote educational excellence for all children. Most important, psychometric development of such tests, particularly in Spanish, are possible at minimal costs and using the same testing constructs as in English.

I can only arrive at one conclusion: that the Department of Education has begun to move away from fulfilling its mission. In doing so, it seems to have bowed to a politically expedient and unnecessary position that is directly in contrast to what we know can be done and ought to be done. This is a position that can harm millions of students.

Eugene E. Garcia
Professor and Dean
Graduate School of Education
University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, Calif.

Testing's Power To Change Curricula Depends on View

To the Editor:

H. D. Hoover of the University of Iowa complained in one of your recent articles that "there is a whole history of trying to use tests to change curricula, and the record there is not particularly sterling" ("Experts Question Value of New National Tests," Sept. 3, 1997). His statement is not indisputably true, as the recent California experience reveals.

In 1995, the federally funded National Assessment of Educational Progress reported that California children were the least capable readers in the nation. At the same time it found that "whole language" reading instruction was more popular there than in any other state.

Upon reading this report, the California School Boards Association vigorously protested that the reading crisis it described must be remedied. Quick to respond, the California legislature passed laws that declared whole-language teaching illegal.

There probably could not be a more "sterling" effect of test administration on the enhancement of children's opportunity to learn than this instance. The new laws have led to a mandate to reading teachers from the California superintendent of public instruction that improves classroom practice and student learning in a substantial and meaningful way.

In the California case, administration of tests not only indicated how poorly reading teachers had fulfilled their mission, but also what caused this instructional failure. Well-designed tests, such as NAEP, clearly can serve these functions, Mr. Hoover's pessimism notwithstanding.

Patrick Groff
Professor of Education Emeritus
San Diego State University
San Diego, Calif.

Explaining 'Word Clearing,' Texts From L. Ron Hubbard

To the Editor:

You were correct in reporting that various study materials developed by L. Ron Hubbard have been used by public school teachers in California and elsewhere for years ("Texts Highlight Scientology's Role in Education," Sept. 17, 1997). And the verdict is in from independent experts who have honestly scrutinized the materials: There really is no church-state issue.

Mr. Hubbard was a prolific writer not only on the subject of the mind and spirit, but on topics ranging from art and photography to history and seamanship. And he is still one of the best-selling science-fiction writers. It's hardly a national story that he has also written on the subject of education.

American education needs innovative ideas, and your mention of the subject Mr. Hubbard called "word clearing" merits some elaboration. Describing it as simply using a dictionary to look up words while reading is an oversimplification. It's like saying the secret to playing the piano beautifully is to hit the keys with your fingers. That's also true, and yet it is also an oversimplification.

Why do some people stumble when they read certain phrases aloud? Why do some children consistently mispronounce words in the Pledge of Allegiance? Why is someone alert one minute while studying and yet moments later is suddenly feeling sleepy? Why can one person read a set of instructions and perform the functions called for, and another cannot--no matter how many times he reads them?

Almost unbelievably, these are all symptoms of having bypassed a definition, having gone by a word that one didn't understand--a misunderstood word. This was a principle Mr. Hubbard discovered in the 1960s that has been tested and proven in thousands of cases since.

Perhaps you can think of a subject you once initially liked very much but which you grew to detest. Did you know that a person skilled in "word clearing" could help you locate the exact point--and the exact word or words you didn't understand--where your interest turned to disinterest or worse? And that, having found and cleared up those words, you would find your interest in the subject restored?

Or ask someone to read out loud the preamble to the U.S. Constitution. Then have him go through each of the words to make sure he can give you the definition of each one. If he can't, have him look the word up and get a clear concept of that word. When all words are understood, ask the person to read the preamble aloud again. Notice the difference. You will be astonished.

This is just one aspect of Mr. Hubbard's "Study Technology." There's much more and, in all, it represents a substantial contribution to the field of educational research.

Witness one public school in Lynwood, Calif., that recently had 50 of its lowest achievers complete a reading program based on Mr. Hubbard's technology. After only seven weeks of part-time instruction, the students' average grade level improved by eight months--and in some cases the improvement was as much as two grade levels.

No wonder David Rodier, an associate professor of philosophy at American University in Washington, described Mr. Hubbard's educational methods as a "revolution in thought."

Meanwhile, critics will continue to be critics, and people truly interested in education will read Mr. Hubbard's materials and make up their own minds.

Rena Weinberg
Association for Better Living
and Education (ABLE) International
Los Angeles, Calif.

'Good Habits' Author Finds Support From AMA Study

To the Editor:

It turns out that my Commentary, "7 Habits of Good Teachers Today" (Aug. 6, 1997), was more prescient that I had known.

Only a week after it appeared in Education Week, a major national study published by the American Medical Association found that: "Overriding classroom size, rules, all those structural things, the human element of the teacher making the connection with kids is the bottom line."

The study is the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, and its findings can be very helpful to those of us struggling to put across the message that teachers today have new and sometimes different responsibilities. Donald M. Clark, in his letter to the editor about my essay ("Good Teaching's '7 Habits' Rate a '2' for Impact," Letters, Sept. 3, 1997), told me basically that I did not know what I was talking about. I urge him to tell that to this study, which made its findings after surveying 90,000 students.

Dorothy Rich
Home and School Institute
Washington, D.C.

Vol. 17, Issue 05

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