Letters to the Editor

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Amending 'No Pass, No Play' Sends the Wrong Message

To the Editor:

I was disappointed to learn that the Arkansas state board of education has backed away from its "no pass, no play" policy ("Arkansas Backs Off Extracurricular GPA Requirement," Oct. 1, 1997). Students who choose not to perform in the classroom should not be allowed to represent their school on stage or on the playing fields. They haven't earned the right. When we let athletes who don't maintain passing grades don school colors, we send the rest of the student body the message that performance in the classroom is peripheral. The principal might as well announce over the loudspeaker that learning is a campus activity and that capturing the spotlight is what really matters. Think about what our applause says to student actors who are floundering academically about how much we value their education.

It is not an unreasonable demand to require that athletes and actors maintain a C average. Most students receiving D's and F's at my high school, and there are many, are either missing work or missing class. It is not a matter of native wit but rather of application. Many adopt a casual attitude toward attendance, arriving late, leaving early, staying home if it's rainy, going to the beach if it's hot. Most have an even more lackadaisical approach to homework. "What, me, turn off the TV?" One way to break through their hostile apathy is to require that they perform in class before they are allowed to perform outside of class. This lever of eligibility can sometimes maneuver reluctant scholars back to their schoolbooks. It certainly gets their attention.

People argue that it is only participation in extracurricular activities that keeps some kids in school at all. Such advocates for abolishing the grade-point requirement believe that playing on sports teams or on stage will eventually lead to academic performance. It may. But eventually is too vague a notion within an educational framework. I believe we cheat talented young people by failing to hold them liable for their academic performance. Students need to acquire at least passing grades if they are to walk across the stage at graduation, let alone gain a foothold in the competitive job market.

Coaches are powerful agents for change in student athletes' lives. More credible, more attuned, they have broader access to their charges than a cranky English teacher like me. The same messages about doing homework, paying attention in class and getting to school on time are more effective coming from a coach's mouth. Last semester, when I had a varsity basketball player in class, his coach contacted me on the second day of class. He wanted me to advise him if the player was having trouble or fell behind in any of his work. He assured me he would get on the young man's case. When, about halfway through the semester, the young man indulged the habit of arriving late to class, I wasted no time calling parents or filling in procedural paperwork. I called his coach. End of the tardy problem. This student athlete earned an A-minus that season.

We must ensure that the mutual contract of education--we teach, they learn--is fulfilled if students are to participate in extracurricular activities. If this means that a subsidiary contract with a team, with a cast, with an orchestra cannot be fulfilled, so be it.

Carol Jago
Santa Monica High School
Santa Monica, Calif.

To the Editor:

I read with interest your article on the Arkansas board of education's decision to rescind the requirement of a 2.0 GPA for participation in extracurricular activities. California has had that requirement for many years, the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section Rule 204.

Rule 204 has a provision allowing individual schools to establish opportunities for affected students to continue participating by engaging in study halls, showing proof of improvement, and so on. But most schools do not do this. There is a strict requirement of 2.0, or you're out for the next grading period.

It seems that Arkansas is following the adage that, if the data don't fit the need, manipulate the data. If students cannot make the grades, they shouldn't be allowed to participate.

In a period of cries for higher standards and for establishing high expectations, it seems odd that because students choose not to meet the requirements, the standards are lowered to keep the students playing. Coaches set a standard of excellence for participation; they also set the standard for becoming a starter that backup players strive to meet so that they can become starters. Why would academics be any different?

Students and adults alike need to know that life has standards for everything: college admissions, job opportunities, moral and ethical behavior. Is the message Arkansas is sending, "If you don't like the standards we have, we'll change them"?

Dave McGrath
Frazier Mountain High School
Lebec, Calif.

'Seat Time' for Teachers But Not for Students?

To the Editor:

It is ironic that states such as New Jersey and Texas ("N.J., Texas Eye Teacher-Continuing-Education Plans," Oct. 1, 1997) are proposing seat-time requirements for teachers' continuing education at the same time schools are moving away from Carnegie units toward more authentic assessments of what students know and can do.

Likewise, the value of professional development should be determined by the changes it produces in what teachers know and can do and the effects of those changes on student learning. The most powerful professional learning occurs in schools as teachers join with their colleagues in planning lessons, critiquing students' work, solving problems, examining research, and engaging in other forms of sustained intellectual work for the benefit of all their students.

The most significant drawback of hour-based continuing education credit is that it perpetuates the view that professional development is an end in itself rather than a means to the end of high levels of learning and performance for all students.

In situations such as those described in your article, it's all too easy for states to feel like they have met their responsibility for the continuing education of teachers and for teachers to get their tickets punched while business continues as usual.

Dennis Sparks
Executive Director
National Staff Development Council
Ann Arbor, Mich.

More on Work Metaphor: Taking Issue With Kozol

To the Editor:

I was saddened to see Jonathan Kozol, whose crusading rhetoric I so much admire, lend his considerable moral weight (Letters, Oct. 1, 1997) to Alfie Kohn's misguided philippic against considering students as "workers" ("Students Don't 'Work,'--They Learn," Commentary, Sept. 3, 1997).

Of course, Messrs. Kozol and Kohn are right to condemn those who view children "only as small economic units" rather than as "people who have human value," and who want schools to be joyless factories where children are driven to do meaningless work under a "sour 'take your medicine'" philosophy. Our educational policy thinking should indeed be washed clean of such thoughts.

But there is a danger of a precious baby being thrown out with the bath water used to wash away these noxious views.

In the first place, as Kenneth Hoyt pointed out in his earlier letter to the editor "In Working or Learning, Definitions Are Crucial," (Letters, Sept. 24, 1997), Mr. Kohn seems to have a very narrow and negative definition of "work," as meaning only paid and usually unpleasant employment--thus making meaningless such thoughts as: "I'm working in the garden," "I'm working on my painting," or "Let's work at solving this problem."

But even more important, the concept of "student as worker" has an extremely important place in the policy thinking of education reform, about which Mr. Kohn (and, I'm sorry to say, apparently Mr. Kozol, as well as the other educators who so loudly cheered Mr. Kohn's original oppugnation) seems to be ignorant. And this concept is in danger of being scrubbed away in the self-righteous rhetorical cleansing these powerful writers would undertake in the name of humanistic education.

I admit that use of the term "worker" for students has the disadvantage that it can connote to some people only unpleasant drudgery. But the intention of the "student as worker" concept is exactly the opposite and entirely humanistic. Its purpose is to counter the concept of the student only as a passive recipient of knowledge or teaching, which an increasing number of educators have come to see as one of the unintended dehumanizing consequences of overbureaucratized education.

Bureaucratic school culture, which tends to define education as the "delivery of instructional services," and therefore to see teachers as the prime workers in the enterprise (since they "deliver" education thus defined), puts the students in a passive role, as merely the recipients of these services, and not as a vital actor in the educational equation. From these concepts have flowed a massive depersonalization and dehumanization of the relations between teachers and students and between schools and the families and communities they serve.

On the other hand, once it is recognized that only the student can produce what schools are supposed to be about, namely learning, large segments of the bureaucratic operations and culture of much of our schooling have to come under severe scrutiny. Yes, Mr. Kohn may again charge that "produce" is factory talk, but unless learning results, why have school? And unless the students are seen as the prime producers of what is wanted, how will we avoid placing them in a passive role?

Indeed, Theodore Sizer, who can hardly be accused of trying to "bully" and "intimidate" educators with "commercial ideologies," has explicitly adopted the concept of "student as worker" as one of the nine key principles of his Essential Schools movement. And virtually all other effective teachers and school reforms implicitly guide their actions by this principle in order to move away from the "passivication" of students perpetrated by so many of our bureaucratic school systems.

If Messrs. Kohn and Kozol, who I assume would agree with this intention of the "student as worker" principle, would use their considerable verbal skills to find another phrase for this concept that will not connote that learning consists only of "necessarily unpleasant" and mercenary work, I will be happy to use another phrase. But meanwhile let's not let this valuable concept get lost by giving such uncritical praise to Mr. Kohn's article.

David S. Seeley
Professor of Education
The College of Staten Island
City University of New York
Staten Island, N.Y.

Boston Charters Get Millions; Other Schools Get Problems

To the Editor:

Your Sept. 24, 1997, article "Disability Provisions Cited at Boston Charter School" highlights how the Boston Renaissance Charter School violated federal laws that protect children with disabilities, but goes on to suggest that the school is now doing its fair share of educating children with disabilities. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

Charter schools in Massachusetts are like health-maintenance organizations. HMOs discourage patients with costly illnesses from enrolling. The federal government knows this, and discounts the Medicare reimbursement to HMOs. Charter schools discourage children with costly special needs from enrolling. Massachusetts, however, provides charter schools with the full average per-student cost in their city or town. To make matters worse, the money is taken directly away from the city or town.

Boston Renaissance School last year had an enrollment that was 12 percent special education students, which is lower than the 20 percent in the Boston public schools as a whole. The discrepancy by type of special education student is much greater. Nearly all charter school special education students spend much of their day in regular education classes. Under 1 percent of Renaissance School students were the much more costly, substantially separate special education students, compared with 10 percent of public school students in the city (average cost $17,000). In addition, the Boston public schools paid for 1,000 severely handicapped special-needs students (average cost $33,000) in outside schools. Boston charter schools have none of these students.

The Renaissance School received $1.9 million more last year than the city would spend on the same students. Taking into account the types of students in Boston's charter schools, they should receive $5,500 per student--not $7,300, which is the district's average cost. The extra 30 percent ($1,800) per student could provide for small class sizes or for more profit for the Edison Project, which runs Renaissance School.

This year, charter schools are taking $15 million away from Boston. Due to inadequate funds, the 64,000 children in Boston public schools suffer with inadequate numbers of classrooms and teachers, resulting in large class sizes and thousands of children being overassigned to unpopular schools. It does not seem fair that 64,000 children suffer to benefit 1,300 charter school students and the for-profit companies running those schools.

Massachusetts needs to rethink its venture into market-driven solutions to public education. The Renaissance School epitomizes the for-profit approach to education. With a strong lobbying effort, it has convinced the state to commit tens of millions of dollars, providing charter schools with much more funding than other public schools for regular education students. Instead, charter schools should receive funding based on the types of students enrolled. Massachusetts should ensure adequate funding for all regular education students.

Douglas C. Johnson, M.D.
Boston, Mass.

Rebuilding Nation's Schools Needs 21st-Century Planning

To the Editor:

Your article "Minnesota District Closes 16 Portable Classrooms" (Oct. 1, 1997) is yet another story that calls attention to the dire conditions common in many of America's schools. Lately it seems as if everyone is talking about how to fund and find new space, but are we losing sight of the bigger picture?

The solution to current classroom shortages cannot be warehousing children for eight hours a day. We cannot lose sight of the importance of creating an environment that will actually enhance learning.

Consider this: Approximately 90 percent of the schools needed by 2010 are already built, but roughly 50 percent of U.S. schools were built in the 1960s, with projected life spans of about 35 years. In addition, the U.S. General Accounting Office estimates that schools need a whopping $112 billion worth of new construction and renovation.

With that in mind, we must begin talking about how to make high-quality learning environments in existing schools as well as in new ones. As education evolves through research and the onset of technology, it is critical that schools undergoing new construction or renovation take the necessary steps to ensure their learning facilities will be effective well into the next century.

Teaching fads come and go, so how do we create cost-effective buildings that are responsive to any number of teaching methods and that will still be functional in 50 years?

Through the efforts of some very dedicated teachers, administrators, parents, communities, architects, and planners, the knowledge of how to create better learning environments has been developed, tested, and refined. These innovations in school design include dedicated team areas that create small "neighborhoods" of students within 1,800-student schools. Such spaces, which bring more personalized, small-school learning experiences and social identity to large high schools, include individualized student workstations (in place of lockers and desks); flexible learning labs (adapted to changing technology and instruction); extensive technology infrastructure; school-to-work initiatives; internships and job-shadowing programs; and increased hands-on experiences. Flexibility, technology, and interdisciplinary experiences offer great advantages to students.

We are about to embark on record-breaking school spending--to the tune of $112 billion for facilities alone. If we continue to relegate school overcrowding to a brick-and-mortar level, we'll have plenty of beautiful buildings, but at what cost to America's children?

As an architect who specializes in the design of educational facilities, I urge educators, administrators, school boards, policymakers, teachers, parents, and others interested in improving the quality of our children's education to begin discussing how to spend this enormous sum of money wisely. The physical environment has long been unappreciated for its supportive role in learning. Isn't it about time to change that?

Bartlett J. Baker
Vice President
Hammel, Green & Abrahamson Inc.
Educational Design Group
Minneapolis, Minn.

California Reading Lapse Has More Than One Cause

To the Editor:

Patrick Groff's opposition to whole language is well known to your readers. But his recent letter to the editor went beyond reason ("Testing's Power To Change Curricula Depends on View," Letters, Oct. 1, 1997).

Mr. Groff's letter ostensibly spoke to the issue of whether tests could be used successfully to change curriculum. His real agenda, however, was to insinuate that the popularity of whole-language reading instruction was what caused California's children to be the least capable readers in the nation.

His letter totally ignored the litany of other factors that have been implicated by research findings, such as the high variability in how reading teachers implemented whole-language instruction, the students' poverty level, mobility, native language, and so on.

In the absence of reliable and valid data that conclusively rule out all potentially relevant variables, Mr. Groff's finger-pointing letter is not compelling.

Barry Fass-Holmes
San Diego, Calif.

Responding to Criticism Of Hubbard Education Books

To the Editor:

In William J. Bennetta's recent letter to the editor, he discredits the educational technology of L. Ron Hubbard, claiming that only anonymous testimonials of success are published--signed with initials rather than names--a practice he finds suspicious ("Educators Should Be Wary of Scientology Claims," Letters, Oct. 8, 1997).

Being the "L.K., Teacher, New York," (from an "anonymous" testimonial he referred to in his letter), I would like to correct his misconception. When I wrote the testimonial, I signed my name and gave permission for its use.

I have utilized Mr. Hubbard's study technology with my students for over 20 years and have found his methods to be the most workable system of instruction available. Its emphasis is on understanding with application, and it provides the tools to use when barriers interfere with this goal.

The result is a classroom where teachers are better educators and students are better learners.

Linda Kettering
Teacher, English as a Second Language
Valley Stream, N.Y.

To the Editor:

I would like to comment on a portion of William J. Bennetta's letter regarding five educational books published by Bridge Publications, all based on the works of L. Ron Hubbard. His comments are misleading and specious.

Mr. Hubbard was the author of the ideas and the technology of study--which has been used with great success for over 25 years--as now contained in these books: How to Use a Dictionary, Grammar and Communication for Children, Learning How to Learn, Study Skills for Life, and the Basic Study Manual.

As they are Mr. Hubbard's ideas and methodologies, and his alone, Bridge Publications assigned the credit where it is incontrovertibly due, to L. Ron Hubbard, the originator.

Scott D. Welch
Senior Vice President
Bridge Publications
Los Angeles, Calif.

Vol. 17, Issue 08

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