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Colleges Article Lacks Sense of History, Economics

To the Editor:

As one who has longed and worked for the day when community colleges could take their place in the firmament as an equal education partner with universities and K-12 institutions, I was delighted to see your article "Community Colleges Bask in Popularity," Feb. 25, 1998.

At first glance, it seemed like a nicely balanced piece on the state of community college education today. At second glance, it lacks a sense of both history and economics. It confuses the 50-year-old rise of the comprehensive community college movement with the increase in junior colleges a half-century earlier. It misunderstands the community colleges' capacity to provide people with the skills to succeed in the marketplace and in the community with the purpose of junior colleges to provide the first two years of a baccalaureate degree. Indeed, increasing numbers of community college students have already obtained their baccalaureate degrees and are seeking marketable skills for an economy in which competencies are becoming more important than credentials.

The article is correct that we as a nation are struggling to reach a broad social contract on the mission of community colleges. The difficulty in that search has been that the colleges today are a reflection of the broad diversity of the communities in which they are found and the missions those communities wish to assign them.

In addition, some see community colleges as big high schools. And although we do need universal education beyond the American 12th grade, we just as clearly do not need a 13th and 14th grade of American high school education.

Others see community colleges as little universities or--as your article seems to--as all-purpose junior colleges. Although they do provide (and, in the future, must better provide) both an affordable testing ground and a transition point for the increasing numbers of traditional high school graduates seeking university education, that should be only one piece of their mission.

Community colleges are society's most flexible bureaucracy, the only education agent that can respond quickly to economic and demographic change, taking people from where they are to wherever their realistic dreams might lead them. They have an economic as well as a demographic imperative.

They should be the link that applies the new knowledge and technologies developed in our universities to the problems in the community and the market; the link between our least-educated adults and the basic competencies necessary for them to function in a complex society; the link between the college graduate and specific technical skills required for them to get a job.

Community colleges are, in other words, our first, best hope for both equality of opportunity and an economy that produces opportunities in ever-increasing numbers.

Education Week needs to make that point. Often.

George B. Autry
President mdc Inc.
Chapel Hill, N.C.

Math, Science Disincentive: Who Wants To Be a 'Nerd'?

To the Editor:

Why should researchers be so surprised that U.S. students do so poorly in math and science ("U.S. Seniors Near Bottom in World Test," March 4, 1998)? Ask American students what they think of people who do well in these areas: They call them "nerds." In this, the students are only reflecting a widespread cultural attitude that is continually reinforced in literature, movies, and television--the venues where most students learn to form their opinions about much of the world around them.

Education-bashers, often in an attempt to discredit the teaching profession, extend this negativism to include the country's educators. We can pour all of the money we want into math and science instruction and, if the desired results aren't forthcoming, the critics will then say, "See. Money's not the answer." But until we make students want the goals achievable through better math and science skills, few will be persuaded to go through all the work--and the disparagement--it takes to succeed. Not even nerds want to be nerds.

Has anyone ever asked students of the various countries we compete with how much respect or admiration they have for people in the professions requiring solid math or science foundations?

Darrell Gomsrud Milton-Freewater, Ore.

Research on New Teachers And Reading Instruction

To the Editor:

The opinions expressed in your article on teacher preparation for reading instruction ("Education Schools Getting Heat on Reading," Feb. 18, 1998) may soon be bolstered by new, cross-state research on beginning teachers.

Novice teachers should know at the outset how to address the complex literacy needs of their students. And the New Jersey Reading Association and Jersey City (N.J.) State College are co-sponsoring a study on this issue. With a colleague in Mississippi, I will survey more than 2,000 New Jersey and Mississippi novice teachers and their supervisors and mentors to determine whether they believe beginning teachers need more coursework in literacy. My colleague and I also hope to learn what kinds of training these respondents believe would be beneficial. We have aligned our questions with the areas identified in New Jersey's core-curriculum standards for language arts literacy. The ability to teach phonics is only one of a number of possible areas respondents might suggest.

Our research will also identify conflicts in perceptions between those just beginning to teach and those who have significantly more classroom experience. Cross-state comparison also should be useful, considering that there are presently no mandated credit hours in reading for those seeking teaching certification in New Jersey, while elementary and secondary teacher candidates in Mississippi are required to take six credit hours and three credit hours, respectively.

We will also be able to compare the views of those who have been prepared via alternate-route programs with those from traditional training institutions, and those in urban school settings with those in rural and suburban communities.

Perhaps when all is done, state boards of education will reconsider the practice of demanding that teachers raise students' reading performance without also demanding that teacher training certification programs require the preparation necessary to achieve this well-intended goal.

Jill Lewis
Professor of Literacy Education
and Director
Center for Public Policy
and Urban Research
Jersey City State College
Jersey City, N.J.

Portrayal of Seattle Receives Failing Marks

To the Editor:

I failed your article on the Seattle schools in "Quality Counts '98,".Jan. 8, 1998. Here are some of my grading highlights:

You write, "A dynamic superintendent and a newly energized business community have the city abuzz with excitement about the schools' potential," and later note that Superintendent John H. Stanford "has infused the system with new energy and new ideas." In fact, Mr. Stanford's frequent blunders and striking contempt for the community have taken a toll. He cheerleads for himself as much as for the children.

Later, you say, "One of the big challenges facing Seattle is the 77 different languages, primarily of Asian origin, spoken by its students." Tell this to KumRoon Maksirisombat, a highly decorated and beloved multilingual educator of Thai origin who was driven away from the schools by the administration, though his trial received no coverage in The Seattle Times.

A local reporter did shatter, however, the myth of Mr. Stanford's rising test scores and other boasts ("In Stanford We Trust, The Seattle Weekly, Feb. 26, 1998).

Teachers' union leader Roger Erskine is quoted by you as saying, in reference to waiving teacher seniority in hiring, "It's the direction our members want to go." That is false. Teachers were misinformed, intimidated, manipulated, and generally misrepresented. "Teachers' union leaders also appear to enjoy working in close concert with Mr. Stanford and other administrators," you report. That is true.

For future articles on Seattle, you're welcome to consult with John Stanford and the city establishment, but you might want to peruse a teacher's Web site at There you can find a full review of your article, along with references to the various items I have mentioned.

David Blomstrom
Seattle, Wash.

Misquoted School-Climate Letter: A Clarification

To the Editor:

I appreciate your printing my letter regarding the important relationship of a safe school environment to academic achievement by students ("Successful School Climate From an AFT Perspective," March 11, 1998).

However, your omission of one word from the original text significantly alters a key sentence in the letter. You quote me as writing, "AFT members, as well as K-12 school employees, have long known" the consequences of an unsafe school environment. The text should have read, "AFT members, as well as all K-12 school employees, have long known" the effects of an unsafe climate in a school.

Most AFT members are K-12 school employees. However, I wanted to indicate that not only they, but also all other K-12 school employees realize the importance of a safe and orderly learning environment.

Thank you for clearing up the misimpression resulting from the editing of the letter.

John Tarka

Executive Director
Pennsylvania Federation of Teachers
Pittsburgh, Pa.

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