Letters to the Editor
Bilingual Benefits Are Self-Evident
To the Editor:
Your August Commentary by Jerry Jesness speaks accurately to the issues in bilingual education ("What's Wrong With Bilingual Education? Repair It, Don't Replace It," Aug. 5, 1998). When I lived in Luxembourg in the late 1950s, my children spoke English and Spanish at home and learned French and German at school. With their Luxembourg playmates they spoke the Luxembourg equivalent of what in the Southwest is called "Spanglish"--a term with unsavory connotations. Throughout Europe, during the four years I worked and studied there, one saw (and heard) the value of being multilingual.
Indeed, bilingual education came into existence because of the inefficacy of immersion programs then (see my work on "Montezuma's Children" in The Center Magazine, November/December 1970). Bilingual education is preferable to the decimation wrought by misguided notions about how to educate linguistically different children.
Felipe de Ortego y Gasca
More Advocate Than Scholar?
To the Editor:
Re: Terry Moe's contention in your news pages that Paul E. Peterson is a "scholar held in the highest repute" ("Researcher at Center of Storm Over Vouchers," Aug. 5, 1998).
Here is why objective researchers believe that Mr. Peterson is something other than a scholar:
1. His first article on the Milwaukee choice program was released as an Associated Press story.
2. The exact same day that the story appeared from The Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed essay on the Milwaukee program under Mr. Peterson's name.
3. That day just happened to be the day that presidential candidate Robert Dole addressed the Republican National Convention calling for choice and vouchers.
4. Before the "scholarly" version of the report was released (two weeks after its popular-press debut), the study was hyped on television by Lamar Alexander and William J. Bennett and on radio by Rush Limbaugh.
Mr. Peterson and his co-authors made absolutely no attempt to tell readers what statistical techniques they had used. One part of the article implied a regression methodology that would not have been appropriate given the comments made in another part of the article. The scarce data that were presented did not support the rhetoric of the exposition. Six months later, at a Cato Institute presentation, Mr. Peterson used a "cleaned up" data set that now produced statistics more in line with his conclusions. How convenient.
Gerald W. Bracey
'Diogenes Factor': The Lantern Stays Lit
To the Editor:
In criticizing our Commentary, Samuel C. Stringfield provides another example of what we have called the "Diogenes Factor" ("The Diogenes Factor," April 8, 1998; "Science, Cynicism, and Diogenes' Double-Edged Lamp," Aug. 5, 1998). We defined the Diogenes Factor as the tendency for developers, their institutions, and their funders to evaluate their programs more favorably than do independent evaluators. Mr. Stringfield, who works for the organization that developed Success for All, finds the program more effective than the independent evaluations we cited--a splendid example of the Diogenes Factor.
We gave due credit to Diogenes, the 4th-century B.C. Greek, for his insight that people favor their own preconceptions and biases. Therefore, we all need to exercise skepticism about our views and those of others. Though Mr. Stringfield attributes "cynicism" to Diogenes and to us, we did not use the term, nor did Diogenes. Diogenes was indeed a founder of Cynicism, but this philosophical term refers to his belief in virtue as the only good, and self-control as the means of attaining it.
In contrast, modern cynicism means undue selfishness. To avoid terminological confusion, we avoided the term. Instead, we advised that buyers beware because developers may lack objectivity, research competence, or other requirements for rigorous evaluation.
Contrary to what Mr. Stringfield suggests, we didn't insist on "double blind" experiments for evaluating programs. We cited them as an example of how medical researchers use them to avoid bias: When it is feasible and ethical, they conceal from themselves, physicians, nurses, and patients the fact of who will be randomly assigned a new treatment and the control method. When we lack research approaching such rigor in education, we need, as Aristotle warned, to be especially careful to consider who did it and who paid for it. Does the Ford Motor Co. find its cars inferior to Buicks and Toyotas?
Mr. Stringfield says we cited only two evaluations but fails to point out that one of these, by Elizabeth M. Jones, Gary D. Gottfredson, and Denise C. Gottfredson, reviewed six independent studies that suggested no advantage of Success for All. The other evaluation, by Richard Venezky, found Success for All did not attain its avowed objectives. By the end of 5th grade, Success for All students were almost 2.4 years behind national achievement norms. In conducting self-evaluations, the Success for All developers compared control groups with advantaged Success for All groups. They required, for example, an 80 percent teacher-approval vote for Success for All, whereas control schools had no such consensus.
We have long shared in the search for an achievement elixir for students in poverty. Without rigorous research, however, we remain skeptical--not cynical. We'll keep Diogenes' lantern lit.
Herbert J. Walberg
Research Professor of Educationand Psychology
University of Illinois at Chicago
Rebecca C. Greenberg
University of Illinois at Chicago
Merit Pay vs. Board Certification
To the Editor:
Certainly, Bruce S. Cooper's contribution of the concept of "gain scores" ( "'Gain Scores' Tell Us More About a Teacher's Impact," July 8, 1998) gives a bit more credibility to Dale Ballou and Michael Podgursky's surprisingly simplistic suggestion that superior teachers can be identified by "more objective measures of teacher performance (for example, student test scores)" ("Some Unanswered Questions Concerning National Board Certification of Teachers," June 10, 1998). Attempts to analyze "value added" by a particular teacher at least acknowledge that students bring a wide variety of previous experiences to a classroom.
However, as a 30-year classroom teacher, I still struggle with how to determine that it is my instruction alone that caused my students' success on their Advanced Placement English exams. What about the excellent writing experiences they were simultaneously receiving from their AP government teacher, or the analytical skills they were practicing with their American-literature instructor? Until we can identify the discrete ingredients of successful student learning, teachers will have little confidence in the equity of any reward system based primarily on that factor.
Messrs. Ballou and Podgursky make another point which requires a response: "Teachers' unions vigorously oppose merit pay and support national board certification, but this alone does not settle the matter, since it may reflect the unions' perception that it will be easier for large numbers of teachers to qualify for awards through board certification than through traditional merit pay."
As a founding member of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and a member of the National Education Association's board of directors in the 1980s, I took part in the passionate debates about whether and how the NEA should support the national board and its mission. That debate occurred not only in the NEA board but also for a number of years at the union's annual 8,000-delegate Representative Assembly. I can't recall a single person mentioning the "benefit" Messrs. Ballou and Podgursky have discerned.
The NEA's strong support of the national board is hardly a result of how "easy" it will be for lots of people to find the financial and personal resources to meet the board's rigorous standards and become certified; it's certainly much quicker and "easier" to gain the approval of the supervisor dishing out goodies in most merit-pay plans. On the contrary, the NEA and thousands of teachers across the country support board certification for teachers rather than arbitrary "merit pay" systems because board certification is a fair process based on standards, which honors the complex richness of teaching.
Most teachers I know would welcome a system of genuine accountability for student learning; we're not there yet. But in the meantime, national board certification offers real hope to both the public and the profession that we're getting closer to being able to identify (and reward) those whose work with children meets the highest standards.
Susan A. Stitham
Pluses of Teaching A 'Captive Audience'
To the Editor:
Gary Rubinstein ("Did You Bring Enough Ammo for Everyone?", July 8, 1998), writing about others' perceptions of inner-city teachers, might understand the plight of thousands of qualified, competent professionals who, when asked by strangers what they do, respond, "I teach in prison."
Ironically, most correctional educators prefer to teach inside the walls, once they experience students who have learned in painful ways the critical role of education in the redefinition of their lives. Enduring jokes about teaching to "captive audiences," prison teachers take great pride in their work, despite being in a profession that receives little air time or attention in the overall realm of education. Our students are no longer at-risk or high-risk. Because they are intensely focused on rebuilding their lives, one step at a time, one day at a time, and value education as the way out, they are no risk to a correctional teacher.
Pluses of Teaching A 'Captive Audience'
To the Editor:
My original Commentary was "If It Wasn't Around in the Middle Ages, It's a Fad," (June 17, 1998). It has elicited responses from several writers with contrary opinions, and I feel constrained to respond to their responses ("On Annenberg Challenge, Author Was 'Dead Wrong,'", July 8, 1998; "What Failed Reform?," Aug. 5, 1998).
It's interesting that everyone I heard from is connected to the Annenberg folly. Various directors, assistants, and consultants assure me that all is well with the Annenberg Challenge and that great progress is being made-and yet test scores still come in lower than sea level.
No one accepts my challenge to produce that elusive "reform" that actually made a difference. Instead, they offer platitudes like "the whole child," "student centered," "meeting needs," et cetera. One critic declares, "School reform is about reducing isolation among individuals within a school community, between schools and families, and between schools and communities." If reform were more about the three R's and less about social engineering, there'd be no need for this discussion.
School reform doesn't work, and I'm resolved to do what I can to scuttle the entire concept. To that end, I've formed an organization called People for the Ethical Treatment of Teachers, with a Web site at www.saveourteachers.com where reasonable, practical voices may be heard to balance the nonsense emanating from would-be reformers.
Remember: When buttonholed by some rabid reformer with a wild gleam in his eye, demand that he cite the reform that actually worked. This will stop even the Theodore R. Sizers of the world.
San Diego, Calif.
'We Vote Our Consciences'
To the Editor:
I find it disheartening and certainly troublesome that those of us who voted no on the National Education Association-American Federation of Teachers "principles of unity" are being characterized as ignorant, "old fashioned" snobs who did not vote as their leaders told them to ("Despite National Defeat, NEA and AFT Work Toward Mergers in States," Aug. 5, 1998). Those attitudes from merger supporters reflect the very heart of our opposition. In a democracy, I can dissent without criticism or fear of retribution.
AFT President Sandra Feldman commented that some NEA delegations "did not come as a cohesive group" who voted as their leaders told them to vote. We who are the NEA vote our consciences via the secret ballot--we are neither obligated to nor bound by the dictates of a leader who tells us how to vote and what to think. We who are the NEA have principles that give us the same rights we have as U.S. citizens, to enter the voting booth and cast our vote without someone looking over our shoulder. To indicate that I should have voted as part of a "cohesive group" as the national leadership wanted me to vote not only abdicates my basic rights as an NEA member, the rights I voted to uphold and protect, but both saddens and offends me.
In the same article, Day Higuchi, the president of United Teachers Los Angeles, indicated that those who opposed merger "didn't have a clue" about what the principles meant, that we were ignorant of the issues. As a New Jersey delegate to that convention, I knew exactly what the principles meant and knew exactly why I was voting no. Not because anyone in leadership told me to vote no, but because I had the facts in front of me, could read and evaluate them, and could make my judgment on those facts. I had read the principles of unity and I could discuss them and my objections to them with any delegate on the floor. Most of the merger supporters I talked to could not tell me why merger was a good idea or how the NEA would benefit. They carried their Unity signs high, but when pressed for the facts, they did not have them. As your own article stated, "proponents shied away from the details of the merger accord," perhaps because the problem with merger was in those very details.
Those details would have taken away my right to a secret ballot; they would have disenfranchised smaller states like Louisiana and given their leaders advisory status instead of the full voting rights they now enjoy; they would have made leadership basically a lifetime job with officers having little or no accountability to members and possibly no connection to education; they would have reversed all our work to ensure greater minority representation; they would have taken the focus away from education as the new organization became just one of many other affiliates of the larger AFL-CIO.
None of the proponents of unity could tell me why giving up those rights would benefit me or the NEA.
It was not ignorance of the issues that led delegates to reject the merger; it was not, as Ms. Feldman put it, "old-fashioned snobbishness." It was the unacceptability of those details to a majority of the delegates. Many delegates did not oppose merger; they opposed this particular merger. They opposed the loss of those operating principles that made the NEA a strong and vital advocate for educators and for children.
If merger means giving up those principles and ceding my democratic rights to a leadership that wants to control my vote and my mind, then "let's stay the NEA."
Cherylin J. Roeser
First Vice President
Bergen County Education Association
To the Editor:
Having been involved in American Federation of Teachers-National Education Association competitive representation-election campaigns throughout the 1970s and the early 1980s, I'm not surprised that the NEA delegates rejected the merger plan recommended by its current leadership. While NEA President Bob Chase emphasizes that the merger is not dead and will be a goal of his organization, he will have to work harder at undoing what his organization did to the reputation of the AFT over the past three decades.
From my view, the failure to approve merger was a result of years of conditioning by the NEA of its rank-and-file membership, a conditioning that could not be undone. One of the most common reasons stated by NEA delegates for rejecting the AFT merger was the anticipated affiliation with the AFL-CIO. During the past 30 years, as the unions fought each other for representation rights, I witnessed the NEA consistently attack the AFT's affiliation with the AFL-CIO. In Oklahoma, as in many other states, the NEA developed and fostered stereotypes about the AFL-CIO that scared teachers into rejecting the AFT in favor of the NEA's concept of being a "professional association that was more than a union." During the election campaigns of the '70s and '80s, the NEA would convince teachers that if they voted for the AFT, George Meany, chomping on a cigar, would drive his pickup truck through the school playground, knocking over children, and then tell teachers which students could receive hall passes. The NEA created an image of complete domination of the AFT by the AFL-CIO. To drive home this point in one Oklahoma City campaign in the mid-1970s, the NEA tagged the AFT as the, "AFT-CIO." It's no wonder that teachers didn't want that same degree of perceived domination for the proposed merged organization.
As I traveled around Oklahoma this summer in my capacity as an education/labor relations consultant for schools, I heard teachers discussing the possible merger. Their fears were straight out of the NEA's propaganda of the '70s and '80s. I heard comments such as, "We don't want to have to go on strike if the grape pickers go on strike," and "I don't want to be part of organized crime." Generally, rural Oklahoma teachers, as appears to be the case with thousands of similar teachers in other states, view themselves as professionals who should not affiliate with the common assembly-line worker as part of what they view as a corrupt and controlling labor federation.
A lot is being written in the conservative press regarding the dangers of a merged teachers' union affiliated with the AFL-CIO. Interestingly, most of that dialogue is not based upon false stereotypes of corruption and control, but rather out of a recognition of political clout. It is clear, as many editorial writers have opined, that a merged union would have a significant impact not only upon teacher working conditions, but upon education policymaking. It is interesting that teachers turned down this opportunity based upon false stereotypes and misinformation.
Barlow and Associates Inc.
Oklahoma City, Okla.
Vol. 18, Issue 1, Pages 56, 58Published in Print: September 9, 1998, as Letters to the Editor