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'Lofty,' 'Mundane' Need Some Context

To the Editor:

"Do we squander the lofty and difficult in pursuit of the minor and mundane?" That is an excellent question that Professor Joan F. Goodman asks in her ivory-tower Commentary "'Running in the Halls' and Moral Trivia," (Sept. 23, 1998). The essay provided an amusing respite in my long administrative morning schedule that included:

  • Being called to the bus-unloading area to resolve an argument between two parents;
  • Revising the lunch menu to reflect what is considered a more balanced meal for young adolescents;
  • Signing a work order for glass replacement;
  • Reminding the custodial supervisor about our back-to-school night open-house needs;
  • Trying to help resolve a scheduling conflict between community members who demand an open-swim program on Saturday morning and the city swim team that demands exclusive use of the pool for their practice session;
  • Signing forms that will generate a printing order that will be used to order additional forms;
  • Helping to organize an upcoming "Minority Achievement" club meeting;
  • Helping to plan for a field trip;
  • Meeting with parents to discuss expanding the curriculum;
  • Chairing the Building Technology Committee meeting;
  • Observing and evaluating three first-year teachers;
  • Planning our in-house staff development program for nontenured teachers; and
  • Reprimanding several students who were running in the hallway.

I agree, there must be more in a quality education than only focusing on the "minor and the mundane," as Ms. Goodman says. Fortunately, in many school districts across the country, conscientious and hard-working educators will continue to address the important issues that influence and impact the lives of our students. It is important to keep priorities in focus, and this can be difficult considering all the demands placed upon everyone who works in the public arena. Great schools achieve a reasonable balance between "the lofty" and the "mundane."

I believe both have a place in education.

Neil T. Glazer
Shaker Heights Middle School
Shaker Heights, Ohio

'Buckling Up' Saves School Bus Lives

To the Editor:

This is to clarify the quote that was attributed to me in your recent article "Demand Grows for Seat Belts on New Buses," (Sept. 16, 1998). The quote--one sentence out of three hours of conversation--was in response to a question about whether seat belts could increase head impacts in frontal collisions. Yes, they may, but in large school buses the increased impact will not be severe.

In the Canadian crash test of a large bus, which is touted as the study that "proves" that seat belts are a terrible idea, the only dummy to "die" (from chest impact) was unbelted. Other unbelted dummies impacted the top of the seat-back in front of them with their necks or were thrown to the floor, where they hit the legs of the seat frames, but there were no load cells to record these "injuries." And, at the Aug. 12, 1998, National Transportation Safety Board hearing, belt opponents could not cite even one instance of a school bus passenger who had been more severely injured by their seat belt than they would have been without one.

The rest of the story is this: Seat belts will keep passengers inside the padded compartment of safety in side impacts and roll-overs. They will help prevent fatal actions such as putting arms or heads out of windows. They will improve behavior on the bus leading to less driver distraction, and they will reinforce the message of "buckling up" every time a child gets into a motor vehicle.

Most major medical associations--including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, Physicians for Automotive Safety, the American College of Preventive Medicine, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the Society for Adolescent Medicine, and the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery--support seat belts on school buses. This support is based on an understanding of children's physiology, injury mechanics, and existing research.

In 1996, there were approximately 13,000 injuries inside school buses. The National Academy of Sciences estimates that 5 percent of school-bus-passenger injuries are incapacitating. This means 650 children with incapacitating injuries. We could reduce those injures by from 25 percent to 35 percent, according to the New Jersey Institute of Technology's 1989 study, if three-quarters of the children use seat belts. The cost of phasing in seat belts would be less than 5 percent of the $12 billion this country spends on pupil transportation each year. We can afford it.

David J. Cullen
Sarasota, Fla.

The writer is a member of the Florida PTA in Orlando.

'Children First' Is All Adults Need To Know

To the Editor:

Dorothy Rich ("You Can't Teach What You Don't Know," Sept. 16, 1998.) took a thousand words to say what the Jewish teacher Hillel said 2,200 years ago: "If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?"

Unfortunately, Ms. Rich put it in the context of saying "children first" is the wrong educational mantra. "[I]t sounds nice but it's based on the wrongheaded assumption that adults already know and have what they need in order to teach children," she writes. What adults need to know is that children are the priority. Many educators don't seem to know it. That's why the mantra exists in the first place.

Laurence M. Lieberman
Boston, Mass.

Foster-Care Schooling: Who Will Urge Programs to Higher Ground?

To the Editor:

Your recent coverage of children in foster care ("One-on-One," Sept. 9, 1998) shed some light on the critical educational needs of these children. In addition to the thousands of foster-care placements made to individual or group homes, there also are many children who are placed by the foster-care system in child-care agencies. Unlike the children placed in homes, these institutionally placed children usually do not attend the local public schools.

In New York, for example, children in child-care institutions typically attend school on the grounds of the institutions. Generally, these child-care-agency schools are private school programs supervised by the respective agency, with oversight by the state education department. Many of the children attending these programs have learning disabilities and emotional problems, are classified by committees on special education, and receive special education services.

In New York, there are also 16 "special act" public school districts located on the campuses of child-care agencies. These are fully public schools, created by special acts of the legislature to serve children in the foster-care system. The special-act districts must meet the requirements and standards set for public school programs throughout the state, and also all mandates on the provision of special education services to children with disabilities.

With higher academic standards being required of all students, including those in special education programs, the question arises: Will institutionally placed foster-care children in public and private special education settings be able to meet the higher standards? The answer is yes, many foster-care children will be. After all, children in the foster-care system are simply children, like children everywhere. But the answer, unfortunately, will be no, unless major changes are made in the programs serving these children.

Two main obstacles will prevent children in foster-care institutions from reaching the higher academic standards. The first is the lack of clinical supports to help children confront increasingly severe emotional and behavioral issues. Special education programs serving these children have not kept pace with the range and depth of problems they experience. Many, while bright, arrive at a child-care agency with a history of truancy and school failure and low expectations of themselves and school. They have short attention spans, react poorly to adults, display antisocial and aggressive behaviors, are involved with drug and alcohol abuse, and have difficulty engaging initially with the learning process.

Individualized education programs for these children include a clinical requirement, but the delivery of service at many of these schools falls short of what is needed. Focused clinical treatments, linked explicitly to behavioral and academic outcomes, must be provided. Intensified clinical, counseling, and guidance work must be offered to allow accelerated learning to take place. Clinical treatments must support the academic work, particularly in a climate of higher academic standards. Unfortunately, most programs serving foster-care children do not have the resources to develop effective programs to accomplish this.

Further, child-care agencies and their schools should be required to establish a common planning process for each child. Incredibly, at each campus there often is a treatment plan developed by the child-care agency and a treatment plan developed by the school committee on special education for each child. These plans are produced in parallel processes with little sharing of information and expertise between staffs and programs often located only a few feet away from each other. The plans should be fully coordinated to maximize the academic and therapeutic impact spanning the entire day for each institutionally placed child.

The second obstacle relates to academic programming. Too many children in foster-care special education settings receive limited or no instruction in high-level coursework due to the fact that teachers instructing them typically are certified only in special education. Given the higher standards increasingly required by all states, it is imperative that foster-care children in secondary-level special education programs receive academic instruction from teachers certified in the content areas, supported by special education staff members. Without exposure to qualified teachers certified in math, science, social studies, and English, it is likely that these children will fail when confronted with more-rigorous state and national examinations.

Not only do many of these public and private school programs lack content-certified staff, but they are without science labs, and therefore are incapable of providing students adequate experiences to meet higher standards. Many need an infusion of up-to-date textbooks, materials, supplies, computers, software, and other resources necessary to the provision of first-rate instruction.

Imagine the local public reaction--not to mention test-score results--if students attending high school in Scarsdale, N.Y., for example, were provided instruction in chemistry, economics, literature, and geometry by individuals certified only in special education. The local community would not allow it. Children in foster-care special education programs must be provided opportunities to achieve academic success on a par with children in regular education settings. This means access to regular education and teachers certified in the content areas, as the recent reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act lucidly affirmed.

Now, more than ever, a lack of rigorous educational programming at special education schools serving children in the foster-care system has severe, long-lasting consequences. It may doom these young people, who did not choose to be in foster-care institutions, to being permanently excluded from access to higher education and occupations of influence and power that demand high-stakes diplomas and college degrees.

Thousands of children pass through the doors of child-care institutions and attend public and private schools on the grounds of these agencies each year. Many of the parents of these children are in crisis and cannot, therefore, successfully advocate for better-quality schools to serve their youngsters. As academic standards continue to rise, who will urge these programs to higher ground?

James G. Donlevy
Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.

The writer is the assistant executive director of residential services at St. Christopher's Inc. in Dobbs Ferry and the superintendent of schools at Greenburgh-North Castle, a special-act public school district located on the grounds of St. Christopher's.

Vol. 18, Issue 7, Pages 46-47

Published in Print: September 23, 1998, as Letters

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