Letters to the Editor

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Core Knowledge: 'In' Not 'Out'

To the Editor:

You presented an accurate and interesting story about the list of approved school reforms in the original Obey-Porter reform legislation ("Who's In, Who's Out," Jan. 20, 1998.). You correctly reported that some untested or ineffective programs were listed in the legislation, while some well-tested and effective programs such as Core Knowledge were left off the original list.

Many administrators have misinterpreted the first paragraph of the story as saying that Core Knowledge is not now approved for Obey-Porter funds--judging from the distraught telephone calls we are receiving from principals. In fact, in 1998, Core Knowledge was added to the official list as "a research-based reform design under the federal Comprehensive School Reform Demonstration Program," otherwise known as Obey-Porter.

So please allow me to correct the mistaken impression. Core Knowledge is not only an approved Obey-Porter program, it is, according to current evidence, one of the most effective, and is at or near the top in school improvement per grant dollar spent, because little of the Obey-Porter money goes back to the reforming organization, the nonprofit Core Knowledge Foundation.

Most of the money is kept by the school itself for permanent investments in library resources, teaching materials, teacher release time, and teacher training in subject matters.

Thanks for letting me clarify this matter.

E. D. Hirsch Jr.
Core Knowledge Foundation
Charlottesville, Va.

Those in Wheelchairs Are Not 'Bound'

To the Editor:

Although your article "Bringing Special Education Students Into the Classroom" (Lessons of a Century, Jan. 27, 1999) purports to convey one of the "lessons of the century," it is obvious that the lessons have not been well learned. If we really "included" people in classrooms and society, we would understand that Judith E. Heumann and other people who use wheelchairs are not to be considered "wheelchair bound." I have yet to see a group of people who are tied into their chairs. Rather than being "wheelchair bound" or "confined to a wheelchair," these devices allow people the freedom to participate in society.

If news organizations would contact groups such as the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps, they might learn that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and other changes were attempting to change the focus of people's views so that society looks at people and sees them for who they are, not for the disability that may be a small portion of the person.

People deserve more dignity, not pity. Please try to use "people first" language when referring to people with disabilities. This would help focus on the appropriate part of who an individual is.

Lee S. Lashley
Greensboro, N.C.

Opting Out of School Rankings

To the Editor:

Your Jan. 13, 1999, article erroneously reports that "several" prominent public schools that often top other lists of excellent secondary schools are missing from the U.S. News & World Report roster because the U.S. News study factors for the socioeconomic characteristics of "successful" high schools ("U.S. News Selects 96 'Outstanding' Schools"). In point of fact, at least in our case, Scarsdale (N.Y.) High School does not appear on the U.S. News list because we declined to participate in the University of Chicago study that developed the list of outstanding high schools.

We declined this invitation for some important reasons. First, we believe that the selection of "outstanding" schools necessarily implies a ranking process that is inappropriate for public education. Schools, both private and public, serve a variety of constituencies under circumstances that are as varied as the nation itself. Any effort to determine the country's "best" schools cannot account for all the variables in a school community that require different strategies for different student populations.

Second, the history of U.S. News rankings of American colleges and universities has been the subject of much controversy in recent years. We do not believe it is appropriate to pit school district against school district in competition for a particular slot on the roster. The long-standing achievement of Scarsdale High School in a variety of areas is, in our opinion, not up for debate. We are proud of our scores on standardized tests, our admissions rates to selective colleges and universities, our exceptional faculty, and our collective commitment to the education of the children of Scarsdale. That record speaks for itself; participation in the US. News study is not a part of our educational mission.

We rejected the invitation to participate in the U.S. News project because the most important way "to celebrate educational excellence" is to teach, to inspire learning, and to model the value of education--not to sell newsweeklies on the open market.

John Klemme
Scarsdale High School
Scarsdale, N.Y.

'Math Wars' Are Media Creation

To the Editor:

Your recent article on middle school textbook reviews is disheartening ("Reviews of Math Text Parallel Pedagogy Rifts," Jan. 27, 1999). Once again, a report gives equal attention to "both sides of the 'math wars,'" rather than considering how and by whom the reviews were conducted. I had hoped that by now Education Week would be looking at the merits of different views of learning and teaching mathematics, rather than continuing to treat any news strictly on a political basis.

The "math wars" are a media creation that comes from five years of reporting conflict rather than evidence. The war metaphor may now be apt, but it has resulted from one-sided attacks by those wanting to prevent change on those who were making change. Mathematically Correct, a small but obviously well-financed operation, has been singularly effective in its deliberate, shrewd, brilliantly executed campaign against the vision of mathematics education that has been, albeit slowly, achieving widespread understanding and support among teachers of mathematics education for several decades. But campaign effectiveness should not be the basis for recognition in Education Week.

Or do I misunderstand the purpose of the publication?

Walter Denham
Sacramento, Calif.

N.Y. Charter Law Bears Union Imprint

To the Editor:

Your article "At 11th Hour, N.Y. Approves 'Strong' New Charter Law," Jan. 13, 1999, hit the nail on the head. Knowing the power teachers' union bosses wield in the Empire State, I was not surprised that the bill had union leaders' fingerprints all over it.

Teachers' union officials have openly stated that they do not want anyone who is not a union member to be allowed to teach in the nation's schools. They have successfully passed legislation in New York requiring every teacher in every district to pay forced dues or belong to the union. New York is the only state where their power has reached such a pinnacle.

Close examination of New York Article 56, the charter school amendment to the education law, leads to the following conclusions:

  • The requirements on collective bargaining state that if a charter school is a "converted" public school, it and its employees will be treated as if it were a public school, and the employees are subject to the same bargaining rules as are public schools.
  • If the charter school is established independently of an already existing public school (in other words, not a converted public school), the employees and school will not be subject to collective bargaining rules unless the average daily attendance for students reaches 250 at any time within the five years of the charter. When attendance surpasses 250 students, the employees will be considered a separate bargaining unit, represented by the same agent representing the rest of the district.
  • The only exemption allowed for this requirement will be for up to 10 charter schools in a district. The exemption will apply only to charter schools that are set up as recommended in the charter school bill (unconverted charter schools).
  • Any charter school may choose to offer the terms of any existing collective bargaining agreement to school employees.

These distinctions will render the situation in New York the same as it is in other states without charter school laws. Many charter schools will remain under the same restrictive rules as New York public schools, subject to mandatory bargaining agreements.

Even the nonconverted charter schools will be subject to union rules of certification. The law allows these schools to hire 30 percent, or five teachers, whichever is less, who are not subject to the rules of state teacher certification. This is an almost useless concession to alternative certification: In a school with only 10 teachers (which would be a very small school indeed), there could only be three non-board-certified teachers.

The law provides that most charter schools, even ones established by independent, nongovernmental concerns, will eventually be subject to bargaining, and that it will be business as usual with teachers' union leaders, mandatory bargaining, and forced dues for all New York teachers.

Despite the hype, it seems that there will be no real freedom for New York's charter schools. All of the current impediments--tenure, monopoly bargaining, teacher certification--seem to be alive and well in this new law. It is as restrictive as all other education laws crafted by teachers' union officials.

Cathy Jones
Concerned Educators Against Forced Unionism
Springfield, Va.

Giving a Choice Is Not a Bribe

To the Editor:

Joseph W. Newman's Commentary ("Bribing Students Out of Public Schools," Jan. 27, 1999) would be funny if it weren't so pathetic. A "bribe" is an inducement to do something dishonest or unethical. Giving parents a choice as to where their children go to school hardly qualifies. The teachers' unions and educational establishment need to remember that vouchers are supposed to give parents a choice; they don't need any more justification.

The exodus metaphor is quite accurate: If parents were simply given a free choice as to where to send their children, there would be an exodus out of the public schools like rats off a sinking ship. If the truth hurts, you know we must be getting close to the quick. I'll put my children in the public schools when they are fixed and not before.

David Lemire
Manhattan, Kan.

Quality Ammunition Pay for Standards, Hold Publishers Accountable

To the Editor:

Let me see if I've got this straight. Iowa has high student achievement, but no state standards. The purpose of state standards is to bring other states to Iowa's level of student achievement. So Iowa gets an F for not having state standards ("Quality Counts '99," Jan. 11, 1999).

This may be clear to the Pew Charitable Trusts, but it isn't to me. And when you repeat its canard without comment, you agree that Iowa should get an F for a test that it didn't sign up to take.

Iowa doesn't need state standards, because it has high student achievement. Iowa is what happens after a state has high-achieving students, high local standards, no emergency teachers, technology, and public support. It doesn't need to go backwards. That's why the federal government gave Iowa a waiver on state standards. It wouldn't have if Iowa had deserved an F.

The "standards movement" is a case of government wanting to restructure education without recapitalizing it. This policy has failed to restructure schools for 18 years. Without major federal financing of schools, state standards are bogus.

Our troops lack ammunition. Pew's solution is to schedule target practice. Now, it wants to use Iowa sharpshooters as targets. This is unlikely to win battles; but it serves those who don't care where they aim.

Jolene Franken
Iowa State Education Association
Des Moines, Iowa

To the Editor:

After reading "Quality Counts '99," I was encouraged to see the continuing nationwide trend toward accountability in education. However, I find a glaring omission in the discussion of who should be held accountable: educational publishers.

Administrators, teachers, parents, and students must demand that publishers provide curricula that produce measurable, positive results when used in a broad range of classrooms. Until publishers are held accountable, they will, as a rule, continue to publish what will sell, which we all know from experience is not always what will work in the classroom. As a result, teachers will continue to be handicapped in their efforts to teach effectively, and students will be denied the opportunity to succeed in their learning.

Bruce C. Saxon, M.D.
Saxon Publishers
Norman, Okla.

Whole-School Recovery

To the Editor:

Ah, the ironies of public education in the United States.

The front page of your Jan. 20, 1999, issue presents the article "Who's In, Who's Out,"--a list of 17 reform models identified by the Comprehensive School Reform Demonstration Program. And then the Commentary on the back page is "Reading Reform: Lessons From Maine," highlighting Reading Recovery as part of Maine's success in literacy. Most striking--ironic--is that Reading Recovery is not mentioned on the list of comprehensive school reform programs in the front-page article.

I am the first to admit that Reading Recovery is not a "whole-school reform" model (since it is a 1st grade, early-intervention program), but imagine the whole-school reform possibilities when one couples Reading Recovery with ELLI, the Early Literacy Learning Initiative (now known as the Literacy Collaborative). What sets this combined model apart is not just its potential success for both children and teachers (Reading Recovery has over 10 years of research; ELLI is still too new to have collected long-term data), but the professional-development model; these are not "train-and-walk-away" models. As with Reading Recovery, ELLI trains a school literacy team, from which is trained a school literacy coordinator who continues to receive training on an annual basis, just as Reading Recovery teachers return five to six times each year for "continuing contact" (additional training) every year after the training year--thus, Reading Recovery's success and the purity of the model.

Although one may find some humor in the polarization of the front- and back-page articles in the same issue--who is and is not on "the list" vs. what really works with children in a school district (in an entire state!)--the message from the combination of the two is also disillusioning. As educators, we give the impression that sometimes we do not know what we are talking about. Or is it the noneducators who don't get it?

First, we need to find a way for U.S. Reps. David R. Obey and John Edward Porter, who authored the legislation, to talk with Maine reading reformers. We need to eliminate these ironies in public education.

David J. Moriarty
Director of Language Arts
Medford Public Schools
Medford, Mass.

Vol. 18, Issue 23, Pages 55-56

Published in Print: February 17, 1999, as Letters to the Editor

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