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Impartial Research on Vouchers Needed

To the Editor:

The American Jewish Congress opposes as a matter of public and constitutional law voucher programs such as that existing in Milwaukee. Indeed, it filed a brief arguing that the program was unconstitutional. So far, though, neither the Wisconsin courts nor its legislature have been persuaded by our arguments.

Proponents of vouchers argue that they will result in dramatic improvements in the education of both children who use their vouchers to attend private, mostly religious, schools and, by virtue of the ensuing competition for students, those who choose to remain in the public schools. Although this empirical contention is by no means the only consideration in the voucher debate, it is at least objectively verifiable.

It is true that, as Alex Molnar has noted, there are numerous studies purporting to describe the results of the Milwaukee program ("Unfinished Business in Milwaukee," Commentary, Nov. 17, 1999). Not only have these studies reached conflicting results, they have generally been sponsored by partisans to the debate and always seem to coincide with the views of the sponsors.

Perhaps the ambiguous results simply mean that the claims of voucher supporters are exaggerated. But it would be useful and appropriate for the Wisconsin legislature to charge a detached body of experts—without preconceived notions that they seek to confirm with their research—with the responsibility of analyzing the Milwaukee voucher program and preparing reports that will help resolve the debate about its effectiveness.

Such reports would not necessarily end the debate over vouchers, but they would at least inform it.

Marc D. Stern
Assistant Executive Director
American Jewish Congress
New York, N.Y.

Please Reissue 'Century' Books

To the Editor:

As I attempted to fill in some holes in my own reading, I was disconcerted to discover just how many of the Museum of Education Books of the Century are out of print ("Some Books of the Century," Commentary, Dec. 15, 1999). Maybe one outcome of the museum's initiative will be for publishers to bring these volumes out again soon.

If anyone out there is listening, can you please begin with James B. Conant's American High School Today (1959), Maxine Greene's Teacher as Stranger (1973), and Mortimer J. Adler's The Paideia Proposal (1982)?

Thank God for libraries.

Carol Jago
Santa Monica, Calif.

'Faces of a Century': Someone Missing?

To the Editor:

It is curious that your "Faces of a Century" installment ("Faces of a Century,' Dec. 15, 1999) excluded Sam Kirk, the generally acknowledged father of modern special education. His impact on millions of disabled and nondisabled students alike will be felt for all time. Consequently, his impact on our society will be felt for all time.

Laurence M. Lieberman
Boston, Mass.

Class-Size Essayist Responds to Critics

To the Editor:

As letters to the editor by David Marshak and others note, my Commentary ("How Cartoons and Calculators Resolved the Class-Size Debate," Dec. 8, 1999) obviously oversimplifies the class-size situation to some extent—at least partially due to the constraints of space, audience, and the nature of Commentary pieces ("Faulty Calculation: Class-Size Satire Doesn't Compute," Letters, Jan. 12, 2000).

A couple of qualifications are appropriate. First, I did not mention other areas, such as classroom environment, student affect, and so forth, that might be influenced by smaller classes. Mostly, this was because the research on these is slight compared with the research on achievement effects and not as definitive. Second, the issue of class size is complicated by consideration of who is in the class. A class of 30 students, none of whom has special needs, may be more effectively taught than a class of 22 students, 12 of whom have identified behavioral, physical, emotional, or cognitive needs.

Finally, and most importantly, we must recognize that if teachers actually did something differently in smaller classes, then there is at least the potential for increased student achievement. But the reality—that I have observed and that I believe accounts for the uniformly poor effect sizes associated with class-size reductions—is that teachers generally don't do anything differently. They do the same things with 24 students as they do with 28. In my Commentary, I only obliquely refer to this as part of the need for "bigger" teachers—that is, those with better developed professional skills: pedagogical understanding, content knowledge, planning abilities, and others.

So I, like many others, am becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the course educational "reforms" are taking. I have seen firsthand reductions in class size and examined the cost-benefit calculus, which supports my major point.

Even with the qualifications I listed earlier, the bottom line is the same: Given what we know about what currently happens in classrooms, what we know about the state of teacher training, and what we know about the simplistic nature of current class-size-reduction proposals, the chances for such reductions to significantly improve student achievement are still itsy-bitsy compared to many alternatives.

There are good ideas out there for how to spend limited educational resources. General class-size reductions ain't one of 'em.

Gregory J. Cizek
Associate Professor of Educational Research and Measurement
University of Toledo
Toledo, Ohio

Options Grow for Online-Sales Help

To the Editor:

After reading your front-page article "Schools Hope To Cash In on Online Sales," Dec. 15, 1999, I feel your readers should know about our company, SchoolCash.com, which was not mentioned. We are the second-largest and fastest-growing site on the World Wide Web for school supporters. In our first four months of operation, nearly 3,500 schools have formally registered with us.

SchoolCash.com was formed by a group of parents who saw the tremendous need for more money to support schools across the nation. With over 160 merchants and the highest level of rebates of any site on the Web, SchoolCash.com also features a large "No Purchase Necessary" section where people can raise money for their schools merely by searching the Web. We also have a growing number of products such as electronics that can be purchased offline.

We regret that SchoolCash was overlooked in your article and hope that principals and parent leaders will know that there is another option for online school fund raising.

David Greene
Chief Executive Officer
Florham Park, N.J.

To the Editor:

The portion of your article "Schools Hope To Cash In on Online Sales" relating to Schoolpop's Web site (Schoolpop.com) stated that "the foundations of the National School Boards Association, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and the National Association of State Boards of Education are all accepting rebates from purchases made on Schoolpop by customers who don't designate a particular school as a beneficiary."

This is not true for the National Association of Secondary School Principals. Schoolpop makes a direct contribution to the NASSP's scholarship fund for underprivileged youths through its foundation, the Trust to Reach Education Excellence, or TREE.

Ken Kingery
Vice President, Sales and Partnerships
Schoolpop Inc.
Menlo Park, Calif.

Vol. 19, Issue 19, Pages 43-44

Published in Print: January 19, 2000, as Letters

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