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Boards Are Source of Suits Against Charters

To the Editor:

More than a dozen lawsuits have been launched by state school boards' associations challenging the validity or constitutionality of charter schools, simply because they were allowed to open without the approval of the local school board. These facts are provided in direct refutation of the claim by President Anne L. Byrant of the National School Boards Association that school boards are not responsible for a flurry of litigation ("NSBA Sees Value of Charter Schools," Nov. 8, 2000).

In reality, all but two lawsuits against charter schools have been launched by aggrieved school boards, in cooperation with their state associations.

This means that rather than focus on what the children of their schools need, the charter schools are often forced to go to court, spend precious, limited money, and defend their right to exist.

Such a lawsuit prevented the Lighthouse Charter School in South Carolina and the Thurgood Marshall Charter in Denver from ever opening. The coalition of school boards in New Jersey that sued over the establishment of a regional charter school sapped that community's energy until the state supreme court ruled that the coalition had no case. In Arkansas, California, Florida, and Michigan, the verse is different but the song is the same.

Today in Verona, Wis., the Core Knowledge Charter School is faced with a local school board that set the rules, denied it opportunities to solicit a diverse population, manages the enrollment process—and then declares that the charter school is insufficiently working to expand its enrollment.

While many school board members welcome charter schools, the organized opposition of school boards' associations remains shocking to those of us who grew up being taught that school boards were the only non-political, objective entity that represented the interests of the whole community.

As for Ms. Bryant's contention that "there is little evidence to suggest that charter schools are living up to their promise," her claim is belied by a front-page story in the same issue of Education Week ("State Leaders Inclusive in Push for Standards") describing Atlanta-area students who "will have their pick of $35,000-a-year jobs right after graduation," all because of their success at the Central Education Center charter school.

That one story—added to the 49 research reports the Center for Education Reform analyzed—provides plenty of evidence to anyone who is looking for it.

Jeanne Allen
Center for Education Reform
Washington, D.C.

Singapore, Revisited: A Culture of Diversity

To the Editor:

Regarding the contention by Gail Burrill, a past president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, that Singapore is a homogeneous culture ("U.S. Schools Importing Singaporean Texts," Sept. 27, 2000), may I point out that Singapore has a diverse culture not only of Chinese, Malays, Indians, and Caucasians, but, in terms of religions, one of even greater diversity.

And if she meant that the Singapore educational program is homogeneous, then France, England, Germany, Australia, and nearly all other countries in the world have a national, homogeneous curriculum, unlike the American system of local control.

It is bad enough that Americans are not willing to learn from others, but, even worse, we characterize other people with misinformation.

Harry K. Wong
Saratoga, Calif.

Principal Regrets 'Sensationalist Tone'

To the Editor:

As the principal of the school featured in the article "Competing Forces," which appeared as part of your special supplement on middle schools ("Middle Grades: Feeling the Squeeze," Oct. 4, 2000), I am writing to express my concern. Information that appeared in the article—about a note passed between students named Michelle and Ali—was used without the permission of the students.

In addition, students were upset with the article's sensationalist tone. Small incidents were distorted and events linked together to portray a very different reality from what we know as daily life at College Place Middle School.

Student reaction has been a mixture of disappointment and a sense of betrayal. The result of the article was to reinforce stereotypes of middle school students, despite the stated intent of the reporter to portray life from the middle school student's perspective. Students willingly opened themselves up to your reporter, but were not fully informed of what would be used and how it would be used.

Given our students' limited experience with this type of interview process, it is disappointing that you did not clearly explain your intentions in writing this story.

Andy Rogers
College Place Middle School
Lynnwood, Wash.

Editor's Note: The reporter sought and received permission from the two students to publish the note in question, and explained the intent of the story to those she interviewed. Several College Place students and parents have been in touch with Education Week to say they were pleased with the article.

Pondering the Scope of Educator's Role

To the Editor:

I was asked once on a teaching application to submit a writing sample in which I described all the roles and responsibilities of a professional educator. I laughed, of course. This topic is too broad and subjective to be covered in a limited writing exercise. Whole theses have been written on it, yet this district wanted me to take on the task while trying to get a job.

Educators are compelled by their calling and the communities they serve to walk the razor's edge. They must carefully maneuver among the individual needs of their students, the expectations of parents and the society as a whole, and the endless red tape of school system bureaucracies. All of these can be conflicting. And all of them can be harmonious.

Erasmus said that the main hope of a nation lies in the proper education of its youths. Education is not necessarily about finding answers, it's more about asking questions. It should seek to show people how to learn how to learn. It should also teach them how to become lifetime learners.

Independence and achievement are inspired by responsibility, willpower, and moral fiber, not just by a head filled with facts. Educators need to be role models of responsible citizenship. They need to show children how to be dutiful citizens who are connected to the society and contribute positively in their communities through activities such as volunteering, being active in the political process, and engaging in the civic discourse. Teachers also need to emphasize the quality of the knowledge they impart, not just how much of it is being provided.

There is more than one route to adulthood in this world. School is just one of them. And it is a privilege. Students need to understand this by being shown how to integrate themselves into society while developing their own identities. More than anything else, perhaps, professional educators are responsible for providing a positive yet challenging environment that accommodates young people's introduction into adulthood.

Thomas J. Seitzinger Jr.
Fairport, N.Y.

The Question of Art

To the Editor:

Ellen Winner and Lois Hetland inadvertently play into the hands of those who view the arts as marginal subject matter in education in their essay "Does Studying the Arts Enhance Academic Achievement?" (Commentary, Nov. 1, 2000).

They describe the results of their "quantitative syntheses of 188 published and unpublished studies appearing since 1950 on the question of whether studying the arts in school leads to greater academic achievement in non-arts areas." Their results supply the obvious answer that there is little or no evidence to support that claim.

Ms. Winner and Ms. Hetland apply the appearance of (ironically) test- based rigor (meta-analysis) to answer a question they later in the article deem to be of secondary relevance at best. They do acknowledge that "it is high time to state the arguments for the arts in our schools and to begin to gather the right kind of evidence for those arguments." Then they argue that the "best hope" for the arts is to "justify" their presence in the curriculum by "what the arts can do that other subjects cannot do as well, or cannot do at all."

Rehashing 50 years worth of research data on an irrelevant question does nothing to advance any "justification" of the arts in education. The difficulty lies in the fact that the arts need to be justified at all. What is needed is direct evidence of the nature of artistic knowledge and understanding that can be used to explain, rather than justify, the role of arts education.

Unfortunately, explanatory evidence needs to rise to a level of credibility that mere philosophizing cannot provide. Although Ms. Winner and Ms. Hetland abhor those who are "brainwashed by today's testing mentality," their report demonstrates that arts educators in general, and Harvard's Project Zero in particular, have a great deal of work to do. It is fair to ask, why aren't they reporting a 30-year meta-analytic study of Project Zero findings to address the question of "what the arts can do that other subjects cannot do as well, or cannot do at all"?

Until arts educators stop relying on advocacy, and realize that substantive research can and should be completed, we will be mired in the error that our beliefs and justifications for the arts constitute explanatory evidence.

John M. Holahan
Director of Data Management
Center for the Study of Learning and Attention
Yale University School of Medicine
New Haven, Conn.
Adjunct Associate in Music Education
The Hartt School, University of Hartford
Hartford, Conn.

Vol. 20, Issue 13, Page 40

Published in Print: November 29, 2000, as Letters

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