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Labor, Management: Can They Change?

To the Editor:

Adam Urbanski's and Clifford B. Janey's notions of labor-management cooperation in schools and workplaces are being trampled on by reality in every sector of life ("A Better Bargain," May 23, 2001). Chicago and Cincinnati teachers just threw out their elected leaders, who were molded in the Urbanski kiln of teamwork. The educators saw that the team was the union bosses and management, together, against them. The State University of New York union just heaved its leaders in favor of those who grasp that the reason people have unions is that workers and bosses have, mostly, opposition in common.

The underlying assumption of Mr. Urbanski's life work, that we are all in this together as one nation, is going the way of the NASDAQ. This nation is more and more inequitable, less and less democratic. We now witness a full assault on civic life, particularly in education, in the name of greed, segregation, and fear. People are organizing along the lines that the material world offers to them. The recognition that class is the key dividing line is back.

There is nothing like a stock crisis, an energy collapse, and the wreckage of heavy industry like automobile manufacturing to remind us to ask the age-old question: Which side are you on?

Rich Gibson
College of Education
San Diego State University
San Diego Calif.

To the Editor:

Kudos to Adam Urbanski and Clifford B. Janey for their vital and challenging call for a fundamental change in collective bargaining ("A Better Bargain," Commentary, May 23, 2001). Most important, and giving hope that this is not a Sisyphus redux, they outline how they have taken steps forward in Rochester, N. Y.

I have big questions, however: What antecedents were necessary to get Rochester to the point of innovation in collective bargaining? What difference has attention to first-order issues, such as salaries, benefits, and working conditions made? To what extent can changes in collective bargaining be made without first attending to first-order issues, and how can change attempts be maintained when progress on the first-order issues slows?

Bill McKersie
Senior Program Officer
The Cleveland Foundation
Cleveland, Ohio

The Many Sides of State Leadership

To the Editor:

We are pleased that Education Week in its May 23, 2001, edition gave such prominent coverage to the Institute for Educational Leadership's recent report, "Leadership for Student Learning: Recognizing the State's Role in Public Education." We are concerned, however, that the article ("State Ed. Departments Should Lead Reforms, Report Says," May 23, 2001) is unbalanced and distorts the message in our report by giving the impression that state education agencies ("pivotal" as they may be) can somehow unilaterally provide the substantive and political leadership that currently is so badly needed at the state level.

A more careful reading of the report would indicate that the IEL task force on state leadership was not unaware or disdainful of the crucially important roles that must be played by legislators, governors, business leaders, chief state school officers, and state school board members. Indeed, the spirit of the report emphasizes the urgent need to buttress the capacity of all parts of the state educational governance system to work together to provide more effective leadership for student learning.

Michael D. Usdan
Institute for Educational Leadership
Project Director
School Leadership for the
21st Century Initiative
Washington, D.C.

Texas Accountability: No Ethnic Thresholds

To the Editor:

Re: "Study Questions Reliability of Single-Year Test-Score Gains," (May 23, 2001): The statement that the accountability system in Texas sets "separate performance or growth expectations for each racial or ethnic subgroup" is not correct.

Texas sets the same performance expectation for every student group in its accountability system. The failure of any single student group to meet or exceed expectations for test performance, attendance, and low dropout rates (all criteria must meet expectations) will result in the identification of a school as "low performing." The same approach is used for measuring adequate yearly progress for Title I. Texas does not establish separate thresholds for each racial or ethnic subgroup, as your article states.

Catherine Clark
Charles A. Dana Center
University of Texas at Austin
Austin, Texas

Target Early Grades for Summer School

To the Editor:

The problem with most summer school programs is that they target the wrong age group ("Is Summer School the Answer Or the Problem?," May 23, 2001). All of the research shows that remediation programs for the youngest children are the most effective. Why is this logic not followed through with summer school?

Summer school programs should focus on basic skills at the primary grades. Because they're more compliant, primary students are more likely to attend summer schools. And parents of younger students would be more supportive—even grateful—because: (1) They could avoid paying babysitting fees for their children in the summer, and (2) they wouldn't have to cajole their much larger teenagers into attending summer school when they refuse to do it.

High school kids already have an opportunity to make up for specific credits lost in the following year. Elementary students have no such luck. They either pass or fail everything. It's no wonder there's so much pressure to promote them when they're not ready. Summer school could provide an alternative.

R. Vandenberg
Ontario, Canada

Principals Must Be Administrators First

To the Editor:

J. Casey Hurley is right that the role of the principal should be narrowed, but his suggestion for narrowing it is wrong ("The Principalship: Less May Be More," May 23, 2001).

What is needed is for principals to be administrators again—to take care of running the building, to get the books, to solve the scheduling problems, to deal with discipline and parents, and to clear away the time-wasting, paperwork activities that interfere with teaching and learning.

Instead, in the name of "leadership," we see principals who can no longer run their buildings and who haven't taught in years trying to tell teachers how to teach. It is a sad waste of teacher and principal time.

It's time for schools to abandon the business-driven reform models that push for more "productivity" by creating new jobs and more work to be done by the same people in the same time. It's no secret among teachers why young teachers are not staying in the profession. But apparently other groups haven't yet seen that teachers are struggling with classroom demographics and dynamics that are increasingly complex, and that they don't appreciate wasting time on the latest exercises that the current "effective schools" research suggests should be tried to "improve schools."

Reformers have the wrong image of teaching. We're not bumbling incompetents milling around in small cliques with our heads down, hats in hand, pushing a rock around the floor with a toe, unaware of how to teach and awaiting direction from superior beings with researched insight.

Teachers are holding up the dam of social and civil systems, trying to plug the holes and prop up the collapsing structure that holds back the rising tide of barbarism. They see the problems, they live with the issues, they fight the good fight—and it isn't helpful to have a crowd of reformers standing on the bluffs, shouting down their current theories on dam repair, hole plugging, teaming, and support systems, complaining about costs, refusing to provide shovels, and pretending to be "leaders."

Narrow the principal's job down to the point that he or she can take care of discipline and get books in classrooms. That would be an improvement. Then, if the principal also wants to contact parents and develop a public relations program, he can do that, too.

But what we don't need is to have a principal shrink from his duty and retreat into a murky world of "school improvement" and "professional development" and "educational leadership," where the basic administrative matters are abandoned. Principals need to be administrators—good administrators.

Bill Harshbarger
Arcola, Ill.

Boosting Technology Via Teacher Training

To the Editor:

The use of technology in K-12 schools is late in coming ( "Testing Computerized Exams," May 23, 2001). What is needed is a requirement by all teacher education schools and colleges that education majors take at least six semester hours in computer technology.

I salute the state in which I teach for passing a law that all teachers must have three semester hours of computer-based technology to renew their certification. Testing via computers: Why not?

Juan Moore
Chamblee, Ga.

High Social Stakes In Child-Care Crisis

To the Editor:

Monterey Peninsula College child-development instructor Caroline C. Carney has it exactly right: Though most would agree that child-care wages must be raised, there is little money in the typical child-care operation to support higher wages ("Child-Care Workers Eye Unionization," May 9, 2001).

So who can pay? Parents, for the most part, are already paying fees that stretch their budgets, especially in areas of California where the cost of living is so high. The government can make a contribution toward the solution through efforts such as the California CARES bill and support from local children-and-families commissions.

In California, we are also pushing for the passage of Senate Bill 993, legislation that would provide additional money for salaries. But I think that the business community can do more. It is true that some employers support child care for their employees through pretax initiatives, and a few have built child-care centers. But employers can do more, and should want to.

If the child-care system collapses because of this crisis, employees will be unable to work. Child care is an integral part of the economic fabric of our society, and most do not recognize that reality. It is in everyone's best interest to make sure that our child-care system remains healthy, providing quality care and experiences for our youngest citizens. We shouldn't forget that these are the people who will, in 30 years, be making decisions that effect our lives as senior citizens.

Denise McCoy
Santa Cruz, Calif.

Iowa Teachers and Graduate Courses

To the Editor:

According to Ted Stilwill, the director of the Iowa education department and one of the drafters of the state's new teacher-pay plan, "Most of the graduate courses people in Iowa take are not directly connected to their work as a teacher" ("Iowa Approves Performance Pay For Its Teachers," May 16, 2001).

Does Mr. Stilwill have the data to support this statement? It seems not only a generalization, but a false one at that. The teachers that I know in Iowa complete graduate courses that are directly connected to their work as teachers. Mr. Stilwill needs to supply the facts that back up this statement before I'll believe it.

Mary Brooks
West Des Moines, Iowa

Longer School Year, More Teacher Pay

To the Editor:

I agree with Rona Wilensky about the driving force of school reform ("Wrong, Wrong, Wrong," May 9, 2001). The underlying premise of A Nation at Risk never came true.

While there is still much rhetoric about reforming the schools, I don't see any evidence of the financial resolve to address the problems. Many of my friends in the classroom may not agree with me, for example, but I think a longer school year with increased student contact time and additional time to work with other educators would be a good first step. Salaries, of course, would have to be increased to pay for the extra time.

Dan Walther
River Forest, Ill.

Severing a Link:
Will Focus Groups Replace the Teacher- and Principal-in- Residence?

To the Editor:

As the 1995 Teacher of the Year for the District of Columbia, I am very disturbed that the U.S. Department of Education would eliminate the teacher-in-residence position ("Groups Plead To Keep Resident Teacher, Principal at E.D.," May 16, 2001). Over the past five years, I have found that the person in this position has been very vocal in spreading the word about the teaching profession. To eliminate the program would be a disservice not only to the teaching profession but also to the nation.

Donna Graham
Washington, D.C.

To the Editor:

Can I increase the quantity and quality of my telephone calls by severing my phone lines? The Bush administration wants, as stated in your article on eliminating the Department of Education's teacher- and principal-in- residence posts, "more voices than just two." The teacher- and principal-in- residence have two-way communication with thousands of other educators on a daily basis. And those thousands each communicate with many more. Yet we are told that, somehow, cutting off the main conduits for all these voices will "expand the pool of thought" at the federal level.

Can't we just be honest here, and admit that the current administration does not wish to do anything (successful or not) that the previous administration did?

Kathy Ballin
Newark, N.J.

To the Editor:

I currently have the ability to contact, at any moment, the national teacher-in-residence. We can communicate with one another about questions, concerns, or suggestions that relate to our profession. Can anybody please tell me how to contact the focus groups that are scheduled to replace the national teacher-in-residence? Does anybody have a phone number, an e-mail address, or even better, a name? Doesn't anybody realize that the national teacher-in-residence already has a "focus group" of hundreds of thousands of public, private, and religious school classroom teachers—not to mention folks in higher education and national education leaders?

Faith Kline
2000 Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year
Philadelphia, Pa.

To the Editor:

A few years ago, President Clinton said this in his State of the Union Address: "Politics should stop at the schoolhouse door." I laughed cynically, for I knew that education has always served the winds of politics. Here we go again, with President Bush. Clearly, by eliminating the teacher- and principal-in-residence positions, the new administration has the opportunity to disenfranchise working educators while sounding very populist.

Those of us who have worked with a teacher-in-residence or principal-in-residence know how effective the position can be at getting information from the grassroots to the Oval Office in a very short amount of time. Of course these positions are on the chopping block: The National Education Association, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and the American Federation of Teachers like them.

The tragedy is that these programs helped kids, because they helped teachers communicate. Politics trumps pedagogy. There is no room for consensus here, just raw exercise of power.

Richard Chapleau
1995 California Teacher of the Year
Lancaster, Calif.

To the Editor:

Through Terry Dozier, former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley's senior adviser on teaching, and continuing with teachers-in- residence MaryBeth Blegen and Sharon Nelson, the teacher-in-residence program and its accompanying online discussion and Web site, this ordinary classroom teacher from a rural state felt a new spirit at the Department of Education— respect! Career education bureaucrats, too, discovered a quick way to survey the folks in the trenches who teach the kids, call the parents, walk the halls. No official pollsters to muddy the waters with jargon, just real programs and true stories from the states. For me, teachers-in-residence gave renewed credibility to the department.

President Bush told us in the campaign he wanted to hear the voices of the people. Mr. President, we teachers are "the people," too. The teacher-in-residence program has spoken for teachers and their students in fresh ways, as nothing in the department has done before. Why eliminate what works because it was not your secretary of education's program?

Donna Fisher
1996 South Dakota Language Arts
Teacher of the Year
Mitchell, S.D.

To the Editor:

I have written to both President Bush and Secretary of Education Rod Paige about the decision to eliminate the teacher-in-residence. I will write to Mrs. Bush this week. I am horrified that the administration is even considering eliminating this position, which is vital to creating effective education policy.

The teacher-in-residence, an active teacher on a brief sabbatical, is the only voice in the department with current practical and theoretical knowledge about educating children. The department needs consistent, informed, daily input from such an experienced practitioner to have any hopes of creating and implementing effective policy. Teachers implement policy. Without dialogue with a teacher, the administration can have no hopes of developing educational policy that will actually help America's children.

Robin D. Smith
2000 Virginia Teacher of the Year
Buckingham, Va.

To the Editor:

The Bush administration has focused its education reform efforts on raising standards and testing to ensure that all children are reaching those standards. "No child left behind" is an admirable and high goal; as a classroom teacher, I prefer reaching for the stars rather than cynically retreating or blaming parents and society for the weaknesses in our schools.

Between those high and rigorous standards and valid measurement of achievement, however, lies the delivery system: teachers. Without excellence in teaching and corresponding "best practices," those standards are simply window dressing, and the tests become meaningless.

If there was ever a time when the Department of Education needed practical, relevant advice from classroom teachers and practicing administrators, it's now. Eliminating the teacher-in- residence and principal-in-residence positions short-circuits the most valuable input available. We need thoughtful advice and discourse from the only folks who can actually raise student achievement. This administration must seek teacher and administrator input in every way possible—focus groups, online discussion and reflection, work with professional organizations, regular gatherings of exemplary teachers and principals—to make high standards an increasing reality.

Save the teacher-in-residence and the principal-in- residence! They work hard to represent all of us in the field.

Nancy Flanagan
Music Teacher
Hartland Middle School
1992-1993 Michigan Teacher of the Year
Hartland, Mich.

Early Reading

To the Editor:

In his recent letter to the editor, Stephen Krashen makes a false charge regarding E.D. Hirsch Jr.'s Commentary ( "The Latest Dismal NAEP Scores," May 2, 2001).

Mr. Krashen ("Countering Hirsch on Reading Gap," Letters, May 23, 2001) contends that Mr. Hirsch "proposes two solutions to reduce the gap between rich and poor students in reading ability. The first is to de-emphasize or even eliminate the study of literature ('a fragmented hodge-podge of mainly fictional stories,' he calls the language arts curriculum)."

Mr. Hirsch's words: The language arts periods in the early grades "are devoted to a fragmented hodge-podge of mainly fictional stories—on the unexamined assumption that fiction is the essence of 'language arts.' This emphasis on 'imaginative fiction' and this lack of emphasis on history and science ... is yet another vestige of the romantic movement's emphasis on natural development and 'creative imagination.' "

Later, Mr. Hirsch also writes: "All those currently fragmented hours devoted to 'language arts' need to include the worlds of nature and history, literature, art, and music that will build the knowledge and vocabulary of children, and enable them to become readers in the true sense."

Mr. Krashen's conclusion was that Mr. Hirsch wants to "de- emphasize or even eliminate the study of literature." Nonsense. Mr. Hirsch merely urges that elementary language arts include more nonfiction literature.

More nonfiction is needed at the elementary level. There are, I believe, two reasons for its scarcity:

(1) Elementary school teachers are overwhelmingly female. Women tend to be less interested in nonfiction. They teach what they like, fiction. Unfortunately, boys often prefer nonfiction. Children also like myths and legends, another neglected category, referenced extensively, for example, in Shakespeare. Mr. Hirsch's point: Children are not getting the background information needed to read at higher levels.

(2) The insipid "Expanding Horizons" curriculum (Example: Grade 1—Focus on "Self," Grade 2—on "Family," Grade 3—"Community," and so forth) has dominated elementary-level social studies for five decades. Two results of this domination are the near elimination of nonfiction literature in the early grades and a public (including many teachers) with little knowledge of or interest in history, biography, geography, or science.

The Expanding Horizons curriculum has been eloquently critiqued by such scholars as Bruno Bettelheim, Diane Ravitch, Jerome Bruner, Charlotte Crabtree, Philip Phenix, Joseph Adelson, Kieran Egan, Paul Gagnon, and Sheldon Stern, among others.

A sample from the cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner: "Whatever we know about memory, thought, passion, or any other worthy human process tells us that it is not the known and the settled but the unknown and the unsettled that provokes the use of the mind, the awakening of consciousness. ... Starting kids off with the familiar and then going out to the unfamiliar is altogether in violation of this deep principle of thought and of narrative."

Professor Krashen's misrepresentation, if it focuses us on the nonfiction issue and on the inane Expanding Horizons curriculum, will do a great service for elementary education, nonetheless.

Tom Shuford
Retired Teacher
Ventura, Calif.

Vol. 20, Issue 40, Pages 40-42

Published in Print: June 13, 2001, as Letters

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