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May 1, 2002
Vol. 59
No. 8

Having Your Say

. . . On Why Pupil-Teacher Ratio Is Not Class Size

The timely issue on “Class Size, School Size” (February 2002) should help people think seriously about class size and school size in education. In one article, however, two very different ways to think about class numbers—class size and pupil-teacher ratio—were treated as synonyms.
The numbers used to support the argument about class size in “The Downside of Small Class Policies” come directly from table 65 of the Digest of Education Statistics (U.S. Department of Education, 1999), which is about pupil-teacher ratio, not class size. Table 69 reports class size.
Class size and pupil-teacher ratio have their own databases and research histories. The results are not the same. Small classes in elementary grades consistently have positive results; pupil-teacher ratio change provides few measures of positive gain.
If you seek numbers to show that indicators of school outcomes over which educators have no control—such as poverty, gender, race, and ethnicity—are more important than educationally mutable variables—such as class size—then using pupil-teacher ratio for class size is understandable. Educators should know the differences and use the terms correctly.
—Charles M. Achilles, Professor, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, Michigan, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey

. . . On the Relevance of What We Teach

As a high school biology teacher, I found Robert Sylwester's discussion of the importance of studying the latest developments in science (“Genetics: The New Staff Development Challenge,” October 2001) particularly reassuring.
This year, my students and I studied stem cell research, designer babies, and cloning. We discussed bioterrorism as the anthrax situation evolved; wrote a position paper on genetically altered crops; and considered issues related to DNA fingerprinting and the use of genome information to make hiring or insurance decisions. Our students will be dealing with these and related issues for a long time. As educators, we can help them prepare for the decisions that they will be making in the future.
—Julia Koble, Biology Department Head, Minot High School, Minot, North Dakota

. . . On What Teachers Need

In his conversation with Marge Scherer (“Improving the Quality of the Teaching Force,” May 2001), David C. Berliner made important suggestions for improving the teaching profession's quality, for example, that teachers need better salaries. I am about to graduate with a degree in early childhood education, and people keep asking me why I plan to teach when I could be making more money in another profession. In addition, the pressure on teachers to teach to the test and improve students' scores is resulting in teacher burnout, stress, and squelched creativity. The current push for mandated tests inhibits the beginning teacher's desire to try out new approaches. I hope that other voices will join to help the public understand how to save U.S. schools.
—Ellie Coakley, Undergraduate Student, Wesleyan College, Macon, Georgia

. . . On September 11

Jonathan Dayton High School in Springfield, New Jersey, is about 20 miles from New York City and is the first school in the state to have a student-run Emergency Response Team. Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, our 16 student team members—trained in emergency medical treatment, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and first aid—were put on alert that they might be needed to treat casualties or to set up a shelter at the school. They reacted calmly and professionally (their emergency services were not ultimately required).
Because I volunteer as an emergency medical technician with the West Orange [New Jersey] First Aid Squad, I was called out of school the next day to assist search and rescue teams in New York City. Meanwhile, Emergency Response Team student members coordinated a community blood drive that collected more than 90 units of blood.
Our social studies teachers also rose to the occasion and worked current events into their lesson plans. Classes held mock Congressional debates in which students decided on appropriate U.S. military action following the terrorist attacks. Teachers taught geography lessons on Afghanistan. Students read excerpts from the Koran as part of a comparative religion study.
Never before have I witnessed so much good and so much evil juxtaposed in a single incident.
—Barry A. Bachenheimer, Supervisor of Social Studies/Student Emergency Response, Team Advisor, Jonathan Dayton High School, Springfield, New Jersey

This article was published anonymously, or the author name was removed in the process of digital storage.

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