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Letters to the Editor - - January 12 - 19, 2000

Touching a nerve

This is in regard to the article entitled "Mis-education" (December 22). I take exception to the fact that supporters of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights school district blame racism for the fact that people are leaving the school district. The problem is much deeper than the racial makeup of the district.

As an alumnus of Cleveland Heights High, I decided to take my family to the homecoming football game this year. At half-time, when the king and queen candidates came onto the field, they were all dressed in loose fitting jeans and sweatshirts. The boys left the girls and started running toward the bleachers, yelling and making what I can only assume were gang hand signals to the crowd. Throughout the game, one fight after another broke out in the Heights stands. If school officials were alarmed or overly upset about this, it didn’t show. None of the students involved in the fighting were escorted out of the event.

You can argue that this was an isolated incident, but I venture to say you’d be lying to yourself. I won’t send my child to Heights High for two reasons. I am concerned about her safety and have concerns that the focus at Heights High has shifted from providing a quality education to maintaining control of the students. These issues are based on observations, not on the ratio of blacks to whites in the district.
Michael Kurtz
University Heights

Re: Miseducation, December 22-28, 1999 issue.
(submitted but published by the "Freetimes")

I was dismayed by your article about the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District. By focusing on a few residents who say they are leaving the Heights because of the schools, you utterly ignore the many residents who are staying right where we are specifically because of the schools. With an apparent willingness to accept only negative views, you say that,"In truth, there are many undeniable factors that show the CH-UH District may be foundering." We are left to guess about these supposed "many" factors, but even the few you mention are hardly "undeniable."

For example, you evidently assume that the Petro report was a product of objective accounting to be taken at face value. But one must question the competence, and perhaps the motivation, of an "audit" that would make many dubious recommendations, including several that would be impossible or unlawful for the District to implement.

Then there is the anonymous resident concerned about proficiency test scores who concludes "the district doesn't measure up." It is debatable whether these tests actually provide a valid measure of educational attainment, but given that this is what folks pay attention to, it is important to remember that it is the students, not the teachers, who take the tests. As such, test scores obviously tell us more about the students than about the schools they attend. Yet people generally speak only of a district's performance. Our unenlightened legislators, as well as the media, including the Free Times, typically succumb to this logical fallacy.

Moreover, focusing only on average test scores can be a misleading venture, because if not treated carefully people tend to forget that, by definition, an average includes students who score high as well as low. A low average means only that there are more students scoring low than high, not that everyone scores low. It is well known among educators that success in school, including test scores, is largely dependent on a student's family background and socio-economic status. Could it be that a poverty rate that is as much as 16 times higher than other area districts has something to do with what's going on here? And if it is solely poor teaching that causes poor test scores, how do you explain the many students, black and white, who are successful in the same Heights schools with the same teachers? Why does your article ignore the fact that student scores increase the longer they've been in the District?

If all pertinent factors are properly taken into account, it is clear that students can and do receive a quality education in the Heights public schools. Those of us who use the schools greatly appreciate this and understand that public education deserves the commitment and support of the entire community. Instead, we too often find ourselves having to defend against detractors who quite simply don't know what they're talking about. My two sons have attended Heights schools for a combined total of over 16 years. I am glad that I had enough sense to ignore the drivel I have been told at one time or another by know-nothing rumor mongers, since our own experience has generally been quite positive.

Should we give credence to people who are willing to rely on rumor and misinformation to form opinions about the schools and make such critical decisions as where to live? This is exactly the kind of fearful thinking that fosters racism. Your article recognizes that very little of this negativism would exist if the Heights system were not predominantly African-American. I have little patience for those whose solution is to abandon a district rather than stay and work to make it better. But I have no patience at all for those who leave out of ignorance and bigotry. Yet you give credence to such motivation by basing your article largely on the ill-informed mutterings of a couple of folks who do not even have children in the schools and thus have no direct knowledge or experience with what actually goes on there. Indeed, after claiming "I'm not racist," one of your conveniently anonymous malcontents goes on to say he's planning to leave precisely because the District is too black. Do you actually mean to imply that when people leave a school district for such reasons, it is the district which is deficient rather than the mindset of the émigrés?

All in all, I found your article to be the unfortunate product of inadequate research and a willingness to focus on negative interpretations. Instead of "Miseducation" you would have been more on target to have entitled the piece "Misperceptions." After all, you have certainly contributed to them.
Brian Larson
University Hts.

As a student at Cleveland Heights High School it greatly depressed me to read the article "Mis-education." I wanted to write in about how I strongly disagree with everything that was said, but I can’t. So much of what was said are things that I have to deal with every day. Teachers have started explaining how the levy is going to affect us next year, and that is depressing enough.

It is funny though that the students seem to be handling this all very maturely. There is already a group started at Heights High of students who are going to try their best to get this next levy passed, and I think it would help a lot if the media wasn’t so negative. If the media wasn’t so negative then the levy might pass and we would have more money to make the schools better and then those people wouldn’t have to move anymore.

And about the moving away part, I was always told [that] running from your problems is never the solution.
Cleveland Heights High School

My husband and I have been residents of Cleveland Heights for 30 years. We sent both of our children through the public school system. They then got bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees from Kenyon College, Case Western Reserve University and the University of Chicago. The Cleveland Heights-University Heights system did very well by them. The immediate response to this will be, "That was 12 years ago. Things have changed." Yes, things have changed, but things were changing at the time of their graduations in 1987 and 1984 and quite a few years before that. We began hearing criticisms of the school district when our children were in elementary school.

The issue that I don’t ever hear addressed regarding CH-UH schools is that we value the diversity we have in this community, but the very diversity that we value also causes educating children in a public system to be more difficult. Our diversity makes us unique and it is hard to find anywhere else.

My husband and I, both Caucasians, always felt that it was an advantage for our children to grow up knowing different races and ethnicities, learning from them, and also appreciating them and acknowledging that they may know more or do better in some ways than we. We believe that is the only way that the world’s people will ultimately be able to get along peacefully.

The thing that has to be addressed along with the advantages of our diversity is the fact that educating children from different backgrounds is an extra challenge. It can be done and it is being done.
Susan K. Sering
Cleveland Heights

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last updated January 29, 2000

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