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  Great Appeal, No Evidence

An open educational marketplace has great intuitive appeal to taxpayers frustrated and angry over the glacial pace of school reform [“(  ) This Education,” Jan|Feb]. But there is no empirical evidence to support Doug Lynch’s assertion about its value. Supporters of the strategy that Lynch champions like to point to high-flying schools as a model of what can be achieved when schools are forced to compete with each other for students. These are schools that are high-performing (ranking above the 67th percentile on state standardized test scores) and high-poverty (having more than 50 percent of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches). According to the Education Trust, about 1,320 public schools fall into this category. However, to qualify for the designation, schools do not have to produce high achievement over time or in multiple grades. They simply must demonstrate evidence in only one grade for only one year. That is hardly convincing.

As vice dean of Penn GSE, Lynch must certainly be familiar with the formidable body of research showing that out-of-school factors play a disproportionate role in student outcomes. Therefore, if corporations genuinely want to improve educational quality for all students, they need to invest in ways that provide greater equity for the disadvantaged in their homes and neighborhoods. But the truth is that what is largely motivating companies with little or no experience in school turnarounds is their desire to get their hands on the estimated $700 billion annually spent on K-12 public schools.

Taxpayers should be extremely wary of allowing corporations to gain control of public education—unless they’ve already forgotten the lessons of the Great Recession.

Walt Gardner C’57 Los Angeles




Competition is Key

The mission of education is to instill the importance of obtaining relevant information quickly and the ability to accurately comprehend and analyze it in a timely fashion. Unfortunately, the lack of competition in basic education, especially in the inner city, has caused our society to forget this mission. The ugly impact of this loss in focus in our education mission is beginning to show in our society.

It is both exciting and hopeful to see that Doug Lynch is attempting to knock down barriers to increasing competition in the education field. The idea of a bottom-up approach via the use of entrepreneurs is exactly what is needed to start increasing this competition. If our society fails to improve the education that we are providing to the next generation, we will lose the American dream.

Christopher J. Fried C’99 G’03 Philadelphia




Welcome Change

As a graduate of the executive doctoral program in higher educatioin management (HEM), I am pleased and excited to the see the changes that Doug Lynch is bringing to GSE. Getting for-profit education noticed, discussed, or analyzed was a non-starter in the early years of the HEM program.  When my careers in research and student-aid administration took me from the traditional to the for-profit sector, having the GSE grounding would have been a welcome foundation. I would be eager for an alumni symposium or colloquium on what best practices traditional and online, non- and for-profit can bring to each other.

Ellen Frishberg GrEd’04 Baltimore, MD




Still Wrong to Tell a Lie?

I was disappointed in Assistant Professor of Political Science Michael Horowitz’s comments in “After WikiLeaks” [“Expert Opinion,” Jan|Feb].

I ask him: whatever became of full disclosure, the public’s right to know, and integrity—which suggests that it is wrong to tell a lie? The drift of his article is that Big Brother knows best, and we should be happy that so many superior intellects are around to make policy for us. The record says otherwise, when exposed to the clear air of honest history. State secrets have been a cover for Big Brother’s big mistakes, or worse, in the long road of political-science history.

If Horowitz reconsiders his position he will come to admit that for political leaders to talk out of both sides of their mouths is wrong, and that in the long run exposures like WikiLeaks are bound to emerge. A much better approach is to admit that the population, particularly highly educated and insightful graduates from a great university like Penn, have the same or better analytical skills as the elected officials who are supposed to serve us.

Walter L. Zweifler W’58 South Orange, NJ




Why So Anti-Assange?

Michael Horowitz writes: “Pursued by Interpol over criminal allegations … Assange … has publicly written that one of his goals is to force the US government to become even more secretive and insular, since he thinks this will then make the United States more likely to fail.”

Assange is not a criminal, and no charges have been filed. The Swedish prosecutor wants to question him about allegations by two WikiLeaks interns that he persisted in sex after condoms broke or came off. He may very well be guilty of that, but so are many other men who have not been pursued by Interpol.

Nor has Assange written that he wants the US government to be more secretive or the US to “fail.” On the contrary, blogger David Davisson at Quora.com offers several links that demonstrate that Assange’s “motivation is radical transparency. He believes that secrets are self-aggrandizing, and that exposure of these secrets is a strike against political and corporate corruption. Assange is sympathetic to US Libertarianism, and argues that the free market can flourish only in an ecology of openness and honesty.” These links include an interview from Forbes.com, in which Assange states: “WikiLeaks is designed to make capitalism more free and ethical.”

Allan Atherton GAr’67 Louisville, KY


The Key Word is Life

I’m 84, and a member of the Class of 1949. I realize that Joan Greco’s article, “Habitat For (Aging) Humanity” [“Gazetteer,” Jan|Feb], was written from the point of view of designing a place as comfortable for aged bodies as could be. But I want something different, an article from a different point of view: “Planning For a Happy and Successful Life”—and the key word is life.

I look at my own life as a touchstone, since I know it best. Five years ago my world was growing narrower. The house we had lived in for 50 years was getting empty. The meetings and parties and get-togethers and family gatherings were fewer and fewer. Our lives were getting empty. We were not making new friends the way we did 50 years ago. The old ones were in Florida or Scottsdale or Boot Hill, or maybe we just weren’t friendly with them anymore.

What is most important is people. People who will laugh with you, and cry with you when the time for tears is there. Someone you can share the hours with. Someone who smiles when they see you walk into the room.

Thirty years ago we were wandering through the Greek islands. Down to the docks, grab a ferry to the next island. Rent a Jeep, roam around, swim in the sea, on to another island. It’s the Isle of Naxos, in the Jeep at a dusty crossroads town we see a taverna on our left. On these islands the tavernas are sort of men’s clubs. Just down the road I see what is probably the oldest human being I have ever seen. His walking stick is held in front of him and he moves forward one sloooooww pace at a time. His path is taking him to the taverna, and I realize, “This is what keeps him alive.” There are people there and he will talk to them and perhaps make a small joke and life will be good and living will be tolerable for one more day and he won’t be alone.

Tell the architects and the community planners and such that what design must produce is space and conditions that allow us to care and feel that someone cares for us.

David Perelman W’49 Lafayette Hill, PA




Different Perspective on CAH

“The Ethics of Early Intersex Intervention” [“Gazetteer,” Jan|Feb] summarized a lecture by Professor Alice Dreger from Northwestern University that focused on prenatal treatment of girls at risk of Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH) with dexamethasone. According to the article, Dreger believes that parents agree to such treatment in order to prevent “big clitorises.” The article also noted that Penn bioethicist Art Caplan called the issue “a battle about … gender engineering.” As a parent who had to deal with this decision, I would like to offer a much different perspective.

I have a son who was born with the most severe form of CAH. As CAH is an inherited genetic condition, we understood that subsequent children might also have CAH. So when my wife was pregnant with our second child, we had to face the decision of whether she would take dexamethasone early in the pregnancy, until we could determine the baby’s gender, and whether the baby had the genetic defect that causes CAH.

Our consideration of this decision had nothing to do with concerns about the appearance of our daughter’s private parts, or worries about gender identity. In the worst cases of CAH-affected girls without prenatal treatment, doctors told us that the vagina and the urethra merge into a single tube, and the labia fuse together. In such cases, a child faces a lifetime of incontinence, chronic infections, and sexual dysfunction. The surgery needed to correct this condition is extensive, painful, and not always successful. On the other hand, we understood that chances were our baby would not have CAH at all, and we would be exposing the baby to a treatment for which long-term consequences are not well understood.

We chose to go with the dexamethasone treatment. We did not want to risk condemning our child to a severe birth defect with enormous physical and psychological consequences, knowing that we could have done something about it. We certainly understand why other parents would make a different choice. I am happy to say that my daughter was found to not have CAH, and she is a happy, intelligent, active, normal 10-year-old.

It is unfortunate that the University hosted an event on such a complicated topic without providing for a different perspective from someone who has actually faced this agonizing decision.

Mark Engman WG’92 Washington




Sideline Report: Awesome!

I can’t begin to tell what an awesome feeling it was to be at the Cornell-Penn football game last November 20 and experience our fantastic team winning our second consecutive Ivy League championship [“Sports,” Jan|Feb]. Being at Penn between 1963 and 1967 and suffering through the painful expected losses to Harvard, Yale, Princeton (worst of all), and Cornell, it was so sweet being on the other side.

My younger brother, Gregory Harris C’70, is writing a screenplay about football players, and Coach Al Bagnoli and his staff were kind enough to grant him a sideline pass—and he was kind enough to loan it to me for the second half. So, being on the sidelines with our talented coaching staff and players when the game ended, and the huge silver trophy for the Ivy League football championship was presented, was a dream come true.

I want to congratulate Coach Bagnoli and his talented staff, Athletic Director Steve Bilsky, and the players and their parents and everyone associated with Penn football for a job well done! Keep up the great work and let’s have an another undefeated Ivy League season in 2011. I’m so proud of all of you! Go Penn!

A. Peter Harris V C’67 Candor, New York


 

High Standards

It was great to read about Momma Dietz in my husband’s (Donald M. Page C’51) issue of the Gazette [“Alumni Profiles,” Jan|Feb].

My brother, Fred Clark Jr (now deceased) did flo-meter installations and repairs, and Dietz & Watson was one of his customers in the 1940s, 50s, and beyond. In his line of work he saw all the nitty-gritty of the companies he served. Consequently, because of the cleanliness and care he always saw in their factory, the only lunchmeats, hams, etc., he would buy were made by D&W.

It’s good to know that they still have the same high standards.

Dorothy K. Page Huntingdon Valley, PA


 

Brava, Betty!

Count me in as the first member of the Betty White Bohlen I’m Not a CEO Fan Club [“Alumni Notes,” Jan|Feb].

I love her message! Refreshing! Everyone doesn’t have to be a CEO to be successful in life. In fact, many CEOs end up failures in business, and in their personal lives. Alumni should share the highlights (or lowlights) of themselves as people. Penn is diverse and produces diverse graduates. We get into all kinds of things.

In honor of Betty I will be sending a check to the Gazette and suggest others join me as her fan. I’m even now thinking of attending my Class Reunion in May—maybe I can meet Betty.

Francis “Frank” Ferko C’76 Rosemont, IL


 

Missed Honor

While there are many great parts of the Gazette, I read the “Obituaries” as I am always fascinated and proud to see many Penn grad accomplishments. In particular, I was reading the notice in Jan|Feb for Margaret Garrity NTS’61, in which there is an incorrect reference to Sigma Theta Tau as a sorority. In fact, it is the only Honor Society of Nursing (www.nursingsociety.org).

Nurses around the world will recognize Garrity’s STT reference, and it is also a proud moment to know that she valued it sufficiently to have it among the few words we read about her. As fellow members, we fully appreciate her accomplishments through this identification. If you see that mentioned again for a nurse, it might be properly referenced. Thank you! Proud to be a Penn grad, too!

Dee Welk GNu’74 Bloomsburg, PA


 

“Modest” Gifts Seed Major Changes

Robert Rosenthal wonders if modest contributions from alumni make a difference [“Letters,” Jan|Feb]. While the editor addressed the question with statistics, the question goes deeper. It is a great question, one that more alumni should ponder. I believe the answer is found much more in involvement and collaboration than in mere funding, though funding is every bit as important.

Our experience has been the antithesis of the concerns that Rosenthal raises. Modest sums, designed with involvement and purpose, perform incredible acts for the University. The key is aligning one’s giving with both the needs of Penn and one’s own interests. One example of this is a program that my wife Kathie and I have been involved with during the past several years at the Morris Arboretum.

When I first matriculated at Penn in the early Seventies, I was aware that Penn had an arboretum, but I never found the time to explore it. In 2006, after a life in which gardening became an interest, we decided to find out more. The more we looked, the more we realized that a great University resource was hidden from the student body at Penn—not by design, or even by accident, but just through the lack of champions to herald it.

We decided to make one of those “modest” gifts—$15,000—to explore how the Morris Arboretum could achieve greater awareness among, and use by, the student body at Penn. We learned that less than 1 percent of students even knew about the Arboretum, much less had visited there. However, the most striking realization was that there was an opportunity, and a staff at the Arboretum that was eager to make it better known on campus.

Our modest gift led to a collaborative effort with the Arboretum staff and a five-year gift of $100,000 to fund the effort—still not a large gift, but what a difference it made in collaboration. Suddenly, there was another focus on the grounds of the Arboretum, and a staff that began brainstorming ways to build awareness. Suddenly, there was an alumnus who would not stop asking questions. Suddenly, the Arboretum was on College Green handing out small plants and spreading the word about the Arboretum during new student orientation. Suddenly, there were more and more mentions of the Arboretum around the campus. Suddenly, there were events planned at the Arboretum. And, suddenly, there was a new, but welcome, problem: how do the students that now want to come get to the Arboretum?

The University stepped in to provide buses—not every day, but occasionally, and organized around the events. By now, in the program’s third year, the Arboretum welcomes in excess of 3 percent of the entire student body, a number that both encourages us and continues to grow. The Penn Glee Club came and performed. There are events for fall and spring, for new students, Alumni Weekend, international students, and College Houses, and they are all actively attended by students.

It is no longer unusual for a group of 40 students to show up at the Arboretum and enjoy an afternoon strolling through one of the most peaceful spots in all of Philadelphia. Students take their boyfriends and girlfriends there. We have even heard that students come out on the weekend to relax and study peacefully all day in the gardens—imagine what a gift it is to do that, something more than a few of us missed while students at Penn!

We are confident there will be more stories like this. “Modest” gifts—especially those that bring alumni back to their beloved University and give of their time, collaborating with staff people who care more than we realize—will continue to make the most difference of all and provide the ideas and seeds Penn so desperately needs to bloom ever more!

William Hohns W’74 Windermere, FL


Too Expensive Doesn’t Cut It!

Since it is nearly 40 years since I last sent in a letter, I figure that my time has arrived—stimulated by the letters from Stu Mahlin and Joe Deegan in the Jan|Feb issue [taking issue with Bob Yaro’s Nov|Dec “Expert Opinion” essay promoting high speed rail in the US].

Item 1: Not all government employees are inept.

Item 2: Not all of private industry is smart and creative.

Item 3: Although jet planes do travel at more than twice the speed of high- speed trains, the trip is not always faster and sometimes doesn’t happen at all. How about leaving the boarding gate and soon learning that your plane is number 19 in the line for takeoff? As population grows and business improves, this will not get better. Money will have to be spent.

Item 4: What have government and government employees ever done for commerce ? A lot! How about the Internet (government and military). How about the interstate highway system? Both have created great opportunities for private business. There are many other examples, sometimes involving government alone, sometimes involving a private-public venture.

Item 5: The interstate system cost billions. Many said that we couldn’t afford it. We found a way, and it changed the geography of the United States—and created countless new opportunities for private business.

Item 6: How do we pay for all of the things that we should have but can’t seem to afford? Private companies, in a similar situation, have a few choices: do nothing. Reduce costs, increase income, or employ a combination of the last two. I say let’s create a larger pie. If the wealthiest among us contribute a little more now, we may end up with a larger portion of the pie—probably larger than our current piece. In addition, we will wind up with a viable country.

I am not sure that high-speed trains are the ultimate, but I am sure that if we feel that they may be, then we have to find a way. Throwing up our hands and saying it is too expensive is not the right answer. Neither private industry nor government can succeed with that approach! In a competitive world we have to be ready to compete. Too expensive doesn’t cut it!

Leonard Cohen W’48 Tarrytown, NY


 

High Speed Rail Doesn’t Add Up

Professor Bob Yaro’s puff piece about high-speed rail in America is shocking in its naiveté. Yaro’s assertion that high-speed rail will make the most sense in the country’s 11 emerging “megaregions” ignores the actual transit patterns of people who live in these regions and the economics of their current transit choices.

He dismisses the argument that we cannot afford high-speed rail now with a trite reference to President Eisenhower and the interstate highway system while ignoring the massive subsidies that all systems worldwide consume. The only worse argument is the environmental one. The current California plan is shocking in that its construction has a 70-year carbon return on investment, as a best case with wildly inflated ridership figures, yet the track infrastructure has a 40-year useful life and the rolling stock only a 30-year lifespan.

The initial 65-mile stage in California would connect a town not-yet incorporated with another that has a population of 26,000, including 11,000 state prison inmates who don’t travel much. We would get all this for $4.3 billion. As a professor in city and regional planning, Yaro must have some sense of when labor-union politics drives public policy, but I would ask him to wander over and have lunch with a few Wharton professors before he writes his next article for the Gazette.

Joseph Baylock WG’87 Burlingame, CA


 

Lift the Debt Burden

As to Penn’s all-grant financial aid policy [“Letters,” Jan|Feb], I concur with President Amy Gutmann as to its importance and value. So many who would be valuable to society, if required to go into debt to gain their education, may be lost to a needed evolving justice-based civilization. Aspiration for self-improvement should not face impediments to responsible growth and achievement because of the burden of debt.u

William Boyd Katz W’60 Philadelphia

 

 

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