Letters

Regional ReviewSummer 1996
 

REORGANIZING BOSTON SCHOOLS

I want to commend John Campbell for a thoughtful article, "Behind the Classroom Door" (Spring 1996), on the importance of dedicated and competent teachers. The evolution of Fenway Middle College High School from a school for "troubled" youth to a high-caliber learning community demonstrates that children have a profound wish to be understood and an innate desire to learn.

That is why it is so important for large school systems to be organized into more intimate communities. This fall, the 128 schools and programs in the Boston Public Schools will be divided into ten "clusters" of roughly a dozen K-12 schools each.Ten principals and headmasters will serve as cluster leaders and be the core of my leadership team. We have eliminated an entire layer of middle management so that principals and headmasters will report directly to the Deputy Superintendent and me. We hope to break new ground by developing multiyear, performance-based contracts which will include school-site councils and others in the appraisal, eliminating formal evaluations by the central office.

I hope that these changes, as well as a stronger commitment to autonomy and accountability at the school level, will foster dialogue among teachers and administrators, and help our children feel a sense of ownership about their education.

Thomas W. Payzant
Superintendent
Boston Public Schools

 

LESS RISK AT THE PBGC?

There is a significant omission in Steven Sass's otherwise excellent article on "Risk at the PBGC" (Spring 1996). This is the ability of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation to spread the cost of pension plan terminations over time, as well as across the universe of defined benefit plans. The agency can do this because it has government underwriting and because cash flow requirements for any particular termination are spread over many years.

This ability to spread costs over time means that a simultaneous rise in terminations and fall in stock prices and interest rates should not be a major concern. (Note, moreover, that stock prices and interest rates usually move in opposite directions.) If assets are temporarily undervalued, the PBGC can remain invested until prices recover. Should annuity rates jump due to a fall in interest rates, the agency has no immediate need to purchase annuities.

This flexibility should not be ignored when evaluating the PBGC's status.

Howard Young
Adjunct Professor of Mathematics
University of Michigan

 

MEN AND WOMEN AT WORK

There can be no question that sex segregation, as described in Jane Katz's article, "Occupational Divide" (Spring 1996), is an occupational hazard for women.

Chicago Women in Trades is a support, training, and advocacy organization for tradeswomen. A 1992 study of ours reported that many women in male-dominated careers face isolation, a hostile environment, and sexual harassment. They also encounter difficult working conditions, such as no separate bathroom facilities. It is these factors, not that women don't want or cannot do "nontraditional" jobs, that keep their numbers low.

Fortunately, remedies are available. The primary tool for tradeswomen has been affirmative action goals, along with enforcement. Clean, locked bathrooms, and training for subcontractors, particularly in preventing sexual harassment, are also critical. In a later study, we found that women's participation on six sites with these practices ranged from 5 percent to 10 percent, exceeding the national average in construction of 2 percent.

With information and opportunity, we can ensure that everyone has a level field on which to compete and contribute their talent, energy, and dreams.

Lauren Sugerman
Executive Director
Chicago Women in Trades

What really troubles Jane Katz as she explores sex grouping in various occupations is that same incurable problem which disturbs most gender ideologues: Men and women are fundamentally and eternally different. "Traditional stereotypes" are perpetuated not by a male conspiracy, but by innate forces and preferences transcending tiresome sexual politics. Ms. Katz should note a recent poll showing young women preferring -- if economics permitted -- a 1950s "June Cleaver" role to that of a Hillary Clinton (in her Arkansas incarnation).

Data from nondoctrinaire sources might have lent some perspective. For example, regarding supposed ironclad barriers to the "male" professions, it is worth noting that women constituted almost 30 percent of Boston University Medical School graduates -- in 1888!

Ms. Katz quotes research that personnel officers in the 1930s and '40s "often seemed to take pride in giving preference to married men." Is it surprising that in the Depression, when few women were heads of households, HR types hired a "family man" with a wife and children to support? A "politically correct" lens will always give one a distorted picture.

R.P. Rogers
Belmont, Massachusetts

Editor's note: Women first entered college in 1837, not 1867, as stated in "Occupational Divide." We regret the error.

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