Letters to the Editor
To the Editor:
Thomas C. Boysen's eagerness to increase educational accountability ("Support naep's Expansion; End the Tyranny of Patchwork Testing", Oct. 10, 1990) could quickly destroy a resource that has taken more than 25 years to build.
While the National Assessment of Educational Progress may prove to be an excellent accountability vehicle, we don't yet know whether expansion will provide the desired result or what effect this additional role would have on naep itself.
As a former naep project officer, I feel it is better for the Congress to wait for a few crucial answers than to hastily send the program in what may be an irreversible and regrettable direction.
Despite pressures to do otherwise, the Congress did not authorize a wholesale expansion of naep. It funded an experiment and a project to evaluate the results of that experiment. This experiment and evaluation will answer two key questions: 1) Will accountability through naep have the desired effect on education? and 2) How will expansion affect naep itself?
Clearly, Mr. Boysen believes that nationally collected local data will provide schools, districts, and states with the information they need "to put things right." While some may need the federal government to tell them whether things are right in their schools, we don't yet know how many superintendents, board members, principals, and other educators need that additional information.
More importantly, we have no idea whether such information will lead to positive action. At most, naep can only help pinpoint areas for improvement; it will not prescribe remedies. Since we don't know whether basic accountability is lacking, and since we haven't tested the theory that more accountability will lead to improved learning, we don't really know whether an expanded naep will improve education.
Providing school-, district-, and state-level information is a radical departure from naep's past role. Naep has built its reputation by developing a quality database, analyzing trends over time, and addressing a limited number of policy issues.
Making naep a high-stakes test, expanding it from a modest national sample of 30,000 students, and altering its content could seriously jeopardize the quality of newly collected data, the ability to analyze trends over time, and the credibility of the project. Prudence dictates waiting to see if the action will have the desired effects.
Rather than hastily expanding an existing program, we need to examine our goals, how we can achieve those goals, and the associated costs. It may very well be time to change naep and send it in a new direction. It may, however, be better to develop new, additional programs to serve different purposes. Naep has earned an excellent reputation and maybe it can serve all the roles expected of it. But maybe it can't.
Lawrence M. Rudner lmp Associates Chevy Chase, Md.
To the Editor:
In his Commentary ("The Mythology of the Marketplace in School Choice," Oct. 17, 1990) Dennis L. Evans seems to miss the point of the nationwide discussion stimulated by the publication of John Chubb and Terry Moe's Politics, Markets, and America's Schools.
Mr. Evans creates a straw man by asserting that the discussion of parental choice and markets centers around the notion "that parental choice and the resultant competition among schools will lead to lasting generational progress in public education." He then presents his reasons why competition among schools would not be desirable.
In fact, the nationwide discussion centers around the empirical evidence showing that bureaucracies, which are an inevitable result of the democratic control of public education, stifle the effectiveness of schools. Market control of schools, as contrasted with democratic control, would promote quality education because it would tend to reduce the size of the bureaucracy, not because it would stimulate competition.
Indeed, released from the constraints of bureaucracy, less effective schools could adopt more easily the effective practices of "competing" schools, making schools more uniform than they are now.
Maurice E. Lucas Gainesville, Fla.
To the Editor:
Dennis L. Evans does a serious disservice to those of us who believe that parent choice must play an important part in the effort to upgrade our public schools. Instead of analysis, he offers name calling (choice advocates are labeled as "gurus," "zealots," and "politicians") and broadsides (reformers are promoting "faddism," "hysteria," and "hoopla"). Such is hardly the hallmark of reasoned discussion.
He ignores the fact that choice has been a fact of life in American education for a long time. Parents who can afford it live in certain neighborhoods so as to gain access to quality public schools. While Mr. Evans believes that parents cannot make such choices wisely, millions of parents apparently disagree. Choice is not new. What is new is the notion that parents of more limited means--including most of the middle class and all of the poor--should enjoy it as well.
The issue is not "will choices be made about school quality?" but rather "who will make the choices?" Mr. Evans is convinced that parents are not competent to choose. He implies that elected legislators and school-board members are unqualified as well. That leaves all of the choosing, presumably, up to school administrators. Somehow, that doesn't strike me as the wave of the future.
Beyond what common sense should tell us, there is growing evidence that schools whose first allegiance is to parents who have power to choose do a better job than schools that serve similar populations as captive audiences. If we educators are as concerned about quality learning as we appear to be about our own authority, tenure, and salaries, we will stop sending up rhetorical smoke screens and start dealing with what works.
Stephen C. Tracy Superintendent of Schools New Milford, Conn.
To the Editor:
The Commentary by Dennis L. Evans, extolling the virtues of professional educators and revealing parents as the know-nothings they are, was certainly enlightening.
How nice to have Mr. Evans explode the myths that competition improves quality, that corporate America knows how to get a job done, that parents make wise choices, and that non-professionals might know something about education.
Perhaps he can now explode the myth that Lincoln was our 16th President. Of course, that one is not quite as well-known, especially among public-school graduates.
Kevin Clark Front Royal, Va.