Published Online: April 28, 2004
Published in Print: April 28, 2004, as Letters



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Fudging Cost Figures For the 'No Child' Law

To the Editor:

In a letter in your April 7, 2004, issue ("Correcting Figures Cited for ’94 ESEA Funding"), Paul E. Peterson and Martin R. West apologize for their error concerning the 1994 appropriation for Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, contained in their March 17, 2004, Commentary ("Money Has Not Been Left Behind"). But they leave untouched a series of omissions and misrepresentations that occur throughout that essay.

Mr. Peterson and Mr. West claim that "the true costs of the No Child Left Behind Act are no more than 0.2 percent of the total cost of public schooling." They base this assertion on Caroline Hoxby’s findings (for the 2000-01 school year) that testing costs in the median state were just $15 per public school student.

This contention is absurd, because the true costs of the No Child Left Behind Act are incalculable at this time. In addition to testing costs, which are far more than $15 per student in any state that uses performance-based items in its testing, what will the cost be of busing students from "needing improvement" schools to other schools? What will the cost be of providing "technical assistance" to schools "needing improvement"? What will the cost be of providing "tutoring and other enrichment services" to students in schools "needing improvement"?

And the list goes on. What will the cost be of instituting "corrective actions" for schools "needing improvement"? And finally, what will the cost be for "restructuring" schools "needing improvement"?

No one knows. Messrs. Peterson and West simply ignore the issue of the inevitable systemic demands of a No Child Left Behind enforcement system that requires perfection.

Their essay is replete with other examples of misrepresentation. They tell us that "since 1980, school expenditures—in inflation-adjusted dollars—have risen by no less than 67 percent, far outpacing the growth of the economy as a whole." This figure is meaningless, unless you disaggregate special education costs from regular education costs. Before 1975, many students now served in expensive special education programs were not even enrolled in public schools. Several studies that I’ve seen differ on the details, but it seems evident to less biased observers that most of the increase cited by Mr. Peterson and Mr. West is not in regular education programs.

The authors assure us that money is not the problem, that "average per-pupil costs in U.S. public schools now run approximately $10,000 a year." This figure is meaningless unless you disaggregate the costs for special education from those of regular education.

They note that the "black-white test-score gap remains as large as ever," but fail to mention that this gap, at least on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, declined from 1970 to about 1990, as reported in several studies. In this period the scores of white students stayed roughly level, while scores of African-American students and other students of color increased significantly. Starting around 1990, this trend toward reduction of the gap turned around. Why might this be? Not a word about any of this from the authors.

None of this is a surprise, of course, for readers familiar with Paul Peterson’s work. His cause is market competition in schooling. Mr. Peterson is certainly entitled to his values and beliefs, but I’d have a greater willingness to take his arguments seriously if he were willing to present school phenomena and data in a more accurate and systemic manner. Cherry-picking the data that support your position while ignoring other equally relevant data reduces your argument to misrepresentation or even deceit.

David Marshak
School of Education
Seattle University
Seattle, Wash.

Ky. School’s ‘Audit’ Came From the Community

To the Editor:

The real scholastic "audit" at Louisville, Ky.,’s Lincoln Elementary School occurred when the community realized it had to take action because the district would not ("Kentucky School Audits Offer Academic Maps," April 7, 2004). Your readers need to know that community investment, rather than educational intervention, was the primary motivation and reason for success at Lincoln Elementary School.

Surprisingly, the Jefferson County, Ky., school district attempted to close this same successful school this year, creating a row when residents rallied to Lincoln Elementary’s defense. If it were not for a local activist organization called CLOUT, Citizens of Louisville Organized and United Together, the successful Direct Instruction techniques and investments of time that turned this school around would never have happened. If the community hadn’t been mobilized to defend the school, Superintendent Stephen W. Daeschner’s ill-conceived plan to close Lincoln this year would have made this success story a moot point. And if it were not for the positive press coverage provided by education reporter Chris Kenning of The Courier-Journal newspaper of Louisville, this important story might not have received the media attention it deserved.

The superintendent and his staff seem to be the biggest obstacles students and families at this school have faced, and may still need to overcome.

Doug Lowry
Louisville, Ky.

‘Common Sense’ Dictates More Than Hess Allows

To the Editor:

Frederick M. Hess’ Commentary ("Status Quo vs. Common Sense," April 14, 2004) masked his real agenda, promoting school privatization and the "market," as he made clear in a long article, "What Is a ‘Public School’?," in the February 2004 Phi Delta Kappan.

Dubious international comparisons aside, what "common sense" really dictates is more, and more equitably distributed, funding for public schools; repair or replacement of decrepit school buildings (at a price tag of over $100 billion); early-childhood education and summer school for disadvantaged kids; smaller classes in the early grades; and serious efforts to alleviate the problems associated with the poverty that afflicts at least one-fifth of our nation’s children.

All of Mr. Hess’ other fancy ideas are useless unless we follow the "common sense" approach in the sentence above.

Edd Doerr
Americans for Religious Liberty
Washington, D.C.

Buffalo Charter Dispute Highlights a Union Ploy

To the Editor:

Is public money for public education to be available for students in schools where learning occurs? Or must the funds first go to a district and the unionized teachers working there, without regard to the best interests of students in the public school system?

In your article on Buffalo, N.Y., public schools ("Tensions High in Buffalo Over Charter Schools," April 7, 2004), the myth of "charter schools taking money from the district" is raised yet again by the teachers’ union and other opponents of improved education for children. With these charter schools, public monies are used to educate students in public schools. Is that not what is required and desired in the state of New York and the city of Buffalo?

The initiative to use charter schools as a positive strategy for the Buffalo public school system should be welcomed. It reflects a considered determination by policymakers that the Buffalo school system fails too many kids; that there is a better option.

And this is exactly what elected school board members should be doing for their constituents.

Teachers’ union resistance to improving student education never ceases to amaze me—particularly where the charter option is largely a school design that provides teachers more control over their own professional careers while giving them greater input on how and what students are taught. To me, the union should be acting accordingly.

It is no longer appropriate to consider "the district and the union" as more important than educating children.

John Cairns
Minneapolis, Minn.

Beyond the Traditional Grade School Approach

To the Editor:

John Merrow is right on regarding the evil twins that are grade retention and social promotion: Neither works ("Get Rid of Retention and Social Promotion," Commentary, March 31, 2004).

I agree wholeheartedly with his suggestion to use multiage instruction as an alternative, working with clusters of grades K-2 and 3-5. I also have proof that it works.

Here in Florida, it is now state law that 3rd graders must be retained if they cannot pass the reading portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT, or have a "good cause" exemption. Last year, 14.6 percent of our 3rd graders were retained, representing 28,225 children. The cost to the state for this failure is nearly $139 million at the current weighted "full-time equivalent," or FTE, of $4,917 per student. And we can only guess at the cost to the children.

By contrast, the retention rate was 1 percent for 639 students in 15 schools that use a multigraded approach called Project CHILD (Changing How Instruction for Learning is Delivered). And 10 of the CHILD schools were Title I schools. There’s more on our Web site at

It is past time to move beyond the traditional grade school approach, with one teacher covering all subjects for one year. Instructional models like Project CHILD are pointing the way to innovative systems that make children more successful and give teachers a fair chance at meeting higher standards for 21st-century kids. Grade schools can become great schools. There is no time to waste.

Sally Butzin
Executive Director
Institute for School Innovation
Tallahassee, Fla.

Liberal Arts: We Should Teach Students How to Work And 'to Be Human'

To the Editor:

It is interesting to note that in their discussion of the importance of educating our nation’s students to be "well-rounded" ("Academic Atrophy," Commentary, April 7, 2004), Raymond "Buzz" Bartlett and Claus von Zastrow don’t mention the need for students to be exposed to occupational training. I agree that studying the liberal arts is part of the process, but I also think that learning occupational skills, such as employability or soft skills, is just as important.

We are no longer equipping students for the Industrial Age, but are preparing them for the Information Age and the age of technology. We need to give them the opportunity to prepare for the rigors of the current workforce. This includes connecting the academic basics with the life skills needed to function beyond high school and college. Such training provides students with a context in which to apply their higher-order thinking skills, the skills so much in demand by employers. The liberal arts, too, produce a context for this to occur.

We in education need to get away from the notion that it has to be either/or: emphasize the basics (reading and math) or the liberal arts. Instead, we need to make a commitment, for our students’ benefit, to combining many types of teaching and learning.

Kevin Ward
McEachern High School
Powder Springs, Ga.

To the Editor:

The liberal arts are being pushed out of the public schools, and the irony is that within those disciplines are ample and authentic opportunities to develop students’ language-arts and, to some degree, math skills.

We need to engage students in the meaningful work of the mind if they are going to develop literacy skills that will last and lead to an understanding of their world. Otherwise, not only will children be left behind, they will also be left ignorant of what it means to be human.

Steve Rose
Simpson College
Indianola, Iowa

Vol. 23, Issue 33, Page 39

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