Education Opinion


September 19, 2001 5 min read
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California Scores: A Bilingual Ed. Edge

To the Editor:

Your article “English-Language Learners Post Improved California Test Scores” (Sept. 5, 2001), which dealt with how the two sides in the bilingual education debate are responding to each other, was informative. But I want to clarify a point.

You stated that the test scores for English-language learners in California have risen yet again. While this is technically true, perhaps more explanation was needed. The test scores in grades 1-6 went up only by from 1 to 3 points. I find this to be hardly an appreciable gain. In fact, what it shows to me is that the English-immersion experiment in Califonia has failed to fulfill its promises.

Meanwhile, the precious few still in bilingual education are maintaining much higher rates of literacy in the native language. This will help them immensely in the long run, as they continue to learn English.

By the way, bilingual students also had higher test scores. So bilingual children appear to have better literacy rates and improving English test scores. Which group seems worse off?

Stephen Pollard
Midlothian, Texas

‘Learning Disabled’ Data Are Outdated

To the Editor:

In my Commentary “A Bad IDEA Is Disabling Public Schools” (Sept. 5, 2001), I cited a statistic from the 2001 Thomas B. Fordham Foundation/Progressive Policy Institute study stating that one-third of the students in Greenwich, Conn., are labeled “learning disabled.” That statistic in turn was derived from an article published in 1999.

Since 1999, Greenwich has acted dramatically to reduce the number of LD-designated pupils, reportedly by focusing on early reading skills, designating only children who are actually disabled, and emphasizing learning rather than paperwork. I regret using an outdated statistic, and hope that the types of reforms pursued by Greenwich become standard operating procedure for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Clint Bolick
Vice President and Director
of State Chapter Development
Institute for Justice
Phoenix, Ariz.

To the Editor:

I appreciate Clint Bolick’s prompt notification to you of the misinformation about Greenwich, Conn., in his Commentary.

For the record, the percentage of students in Greenwich who were designated as learning-disabled during the 1999-2000 school year was 6.3 percent, not the one-third quoted in the essay.

Roger J. Lulow
Superintendent of Schools
Greenwich, Conn.

Check NSF Report of Urban Test Gains

To the Editor:

Regarding your July 11, 2001, article on the results of an eight-year federal effort to improve mathematics and science education in urban schools (“Study: NSF Initiative Reaps Payoff in Cities”): Would that you had included some of the statistics you referred to.

In New York City, improvements in math test scores are at best marginal and more likely negative. In Philadelphia, supposed improvements in math scores are so strongly correlated with scores in English that is difficult to attribute them to changes in math teaching.

Jonathan Goodman
New York, N.Y.

What Is the Problem?

To the Editor:

Donald B. Gratz’s “Student Achievement: What Is the Problem?” (Commentary, Sept. 5, 2001) is of course right in suggesting that a poor definition of the problem is likely to lead to poor solutions. But nowhere in his Commentary does he even discuss, let alone advocate, the definition of the problem that is most likely to lead to good solutions.

While there are various ways to word it, the main problem underlying student achievement is that the present system of public education is obsolete. It was never designed to educate the large mass of students to high levels of learning, and its fundamental assumptions, relationships, and bureaucratic culture prevent it from engaging students, teachers, families, and communities in the productive ways needed for the higher levels of achievement now required.

The main solution, therefore, is not to turn to the various nostrums discussed in Mr. Gratz’s article, which fail to confront this problem, but to redesign and rebuild our present school systems into modern educational systems that can enlist this needed level of engagement, commitment, and support.

This approach to the problem should no longer be such a mystery, since some school systems are finally attempting this kind of solution. The most visible example is Kentucky, whose supreme court, upon finding the present system inadequate, ordered a “new system” of public education, and whose top political leadership responded by enacting a fundamentally redesigned system to replace the existing obsolete system. Kentucky still has a way to go in rebuilding its system to fulfill this new vision, but at least it has defined the problem in a way that enables it to avoid the perpetual spinning of wheels, with the kind of reform failure described in Mr. Gratz’s essay.

Other states in recent years have begun to see the problem more in these terms, but most of their actions have been piecemeal, often with the establishment of standards and accountability-for-results as the only components of redesign getting much attention, and the other components needed for high achievement—the redesign of school culture; the core teaching and learning processes; the relationships among home, school, and community; and the funding needed for a really effective modern public education system—lagging far behind.

No intelligent discussion of “What is the problem?” can any longer afford to ignore this approach to defining “the problem.” To do so will lead to the continued frustration of trying to make our present public school systems achieve levels of learning they cannot produce.

David S. Seeley
Professor of Education
City University of New York
College of Staten Island
New York, N.Y.

The writer is currently undertaking an analysis of Kentucky’s reform effort with grants from the Leon Lowenstein and Edna McConnell Clark foundations.

To the Editor:

I come to praise Donald Gratz’s Commentary—yet want to add another dimension to consider.

We long for certainty in uncertain times. Test scores seem to promise a certain measure of this needed security, and even when they may not be totally accurate, we long for the numbers.

Now next to death and taxes, we will be able to add test scores. I only wish we could count on them to be right, so that we would know more and, one would hope, have the will and the knowledge of what to do to be able to do something.

Once we have the test scores, will we do what has to be done? I’d like to be more certain about that.

Dorothy Rich
Developer of MegaSkills
Washington, D.C.


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