Education Opinion


January 28, 2004 9 min read
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Curriculum ‘Lite': A Few Thoughts:

To the Editor:

Commentaries like “Avoiding Science ‘Lite’,” (Jan. 14, 2004), make me crazy. With so many objectives and content areas to cover in science, how can anyone expect teachers to do more than gloss over the material?

Inquiry? Forget it, we don’t have time for that. Many people don’t realize that students spend countless days of their school year preparing to take tests, taking practice tests, and then answering real test questions.

And don’t forget the time out from class for school activities, sick days, fire drills, conferences, and other disruptions. My guess is that the actual time students spend in meaningful learning is minimal at best.

Until regulators begin to “get it,” we are fighting an uphill battle.

Kathy Stringer
Lewisville, Texas

Educational Federalism And ‘No Child’ Critics

To the Editor:

There are so many inconsistencies and falsehoods in Monty Neill’s letter chastising me for “name-calling” that one hardly knows where to start (“Stop the Name-Calling Defense of ‘No Child’ Act,” Letters, Jan. 14, 2004).

His charge is especially ironic because I believe the last time Mr. Neill was moved to write a letter about something I said or wrote, he told The Wall Street Journal that my agenda was to “control schools through centralized testing and sanctions, without committing the resources to create good schools for all or address the problems of poverty that underlie many educational problems.” This is, as even a cursory examination of the record shows, utter nonsense. Yet it does indicate that perhaps Mr. Neill is an authority on name-calling, so his letter demands a response.

My quip about much of the rhetoric criticizing the No Child Left Behind Act sounding reminiscent of former Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus contains more than a grain of truth. First, Mr. Faubus notably changed key positions as the political winds shifted. But more to the point, rhetoric attacking the federal role in education and federal “intrusion” while denying or ignoring the federal role in promoting equity is a gross misreading of history.

As Leo Casey (a critic of parts of the No Child Left Behind law himself) wrote recently in the Progressive Policy Institute’s electronic education policy newsletter, “Among opponents of No Child Left Behind, the discussion concerning the role of federalism in education is often given over to pro-state-power political positions, without a proper understanding of the significance and the consequences of such a stance. This approach and naiveté is not unique to education, but is a broader phenomenon with serious consequences in a number of fields. Yet it has the same negative influence in education that it does in other fields.”

Similarly, while Mr. Neill’s organization, FairTest, does raise some legitimate questions about standardized testing, he is notably vague about what he calls “better alternatives.” That’s because, isolated and unique examples aside, locally determined standards without more systemic and standardized quality checks have generally led to different expectations and curricular quality for poor and minority students.

Likewise, like many, Mr. Neill decries the federal law’s “sanctions” without bothering to mention that these onerous sanctions include public school choice for parents and more assistance to struggling schools. This is why Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., vigorously opposed an effort in the U.S. Senate to weaken these provisions; they’re designed to help schools and, more importantly, to help kids.

Finally, while testing is not without problems, Mr. Neill mischaracterizes the research and omits an important caveat. The research on such testing is at best mixed, and several rigorous studies (Raymond and Hanushek, Carnoy and Leob) indicate, on balance, that these policies are the most promising direction available to policymakers.

Notably, Mr. Neill also fails to note that the No Child Left Behind legislation doesn’t require high- stakes testing for students—those are state policies. It does raise the stakes for adults when it comes to educating poor and minority students, but I unapologetically say it’s high time for that, and history shows that the federal government is best positioned to demand it.

The No Child Left Behind Act is far from perfect, both in design and implementation, but on balance it is an important move toward greater educational equity for poor and minority students.

Andrew J. Rotherham
21st Century Schools Project
Progressive Policy Institute
Washington, D.C.

Online Degrees Meet Needs, Requirements

To the Editor:

Given that Lance D. Fusarelli is an associate professor of educational leadership, I would have assumed that he had researched his topic, the increasing number of online upper-level degree programs in educational leadership, before writing on it (“The New Consumerism in Educational Leadership,” Commentary, Jan. 14, 2004). But my experience tells me this is not the case.

I attend an online college, where I am earning a Ph.D. in advanced K-12 teaching. I was hesitant at first to enroll, but it has been a wonderful experience. The school is very student-centered (unlike most traditional universities), has exemplary faculty members, and is perfect for my independent learning style.

Mr. Fusarelli writes that “it is now possible to become a certified educational leader without ever leaving your home.” Yet, according to my research, this is not true for the three major online universities. The master’s-level leadership programs at the University of Phoenix and Walden University require internships. To meet its criteria for a Ph.D., the University of Phoenix requires three, three-day residencies. Walden requires several residencies, and Capella University requires three, one- week residencies and two internships.

“It’s odd that educators, of all people, should be the ones most interested in finding the easy, shortcut way to a degree,” Mr. Fusarelli writes. Yet, is this educators’ motivation? Could they not have other reasons for making use of online degree programs? I, for example, would not be able to pursue a traditional doctorate and keep my current job. Does this mean I shouldn’t get an opportunity to work toward a higher degree? I don’t think so.

Lisa Caswell
Chicago, Ill.

Poor Teacher Training Contributes to ‘Gap’

To the Editor:

Even though the No Child Left Behind Act does much in the areas of accountability, teacher quality, professional development, and support systems, there is little attention given to the role of preservice teacher education programs. In the context of your reporting on the achievement gap (“Study Probes Factors Fueling Achievement Gaps,” Nov. 26, 2003), perhaps we should look closely at how, or if, these programs are preparing teachers to work with students who have been sick with lead poisoning or exposed to high levels of lead.

As a student myself, and one who might fit your description of the disadvantaged student (albeit, from a different generation), I continue to find a reluctance among educators to accept that we are faced today with the challenge of educating a new type of student, and I also see a general unwillingness to make the changes needed to accommodate these students’ learning styles.

To ask a teacher who has been inadequately prepared—a teacher trying to work in a system that says programs should be based on a scientifically sound, research-based foundation—to provide the challenge and engagement that these students need is ludicrous. What worked for me some 30 years ago will not work with today’s students.

So, is it really the lead in the paint? Or is it maybe the lead in something else that is keeping these students from having a chance to achieve?

Deborah Owens
Chicago, Ill.

Are We Trying to ‘Legislate Away’ Children With Disabilities?

To the Editor:

Thank you for publishing Quality Counts 2004: Quality Counts 2004: “Count Me In: Special Education in an Era of Standards,” Special Report, Jan. 8, 2004).

Each time I read about the No Child Left Behind Act, I am reminded of the children’s story “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” I keep waiting for nationally known educators or education groups to say, loudly and publicly, “But he has nothing on!”

The whole law makes no sense, but the expectation that special education students will score at the “proficient” level by a certain time is the most absurd part of all. To be handicapped, an individual has to be performing significantly below average according to age (except for learning-disabled students, who must be performing significantly below their ability). Given this definition, if a student could perform at the level of his peers of the same age, he wouldn’t be considered handicapped.

See how silly this whole thing is? Does the Bush administration think it can legislate away youngsters with disabilities? What will we have next? A stipulation that all children be a certain height or weight in each grade?

As an educator and a school psychologist, I am willing, on this evidence, to admit that we have done a poor job of educating those who are now adults to read, understand, and develop good laws that help, rather than hinder, our children.

Trudy McManama
South Bend, Ind.

To the Editor:

I have just finished reading “Special Needs, Common Goals,”Quality Counts 2004, and I strongly feel that this executive summary does not accurately reflect the special education law and federal mandates that pertain to it.

Public school students are identified as being in need of specialized services through an assessment process. This process is managed by a team that includes the students’ parents and a variety of classroom teachers. The follow-up assessment process is ongoing, through the use of an individualized education plan that the team develops for each child.

Using this assessment process, the school gains a greater understanding of each student’s disability as educators work with the child to lessen his or her disability. This process serves to identify the shortcomings of the “special needs” student as compared with other students.

With so much existing knowledge of special education students, another assessment designed to measure academic achievement is redundant and useless. As a result of the special education process, the school already knows the level of achievement of students with disabilities, and any comparison made with the achievement levels of other students is another affront to public education.

James Hirman
Jackson, Minn.

To the Editor:

It is important to remember that the federal government enacted the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act precisely because students with disabilities could not, because of their disabilities, reach proficiency at grade level and so required districts to provide for each student’s unique learning needs. It is not only counterproductive, but also harmful, to impose on children with disabilities the need to become proficient by a specific point in time, as is required in the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Special education students should not be placed in the untenable position of having to reach a specific level of proficiency by a specific date.

The No Child Left Behind Act requires all students to meet proficiency standards. We believe all children must be included in school accountability systems, but in a way that is accurate and appropriate.

Joanne Huston
Wisconsin Education Association Council
Madison, Wis.

A version of this article appeared in the January 28, 2004 edition of Education Week as Letters


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