Education Letter to the Editor


February 18, 2004 31 min read
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On D.C. Voucher Plan, Feelings Run High

It’s shameful what President Bush and Congress have done regarding District of Columbia vouchers (“Researchers See Opportunity in D.C. Vouchers,” Feb. 4, 2004.) For a president who espouses democratic principles and ideals abroad, he’s certainly not a leader by example here at home. District of Columbia residents have voted no to private school vouchers twice.

If the $87 billion spent on bombs for Iraq were spent on books for American kids, families in the nation’s capital and in other school districts across the country would have “choice.” That choice would be a quality public education for all of our children, not just a few. It would be quality schools and quality teachers with all the resources and supports needed to sustain both.

The No Child Left Behind Act has certainly raised the bar, but it has failed miserably in raising the opportunities for students, teachers, and schools to reach the bar. An unproven, private school voucher program is another way of pointing a finger and blaming others without sharing the blame or offering a solution.

Elizabeth Davis
District of Columbia Public Schools
Washington, D.C.

To the Editor:

Students in the District of Columbia public schools can now go outside the district to seek alternative education. This freedom is, de facto, the first, best example of school choice: Washington residents’ threatening to vote with their feet, if this is not passed, is a wonderful effort toward both minority unity and the individual’s choice to choose. The combination of those two factors inspired the American Revolution and helped create our republic.

Brock d’Avignon
Independent Study Teacher
Desert Sands Charter High School
Palmdale, Calif.

To the Editor:

I’m a 7th grade middle school math teacher in rural southern West Virginia, and I’d like to comment on the District of Columbia voucher plan. This is a ploy by President Bush and his secretary of education, Ron Paige, to get rid of public schools. Plain and simple: The No Child Left Behind Act and the voucher program are politically motivated.

It seems obvious that the president is not going to fund the No Child Left Behind law. So, in my opinion, states would be better off in the long run just to say to the federal government, “We are not going to participate in No Child Left Behind.” Ask the state of Vermont about unfunded federal education mandates. And remember that election time is coming soon.

Steve Ballengee
Peterstown, W.Va.

Private Schools Better? It’s Not Necessarily So

To the Editor:

Patrick F. Bassett says that the National Educational Longitudinal Study shows that students in independent schools score significantly higher on the SAT and are more likely to graduate than students from other types of schools, even when the statistics are adjusted for socioeconomic background (“From Good to Great Schools,” Commentary, Feb. 4, 2004.) Despite his denial that this finding is an endorsement of the superiority of private schools, this is the implied message that comes through.

Yet, is it really true? In All Else Equal (RoutledgeFalmer, 2003), Luis Benveniste, Martin Carnoy, and Richard Rothstein raise serious questions about that perception. The authors wanted to find out if public and private schools are different beyond the obvious ways. They concluded that “the social, cultural, and economic backgrounds of the parents and the community in which the school was located seemed to be the main determinant of variation, much more so than a school’s public or private character or, within the latter group, whether it was religious or secular.”

All Else Equal admittedly focused on only 16 public and private elementary and middle schools in California, and relied on in-depth interviews with teachers, parents, and administrators. Nevertheless, the study’s findings cannot be dismissed out of hand. In the end, parents will be the judge of which interpretation to believe, based largely on the needs of their children. But rolling the dice on private schools is not the sure bet that Mr. Bassett makes it sound.

Walt Gardner
Los Angeles, Calif.

Make It Easier for All To Appeal MCAS Results

To the Editor:

The Massachusetts board of education’s move to comply with legislation making the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System appeals process more accessible to special-needs students was a welcome first step but needs to go further (“Mass. Board Poised to Back Dual Appeals Process for Tests,” Jan. 28, 2004.)

The high-stakes MCAS testing program has clearly kept a disproportionate number of special-needs students from graduating and pursuing higher education and jobs, but other students would benefit from a more open appeals process as well.

While state school board President James A. Peyser claims that the process is open and accessible, the fact is that it requires superintendents to collect and submit a burdensome amount of performance data for the appealing student and his or her peers (to fulfill the requirement for a cohort-group comparison). As a result, the process has been applied in an arbitrary and inconsistent way, with some superintendents filing appeals for every eligible student in their districts, and others filing few. The cohort requirement itself makes some students ineligible to appeal because they do not have a large enough cohort group for comparison.

Special education advocates and parents who supported the legislation felt it was crucial that the burden of proof rest with the state commissioner of education to show why all other evidence of the student’s competency should be overridden by the results of a standardized test. This should not be tampered with by the board.

Of course, the new regulations will do no good if parents are not notified of the change, so the state should make every effort to notify eligible families. Then, it should reconsider and make a more fair and open process available to all students.

Lisa Guisbond
Statewide Coordinator
Massachusetts Coalition for Authentic
Reform in Education (CARE)
Brookline, Mass.

‘Intelligent Design’ Is Evolution Counter Now

To the Editor:

The article “Evolution Theory Prevails in Most Western Curricula,” Jan. 28, 2004, seems remarkably out-of-date for Education Week. The discussion these days is not between evolution and creation in public schools; it’s between evolution and intelligent design. Intelligent design is not mentioned in the article, yet it is this approach— not creation—that is making inroads as a scientific alternative to Darwinian evolution.

It doesn’t really matter whether creationism is allowed in foreign schools. It’s not permitted in the United States, and the situation isn’t likely to change in the foreseeable future. The current debate in this country is whether design theory should be taught alongside evolution in science classes, and that is the story Education Week should be covering.

Robert Lattimer
Hudson, Ohio

Longer School Day Won’t Cure All Ills

To the Editor:

After reading the article about Rhode Island Commissioner of Education Peter McWalters, and how he wishes to make the school day longer to help “the most neediest,” I can only wonder how the rest of the country feels about our leader (“Rhode Island Chief Seeks Longer School Day,” Jan. 28, 2004.)

But equally important is the issue of the teachers’ unions in Rhode Island. Unlike other states, we have districts where all teachers, by contract, have no bus duty, no hall duty, and no lunch duty. That’s right, the principal cleans up and patrols, and there aren’t aides to assist for these positions, either. You see, the union has thought of all the angles. Good luck, Mr. McWalters.

Bob Lilienthal
Wakefield, R.I.

Arts, Sciences, or No Curricula at All?

To the Editor:

Rod Sims’ passionate call for retaining the arts curriculum, and treating the arts as equal to such subject matter as science and technology, should strike a chord with every educator and citizen (“Of Satellites and Sonatas,” Commentary, Jan. 28, 2004.) Imagine a world in which everyone mastered science and technology, but the schools omitted the deeper development of mind and heart, which is a chief benefit of the arts. We might be left with 50 million “Dr. Strangeloves.”

Instead of posing the “arts” issue merely in the context of balanced curricula, we should see these trade-offs as symptomatic of the bankruptcy and irrelevance of our education system (a relic of the Industrial Age) and create a movement to redefine the purposes of education and redesign the system.

The solution is not in deciding whether the teaching of math and science is of greater importance than the teaching of the arts, but in deciding whether there should be any standard curricula at all.

Self-directed learning (designing one’s own curriculum) would allow everyone to develop his or her creativity and potential, and produce well-rounded people capable of relating to and working with others.

Morton Egol
Chief Executive

Wisdom Dynamics
Tenafly, N.J.

School Research Needs A ‘Palette of Designs’

To the Editor:

Karin Chenoweth’s Commentary (“Knowing What Works,” Jan. 21, 2004) could not have been more correct in its assertion that education needs to be a more research-based profession. And its articulation of the importance of high standards of rigor for research was right on target. Other messages in the essay, however, do a disservice to research in both of the fields it discusses: medicine and education. Chief among them is the suggestion that anything less than the “gold standard” of randomized field trials is not worthy of pursuit.

Ms. Chenoweth describes the federal Institute of Education Sciences’ “User Friendly Guide” and its advocacy of randomized controlled trials and reminds us that these are the practices used in medicine and psychology. What she does not explain, however, is that randomized trials are conducted only after countless hours of basic research, exploratory research, and a pre-clinical period that examines the potential of particular treatments in depth. Even in the clinical phases, Phase I focuses on dosage, timing, and safety, not efficacy. Random assignment doesn’t even enter the picture until Phase II trials that begin to focus on efficacy. And it is not until Phase III that comparisons are made and medical interventions are investigated to gain more definitive understandings of effectiveness.

Moreover, she omits the fact that medical research includes far more than the clinical trials. Medical researchers conduct observational studies (for example, the famous Framingham Heart Study) and epidemiological studies that look at patterns of disease in large groups of people. These and other approaches all are essential for bringing medical knowledge to bear on the health of individuals.

The parallels in education are obvious. If we are to further our knowledge and truly make education more research-based, research questions must dictate the research designs, not the other way around. Education should, and can, benefit from a palette of research designs, of which randomized trials are only one important part.

And perhaps it is most worthy of note that even though the two disciplines can learn from one another, education is not medicine. It is its own endeavor that has its own participants, assets, attributes, issues, and challenges. Yes, we can learn from medicine, not to mention business, anthropology, economics, science, psychology, and countless other fields. But in the end, our work is to find a way to bring those lessons, as well as data and research, from our own discipline to bear on our field: education.

Jeanne Rose Century
Senior Project Director
Center for Science Education
Education Development Center Inc.
Newton, Mass.

Pa. School Aid Trades Libraries for Preschool

To the Editor:

After reading the article about Gov. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania, I had to conclude that the “experts” you interviewed have missed the point about what happened with the governor’s education program (“School Aid Remains Rendell’s Big Challenge,” Jan. 14, 2004.)

Returning from a road trip across the state and back to take my son to college, I reflected on the local news programs in various smaller communities throughout Pennsylvania. While we have a 10 percent increase in the state income tax to fund what is referred to as the cornerstone of Gov. Rendell’s education policy—namely, all-day kindergarten—we also have major cuts in library funding. It seems that a tremendous number of towns and counties are reporting cuts in library services. The cuts seem mostly in hours and in ancillary programs. Of course, many of the programs reported as being cut are children’s programs.

What kind of policy is this? A 10 percent tax increase I can live with (as for Gov. Rendell’s requested 34 percent increase, “Get real, Governor”), but we are actually funding all-day kindergarten at the expense of libraries. I was strongly in support of Edward Rendell in his quest for governor, but his first year in office has been a disappointment.

G. Terry Madonna is correct when he says in your article that Gov. Rendell “lives to fight again.” But one has to question why there is a fight. A gradual approach over several years would have been better.

Jeffrey Williams
Feasterville, Pa.

Online-Degree Critique Dealt in Generalizations

To the Editor:

Lance D. Fusarelli’s Commentary (“The New Consumerism in Educational Leadership,” Jan. 14, 2004) exemplifies the narrow-minded generalizations that I avoid as an online graduate student.

First and foremost, I would like to address Mr. Fusarelli’s argument that online education “sacrifices content and quality at the altar of convenience.” Obviously, he believes that efficiency and effectiveness are two dichotomous qualities that cannot coexist. This statement is just as naive and arrogant as accusing someone using a dishwasher, rather than washing dishes by hand, of laziness.

I will not speak to other online universities’ degree programs, as I have had no experience with them. But I can, as a student attending the University of Phoenix Online, attest to the rigor of its programs’ content, as well as to their quality and convenience.

The university requires that students and professors be professionals in their fields to assure that students’ educational experience is in the context of a real-life, hands-on environment— unlike the traditional graduate classroom, which can be every bit as sterile as Mr. Fusarelli claims online programs to be. The online courses also have the added benefit of exposing students to valuable insights and perspectives from classmates residing across the country and around the world.

An online degree is not for everyone. It requires self-motivation, discipline, innovation, excellent communication, and interpersonal skills. An individual must also possess the ability to work independently and manage multiple tasks, think critically, plan effectively, and carry out a strategic plan for effective change. Those sound like the qualities of a leader to me.

Dawn De Lorenzo
Special Education Teacher
Millstone Township Middle School
Clarksburg, N.J.

Facts to Tell the Public About ‘No Child’ Law

To the Editor:

This is both a national election year and the first year that many districts have been able to examine their use of Title I funds under the No Child Left Behind Act. Voices of protest, agreement, and reform will be heard.

Is it not time to consider another voice: that of reality? If district leaders are unhappy with aspects of the No Child Left Behind Act, they can go the political-legislative route and try for reform, though this will not be easy. There is another path, however, for dealing with the inconsistencies and illogical nature of the legislation’s provisionsand with the resulting public opinion from the publication of disaggregated test data.

To counter often well-meaning, but uninformed, media reports, district leaders, school boards, administrators, teachers, and involved parents must aggressively and continuously inform their local publics about what the No Child Left Behind Act is and what it is not. The following five points should be stressed:

  • The Title I section of the law is and should be nothing more than a federal funding effort to provide additional money to states and districts for the improvement of reading and mathematics. Since the 1966-67 school year, the student target has remained the same. What is fundamentally new in this version of Title I (or Chapter 1, as it has also been known) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is the establishment of annual- progress points and the disaggregation of student data.

So, before the public reads about a school’s success or need for improvement, identify the very narrow and critical nature of the evaluation; that is, reading and mathematics.

  • Local leaders then must stress that schools, particularly middle and high schools, have goals and achievements and problems that are not related to reading and mathematics. Is there a middle school or high school principal who would say that reading and mathematics encompass the sole and primary goals of his school? Elementary schools have goals other than reading and math, and their task in justifying and executing them is more difficult than that of knowledge-based, departmentalized middle and high schools.
  • The use of No Child Left Behind Act regulations for “qualified teachers” should be confined to those who teach reading and mathematics. All teachers should be highly qualified, but for most teachers, this determination has been, and should continue to be, a matter between the district and the state. Why should high school science or vocational education certification issues take up more time, just because a school receives No Child Left Behind funds? There is no relationship between reading and mathematics achievement and “highly qualified teachers” in other departments. Title I is a narrowly targeted program and should remain so to be most effective.

Boards of education have to inform their publics about how the need to get and use No Child Left Behind Act money has led to the misuse of administrative time and energy, as well as district money.

  • No Child Left Behind Act regulations evaluate all schools within a district. Most districts (high school regionals excepted) focus their funds on prevention measures in K- 5 schools. Since the No Child Left Behind Act is only partially funded, middle and high schools are being held federally accountable without adequate federal support.
  • Local leaders have to be aggressively and continuously telling their publics that the legislation’s goals of annual yearly progress and disaggregated student results are positive, yet narrow goals that do not, cannot, and should not reflect the true, varied nature of that place called “school” that is supported by local and state funds.

Harry Stein
New York, N.Y.

‘Data Speaks for Itself’ On Reading Reforms’ Impact

To the Editor:

Stephen Krashen writes in a letter to the editor that California’s switch from whole language to systematic phonics for reading instruction has had no impact on students (“New NAEP Results Show Need for Library Funds,” Letters, Dec. 10, 2003.) He cites as evidence the state’s 2003 4th grade test results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. That test, however, assessed students whose 1st grade reading instruction occurred in 1999-2000, before most California districts adopted systematic phonics to teach reading.

Other scores do show the impact of science-based reading reforms. In 1999, the Los Angeles Unified School District joined Sacramento as one of the early adopters of phonics. (“Sacramento Mayor’s Legacy: Improved Schools,” Feb. 2, 2000.) By June of 2001, Los Angeles 1st grade students’ reading scores had risen by a remarkable 21 percentiles in two years, to the 56th percentile, as measured by the nationally normed Stanford Achievement Test-9th Edition. African-American 1st graders scored at the 54th percentile in reading, an uncommon achievement in an urban school district.

For the 60 percent of Los Angeles 1st graders who do not speak English in the home, reading scores rose from the 33rd to the 48th percentile, close to the national-average 50th percentile. Superintendent Roy Romer attributed these stunning gains to the adoption of systematic phonics, as well as to staff development.

As more California districts have implemented state-mandated phonics in grades 1-2, statewide reading scores have risen steadily. California students scoring above the national average in 2nd grade reading rose from 40 percent in 1998 to 54 percent in 2002, as measured by the Stanford-9. The data show that California students continue to lag behind in reading in the upper grades, but few of those students received phonics instruction in grades K-2, when studies show it is most effective.

Both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development recommend one to two years of systematic phonics as one critical component of early reading instruction. They also advise that phonics alone is not sufficient. A large gap in vocabulary is typically seen between children living in poverty and children from middle- and upper-middle-class families. Schools must address those comprehension gaps, after decoding is taught effectively.

Nevertheless, California’s results confirm scientific research. We know what works to limit initial reading difficulties. The data speaks for itself.

Rick Nelson
Falls Church, Va.
The writer is a former president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers in Fairfax, Va.

A Reading Consensus?

In your excellent article “Reading Programs Bear Similarities Across the States,” (Feb. 4, 2004), Christopher Doherty, the director of the Reading First program for the U.S. Department of Education, concludes that “taking the nation as a whole,” criticisms that this Bush legislation compels uniformity “are in the minority.” He seems clearly unaware that many educators have been silenced because they fear that openly criticizing Reading First might jeopardize their job security or impede their school districts’ ability to obtain the federal funds. Similar fears have silenced administrators at the state level and staff members in various educational and state organizations.

Over two years ago, when I began examining state applications for federal reading funds, I found that the Bush educational overseers had already constructed their Procrustean bed for judging instructional proposals. Applicants did not need long to start figuring out its unyielding dimensions and thereby measure accordingly what to say and not say, what instructional materials to use and not use, what research and researchers to cite and not cite. Today, with school budgets ever tighter, the enforced silence and conformity required of applicants who hope to obtain badly needed Reading First funds is ever greater.

Perhaps this conformity could be justified if Reading First did, in fact, have the valid research base that proponents claim for it. However, as detailed examinations of the data by myself and others have shown, “evidence” for the restrictive Reading First mandates is nonexistent. Furthermore, rather than a supposed expert “consensus” for Reading First instruction, at the very least literacy leaders are divided over the prominence its key elements should have in reading education. For example, a recent International Reading Association survey found that literacy leaders identified decodable text, direct instruction, high-stakes assessment, phonemic awareness, and scientifically based reading research and instruction as “hot” topics in reading research and practice, but over 50 percent of these literacy leaders agreed that they “should not be hot.” Conversely, balanced reading instruction was judged “not hot,” but more than half the leaders thought it should be.

We can hope that the nation will begin to hear from courageous educators who openly expose the dire effects of Reading First and thereby help change the course of a growing catastrophe for many of today’s generation of America’s children.

Gerald Coles
Ithaca, N.Y.

The writer’s recent book on literacy education is Reading the Naked Truth: Literacy, Legislation, & Lies (Heinemann, 2003).

To the Editor:

We literacy educators whose research and teaching focus on multilingual and multicultural populations are deeply concerned about the negative effects of federal reading education policy. The reality is that Reading First is an ideology of reading instruction, rather than the product of a “consensus” about how young children should be taught to read and write.

A visit to the Reading First Web site illustrates the nature of the problem. The Web page “Facts about Reading First” defines “the challenge” of reading education and then offers “the solution.” Aside from the sheer arrogance of a government agency claiming to have found a monolithic solution to the multilayered and complex sociological, linguistic, cultural, and educational challenges in today’s diverse society, we see the misuse of “science” to disguise the underlying objectives of federal reading education policy.

Ostensibly, federal policy provides a means for turning 35 percent of America’s 4th graders who, according to data from the 2000 National Assessment of Educational Progress, read only at the “basic” level, into “proficient” readers by grade 3. This federal officials propose to do by focusing on teaching the reading “basics,” which supposedly many of these students have already mastered, without regard to the multiple reasons why readers are not reading at the “proficient” level in the first place.

In our multilingual society, researchers in sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, second-language acquisition, biliteracy, and multicultural education have identified multiple factors that have an impact on the literacy achievement of language-minority students. But researchers in these disciplines are not included on the Reading First review panel. In addition, the so-called scientifically based research on which federal policy is based, such as the National Reading Panel Report, includes almost no research into multilingual literacy or the challenges facing students who are learning to read in English as a second language.

This is despite the fact that in California, as an example, 41 percent of the student population is made up of children and youths who are, or have been formerly, classified as limited in English proficiency. Thirty-four percent of California’s students are Spanish-English bilingual learners.

Educational policies are schemes that govern access to society’s fiscal, human, and physical resources within a bureaucratic system. Policy initiatives and programs are not politically neutral, despite claims that they are based on “science.” These policies are a means of achieving specific educational, cultural, social, and economic goals and outcomes.

It appears that the federal government’s goal is to homogenize our diverse, multicultural society. We must all be gravely concerned about the current administration’s heavy-handed regulatory intrusion into the spheres of decisionmaking of local school districts, which must be responsive to the particular challenges, resources, and values of their linguistically and culturally diverse populations. The inevitable result of a stifling, uniform federal policy will be the inability of local educational jurisdictions to adapt to their sociocultural and linguistic contexts.

This is a lamentable, but not unavoidable, consequence for our public schools, which for generations have been vehicles of equity, democracy, and progress in our growing and changing society.

Jill Kerper Mora
Associate Professor of Teacher Education
San Diego State University
San Diego, Calif

Science ‘Enlightened’

We have learned so much about science instruction and assessment in the last 25 years. Your recent essay by Stan Metzenberg, Sam Miller, and Douglas Carnine (“Avoiding Science ‘Lite,’” Commentary, Jan. 14, 2004) underscores how little of it we have taken to heart.

The issues and complaints raised by the authors brought me back to 1981, when I began serving as the director of science for the (then) New York City board of education. By 1982, my office began to develop what was to be the first science test given to all 5th and 8th grade students. Each of the city’s 32 district science coordinators was invited to work with our office, as were teachers and supervisors from throughout the city.

We struggled with the issues of cost; content vs. process; hands-on performance assessment vs. multiple choice; inclusion of special education students and English-language learners; high-stakes student assessment vs. program assessment; and numerous other matters that were more than just peripheral to the success of the testing program, not the least of which was staff development for the teachers in the city’s 1,000 schools.

Test items were written, edited, piloted, and reviewed for alignment to our Minimum Teaching and Learning Essentials. We piloted numerous hands-on tasks and correlated student performance on them with performance on the multiple-choice portions of the tests. Alpha coefficients, item analyses, and reliabilities were calculated and recalculated. Several versions of the final tests were assembled and piloted, and eventually finalized and printed for the entire city. Our success was such that three years later the state education department decided to create its own science tests and give them throughout the entire state.

By themselves, however, the tests were not good enough to give a fair picture of what science education was like in any one school. Sure, we could list the schools by their numeric performance, but this was no indication of how much hands-on work was being provided, or of the nature of laboratory investigations conducted by students.

What made the tests really work was the follow-up of the district science coordinators, and the staff development provided by them and by the central board to thousands of teachers and supervisors through the board’s Science Technical Assistance Centers. (The STACs have been providing these kinds of services since 1987, although budgetary constraints this year resulted in limits to the services that can now be provided.)

Now, nearly 25 years later, the nation seems to be struggling with the very same issues, but with a high-stakes sword hanging over students’ heads. Have we not learned anything in these intervening years?

Now retired and with 39 years of work in education, I take the privilege of seniority to give my own insights and suggestions as to how states can improve their assessments:

First, schools do not exist to make it easy for test developers to create assessments. Nor should standards have to be written so that an easy-to-score, multiple-choice test can measure whether students have mastered the required understandings. Assessment is necessary, but this does not mean a single test.

Second, setting a cutoff point to determine passing from failing is too fraught with subjectivity and politics. Educators in high-income districts insist on many difficult items “to set a high standard for achievement,” as the Commentary’s authors desire. Educators in low-income districts, however, will have—and do have—much difficulty meeting those standards without the proper—and currently unavailable—resources. Are we penalizing the parents or the students when we set a cutoff point for success? What message do we send to our children by giving them tests they are underprepared to take?

What is the best kind of assessment of a school or system? Unfortunately, it is the kind that takes more time and costs more money than districts are able to pay. The ideal assessment of a school’s science program necessitates the involvement of outside experts visiting the school over several days, looking at all aspects of the science program: the standards used; the number, nature, and frequency of tests given by teachers; research, investigations, and associated reports undertaken by students; the kind of teachers and teaching students are exposed to; the nature and frequency of presentations given by students; parental involvement; and so on.

This comprehensive look at what a school is doing is much more instructive to state agencies and to parents than a simple multiple- choice test, no matter how technically impressive the test may be, and no matter how many difficult items it may contain. The criticism of this kind of assessment, by the way, applies whether the subject is science, math, or even reading. Furthermore, unless follow-up by district science-staff members is easily and continually available, such a test is useless in giving an accurate picture of science instruction in any given demographic situation.

Science “lite” results when schools use the little time they have in the instructional day to prepare for high-stakes tests. “Enlightened” science is what we should all be striving for. The National Research Council, the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Project 2061, and numerous other distinguished bodies have provided the nation’s science educators with insights and the best advice available regarding science instruction and goals.

The No Child Left Behind Act, if it really means to leave no one behind, has to allow and encourage the educators to use the best of what is available to provide the means to good instruction. At the same time, the law needs to leave the assessments to the schools. No multiple- choice test can achieve the goal of the No Child Left Behind law or its ideals.

As Yogi Berra said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

Anthony A. Galitsis
Director of Science, 1981-1994
New York City Department of Education
New York, N.Y.

Equity and Tracking

As a high school math teacher with a strong interest in closing the achievement gap, I try to stay current on promising reform strategies. That’s why I knew immediately how disingenuous Carol Corbett Burris’ description of her district was in the essay “When Excellence and Equity Thrive,” (Commentary, Jan. 28, 2004.)

Contrary to Ms. Burris’ description of the Rockville Centre, N.Y., district as “racially and socioeconomically diverse,” Rockville Centre spends about $15,000 per year (about 36 percent more than my very affluent suburban school district) to educate a student body that is 80 percent white, with only 2.8 percent of its students limited-English-proficient and 5.5 percent eligible for free lunches.

When she writes of a high percentage of African-American and Hispanic students taking Advanced Placement calculus, that’s a high percentage of about four dozen students. I’ll be more receptive when her reform strategy of enforced “leveling up” provides hard data on success in a truly racially and socioeconomically diverse school system. We’ve gone down too many dead-end roads in education to swallow strategies from proponents that don’t provide us with all the facts.

Julie Greenberg
Chevy Chase, Md.

To the Editor:

After reading Carol Corbett Burris’ Commentary, the thought immediately occurred to me that she must not be acquainted with Cheri Pierson Yecke’s meticulously documented new book, The War Against Excellence. Ms. Burris would have us believe that all the research is supportive of heterogenous grouping practices. As Ms. Yecke points out, this is not the case.

For instance, she quotes David N. Figlio and Marianne E. Page’s 2000 National Bureau of Economic Research study on tracking:

“We find no evidence that low-ability students are harmed by being grouped together, and conclude that the trend away from tracking has been misguided. ... We find that tracking programs are associated with test- score gains for students in the bottom third of the initial test-score distribution. We conclude that the move to end tracking may harm the very students that it is intended to help. ... We can find no evidence that detracking America’s schools, as is currently in vogue, will improve outcomes among disadvantaged students.”

Also noted in the Yecke book is “research by Tom Loveless indicat[ing] that ‘black achievement may actually suffer from tracking’s abolition.’” Ms. Burris seems to be cherry-picking the research to support the same old radical egalitarian approach that the education establishment has been nattering about for years. Anyone interested in detracking should definitely read more than her Commentary.

Randal Jones
Houston, Texas

To the Editor:

Having read Carol Corbett Burris’ interesting and provocative Commentary, I do have a few questions.

In order to obtain a clearer picture of how well her methods work in practice, it would be interesting to see some of the “multiyear achievement data” to which she alludes. For instance, of the students who enter the International Baccalaureate program in her school, how many actually take the full IB diploma program, and how many of those then obtain the diploma? What is the average score on the IB obtained by those who pass the IB diploma?

As a linguist, I would be interested too to learn how well Ms. Burris’ students taking a foreign language perform on the IB when working in a heterogeneous class. I saw no mention of languages in her article, even though they are a key component of the International Baccalaureate. The IB has different language levels, and it would be helpful to know if the students in her school all work in the same classes to prepare for these exams and, if so, how well they then do.

She mentions that enrollment in Advanced Placement calculus increased by 40 percent when the classes were detracked, but how well did these young people then do on the AP exams?

Jarek Garlinski
Houston, Texas


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