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Education Letter to the Editor

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June 23, 2004 3 min read
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Adequacy Lawsuits Are ‘A Blunt Tool’ We Need

To the Editor:

I read Alfred A. Lindseth’s Commentary (“Adequacy Lawsuits: The Wrong Answer for Our Kids,” June 9, 2004) with surprise. While I cannot answer for what has happened in other states, I can tell you that in New Jersey, the Abbott remedy (based on a series of rulings by the New Jersey Supreme Court in the Abbott v. Burke finance case) is improving our children’s education. After five years, and despite resistance from the governor’s office under chief executives from both parties, we can see positive growth:

1. More than 75 percent of our urban 3- and 4-year-olds are enrolled in preschool.

2. Our urban 4th graders are improving faster on state accountability tests than their suburban counterparts. These children have experienced the advantages of Abbott-enriched classrooms for their entire school experience.

3. More than 1,300 preschool workers have acquired their college diplomas and become certified educators.

4. New schools are being built—not only in our urban centers, but also in the rest of the state.

Adequacy lawsuits may be a blunt tool for education reform, but they are the only tool left when people refuse to honor the law. All our children deserve a high-quality education. We, their elders, will suffer most if we do not see that they receive it.

Irene L. Sterling
Executive Director
Paterson Education Fund
Paterson, N.J.

‘Edge Softening’ Is Not Enough to Meet Goals

To the Editor:

W. James Popham (“Shaping Up the ‘No Child’ Act,” Commentary, May 26, 2004) seems to have discovered what many school administrators have been saying and writing for the last three years in response to the standards, accountability, and assessment movement’s capstone federal law, the No Child Left Behind Act.

In order to be realistic and fair, truly diagnostic and prescriptive, for both students and their teachers, value-added, gains-based assessment measures, as William Sanders and others have empirically researched so well, need to be promoted and promulgated in the legislation’s “edge- softening.” In calling for “appropriate tests,” Mr. Popham fails to specifically mention this well-respected and widely accepted notion about instructionally effective and “sensitive” assessment measures.

Teachers and schools that take any and all groups of students to higher levels of grade- level achievement on pre- and post-assessment measures are by no means “failures.” If we learned any lessons from the quality education movement, we know that the most powerful and useful understanding for public schools has to be the systemic philosophical foundation of continuous process improvement.

But if ensuring valid and reliable assessments of student learning is “softening the edges,” that certainly is not enough to “shape up” the No Child Left Behind law. To really build quality into our public school systems, we need to realize the inequality and inefficiency of annual mass inspections. Where should the emphasis be? A growing body of longitudinal research points to early-intervention and early-childhood-education programs as the best place to start.

This is no surprise to practitioners. The noble vision of the No Child Left Behind Act will remain only a dream if we do not front-load our children for success in their early-learning programs. This should be our strategic national priority to improve the quality of education in the United States. Everything else may be political window dressing or, at best, just less effective variables.

Leo P. Corriveau
Director
Teacher Accreditation, Assessment, and
Clinical Experiences
Plymouth State University
Plymouth, N.H.

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