To the Editor:
In response to Rudy Crew, Paul Vallas, and Michael Casserly on their call for national standards (“The Case for National Standards in American Education,” Commentary, March 7, 2007):
It is more than a little ironic that Paul Vallas, one of the people primarily responsible for the great differences in performance among schools, is advocating national standards. It was Mr. Vallas who, as the head of the Chicago public schools for six years, greatly expanded the concept of specialty schools (such as magnet schools and gifted centers) with highly selective—to the point of being exclusionary—enrollment policies that left inner-city and neighborhood schools nearly devoid of any students with above-average test scores. Mr. Vallas then, incredibly, proceeded to punish the nonspecialty schools by holding them to the same performance standards as all other schools in the district (specialty schools included). To add injury to insult, he fired dozens of principals and hundreds of teachers from the comparatively poor-performing inner-city schools for low test scores.
The No Child Left Behind Act has already found major differences among districts in terms of their special education students, non-native English-speakers, and percentages of students living in poverty. As a result, some differences in performance goals were grudgingly allowed. What would Mr. Vallas and his co-authors do about this?
If national standards are to be instituted at all, it is imperative that it be done on a level playing field—an impossibility today, because specialty schools have expanded far more rapidly nationally than neighborhood schools. In addition, the punitive nature of the federal law, so embraced by Mr. Vallas in both Chicago and Philadelphia, must be completely eliminated.
A version of this article appeared in the March 21, 2007 edition of Education Week as National Standards Need Greater School Uniformity