To the Editor:
“Why can’t we replicate excellence?” asked former President Bill Clinton at the recent National School Boards Association’s annual convention in San Francisco. “If I were dictator, I would get with you and make some changes in that Leave No Child Behind Act” (“Clinton Criticizes Testing Required by NCLB,” April 25, 2007).
How I would love to enlighten Mr. Clinton. Education-based businesses focus on experimentation, and the No Child Left Behind Act focuses on remediation; the pursuit of excellence is no longer a priority in our public schools.
Math education is a good example. I was in the midst of the “math wars” during my career as an algebra teacher. I watched best practices veer from carefully sequenced, content-rich directed learning to fuzzy, discovery-group learning. Where once students memorized the number connections that facilitated problem-solving, reforms brought calculators and manipulatives. For a while, California and other states abandoned traditional pre-algebra, algebra, and geometry courses and favored integrated math.
Behind the experimentation was an emphasis on helping struggling students while enriching the publishers of ever-newer and revised learning materials. The No Child Left Behind law worsened the situation by punishing schools whose lower-achieving students failed to achieve proficiency. No extra credit went to schools whose strong students excelled in advanced-level courses or on college-admissions tests. As schools faced shrinking resources and rising demands to raise test scores, the pursuit of excellence was often sacrificed.
Your May 2, 2007, issue’s front page carries the headline “Math-Science Bills Advance in Congress,” with its subhead reading “Separate Measures Are Aimed at Boosting Competitiveness,” referring to America’s standing in the global economy. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if teachers and students were properly funded and free to pursue excellence using methods proved effective over past decades?
Betty Raskoff Kazmin
A version of this article appeared in the May 23, 2007 edition of Education Week as Pursuit of Excellence Is No Longer a Priority