Opinion
Education Letter to the Editor

Taking On Quality Counts

March 18, 2008 4 min read

To the Editor:

I concur with the letter by David Marshak, Philip Kovacs, Susan Ohanian, Gerald W. Bracey, William Spady, and Deborah Meier (March 5, 2008) concerning the advocacy position your publication has taken in regard to state standards and the assessment of schools, as represented in your annual Quality Counts report (Jan. 10, 2008). Unfortunately, what you are advocating runs counter to the research and experience-based positions of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of education professionals (administrators, teachers, teacher-educators, and researchers). The solutions proposed by the original letter-writers are sound ones: either eliminate the ideological advocacy and embrace truly objective (as much as this is possible) reporting, or separate your reporting and opinion functions, as most well-regarded newspapers and journals do.

Kathleen Kesson

Professor of Urban Childhood Education

Long Island University, Brooklyn Campus

Brooklyn, N.Y.

To the Editor:

As someone who works with the career and technical education community, I wish to express my support for the recent critique of Quality Counts, in particular the letter-writers’ charge that the report “advocates for the ideological position that ‘all high school students … [should] take a college-preparatory curriculum to earn a diploma.’ ”

Here are some questions I would pose to you: Why, when only about 30 percent of occupations require a college degree, do we want to force 100 percent of students into college? Doesn’t saying that only jobs requiring a college degree have value further escalate the problem of insufficient numbers of students willing to study and get the training to perform high-skilled jobs that do not require a college degree?

Debbie Potts

Education Specialist II

Nontraditional Careers and Gender Equity

Thinkfinity Project Coordinator

Illinois Office of Educational Services

Springfield, Ill.

To the Editor:

It is very hard to separate beliefs about how education should be done from how education is done and what really works, since we all have gone through the system. But I would expect a newspaper calling itself Education Week to be a source we could rely on to separate beliefs from research. The standards system works well for inanimate manufacturing processes, but not for people.

Having come into education from positions in missile and rocket work, when I hear people say “Education isn’t rocket science,” I agree with them. When we fired off a rocket, we knew what each part was to do because they had all been designed and produced to a standard. But when I walked into my classroom as a teacher, whether it was my kindergarten class or my high school Advanced Placement Calculus class, I had no idea what each of those “parts” was able to do, and I have never found any two that were the same.

Yes, education is not rocket science—it’s much more complex. And to reduce it to rocket science is to leave out many students. In my kindergarten class, there was a 20 percent difference in age, physical development, mental development, life experiences, and family support among my students. If our rocket parts differed by 20 percent, we would still be throwing rocks at each other.

Your support of the standards movement in Quality Counts ignores this 20 percent difference, and does a disservice to our work to improve the education of our students.

John Otterness

San Pedro, Calif.

To the Editor:

Your publication of Quality Counts reminds me of what happens here in Utah when the local newspapers publish the achievement-test scores of each school. It gives the impression that student achievement in curriculum is the most important indicator of a quality education, and it causes all kinds of activity ostensibly designed to raise scores to commence.

Along with the unfunded and unconstitutional No Child Left Behind law, this activity results in schools’ doing many detrimental things, such as eliminating art, music, recess, and other valuable pursuits—and teaching in ways that dampen children’s desire to learn.

I feel strongly that you should stop publishing Quality Counts, as it is probably doing more harm than good.

Lynn Stoddard

Farmington, Utah

To the Editor:

As a parent, I have seen the damage caused by the No Child Left Behind Act and the standards movement, with its overemphasis on testing and passive learning.

As a professional in the quality field, I am appalled by the assumption that the measurements used by Quality Counts can validly define a successful school or teacher. The inspiration for these practices may originate in the corporate world, but none of them would be implemented there as NCLB or other similar practices have been, at least not for long. It is commonly known that an overemphasis on achieving singular milestones often leads to a narrowed focus and gaming of the system.

In the corporate world, there is a name for initiatives that are implemented from the top down, with no input from those affected, and employment of rigid standardization and measurements of questionable value. They are called failed initiatives.

But in Education Week, the questionable are presented to the public as commonly accepted best practices. This may be your opinion, but it is not anything close to fact or neutral journalism, and it needs to stop.

Nancy Elkins

Maplewood, N.J.

A version of this article appeared in the March 19, 2008 edition of Education Week as Taking On Quality Counts