Education Letter to the Editor

‘Tough Choices’ Debate: Opposing Views of Essay

January 30, 2007 2 min read
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To the Editor:

In “‘Tough Choices’: Change the System, or Suffer the Consequences” (Commentary, Jan. 17, 2007), Marc S. Tucker claims that the 1990 report “America’s Choice: High Skills or Low Wages,” by the predecessor of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, helped “jump-start” the movement for standards-based reform. Huh?

I think most people would date that from 1983 and A Nation at Risk, which, for all its many faults, said the nation must turn from minimum competency to excellence. A more specific “jump-start” occurred in 1989, with the establishment of national education goals, followed shortly by the National Education Goals Panel (1990), the National Council on Education Standards and Testing (1991), and the SCANS report (1991). The year of 1989 also saw the publication of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics’ standards.

As for the new report, “Tough Choices or Tough Times,” Washington Post education reporter Jay Mathews calls it a walk through “dreamland” unattached to any reality. “Delusional” is a better descriptor. Consider this statement about the “board exams” the report proposes: “Students could challenge these Board Exams as soon as they were ready, and they could keep challenging them all their lives, if necessary. No one would fail. If they did not succeed, they would just try again.” Substitute “high school exit exam” for “board exams” and see if the meaning changes.

The image of people happily butting their heads against the exams year after year just shows how far from reality this report is. And, given that these exams and these exams alone would determine future educational opportunities, they would only increase the class and racial stratification in this country.

Or consider this: “This is a world [the world of the future] in which a very high level of preparation in reading, writing, speaking, mathematics, science, literature, history, and the arts will be an indispensable foundation for everything that comes after for most members of the workforce” (emphasis added). Meanwhile, in Wal-Mart nation, retail-sales jobs are more numerous than the 10 fastest-growing jobs combined. We have nine cashiers, six waiters, and five-plus janitors for every computer programmer. Who actually wrote this thing, Ayn Rand’s ghost?

Dreamland, indeed. My sense is that the people who are approving of this report haven’t actually read it.

Gerald W. Bracey

Alexandria, Va.

To the Editor:

As a 76-year-“young” semiretired educator, I applaud Marc S. Tucker and the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce for telling Americans we must, in the words of his Commentary’s title, “change the system, or suffer the consequences.”

A New England educator, I have known two of the commission’s members for many years: Massachusetts’ commissioner of education, David P. Driscoll, and former Boston superintendent (now at Harvard University) Thomas W. Payzant. They are outstanding educators who always put children first. Did Diane Ravitch—whose Commentary “ ‘Tough Choices’: Radical Ideas, Misguided Assumptions” appeared alongside Mr. Tucker’s—talk with them before she wrote her “misguided” retort?

America’s public education system needs a major overhaul if we are to provide quality education to all children. Congress and the president could play a major role by agreeing to implement the recommendations in “Tough Choices or Tough Times” in the District of Columbia’s public schools, to show the nation how to create a quality school system that truly leaves no child behind.

Richard Goodman

Hampton, N.H.

A version of this article appeared in the January 31, 2007 edition of Education Week as ‘Tough Choices’ Debate: Opposing Views of Essay


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