Letters to the Editor

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To the Editor:

The letter from Diamond Technology Products' president, Don Wilson, about education reform ("Surely, Unbiased Testing of Literacy Basics Is Possible,'' Letters, Feb. 19, 1992) reflects several misconceptions about testing which are commonly held by many well-intentioned but ill-informed business leaders.

It is factually wrong, for example, to assert that our major economic competitors, Germany and Japan, have national standards "that are measured by test scores that drive the national education system.'' In fact, neither country uses tests to hold its schools accountable, neither tests all students, and neither tests before secondary school.

Japan does have a national multiple-choice college-admissions test. The United States, with twice the population, has two such exams. Each German state has its own college-admissions test, but it is not multiple-choice like the Scholastic Aptitude Test and the American College Testing Program test.

Mr. Wilson also questions "what could possibly make a test on basic arithmetic operations culturally biased.'' But a simple inspection of current exams would discover arithmetic word problems which include culturally specific terms, settings, or assumptions. Even if a test included nothing but numbers and calculations, its results would not reveal who could apply this knowledge in the workplace.

More fundamental is Mr. Wilson's assumption that U.S. education problems can somehow be solved by administering more tests. The truth is that our students are already the most over-tested in the world, with more than 100 million standardized, multiple-choice exams given each year. Even if educators were to accept his notion that students should be viewed as "products,'' experience has proven that testing is not the way to improve their "specifications and standards.'' Tests have already controlled our schools for several decades--but they have made education worse, not better.

Mr. Wilson's frustration with the performance of public schools may be understandable. But the "solution'' he proposes will not help. If he truly wants to employ students who understand "our economic system [and] how democracy works,'' he should join those who support a total overhaul of current assessment practices as part of comprehensive education reform.

Monty Neill
Associate Director
Cambridge, Mass.

To the Editor:

Larry Cuban's arguments about the essentiality of good teaching are unassailable ("Please, No More Facts; Just Better Teaching,'' Commentary, March 11, 1992). But it is unnecessary to set up a straw man called "content'' to prove his point.

We need to be concerned about content simply because the academic disciplines contain generative ideas which, properly interpreted and taught, are the foundation of a democratic education. The fact is that large numbers of students were denied access to this curriculum prior to the reform movement of the 1980's.

Even as I write, we still face the problem of resistance to providing challenging courses to all students. Objections are usually couched in several unverifiable postulates: Only the academically talented can handle advanced subjects, or a core curriculum is an "elitist'' notion and a denial of students' freedom of choice.

Because of this resistance, we must not lose sight of the importance of academic content as fundamental both to a first-rate education and upward mobility. To suggest that dynamic teaching is more important than content seems to me to miss the point. Pedagogy and content are all of a piece. Or, as the song goes, you can't have one without the other.

Joseph M. Appel
North Hunterdon Regional
High School District
Annandale, N.J.

Vol. 11, Issue 27

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