To the Editor:
Marion Brady asks a dangerous question in his Commentary “No Dog Left Behind” (Jan. 28, 2009): “Why are one-size-fits-all performance standards inappropriate to the point of silliness when applied to dogs, but accepted without question when applied to kids?” I’m fine with advising Chihuahuas not to be guard dogs, but which students should we decide aren’t going to be able to read, write, or do math? And how young should we tell them?
Mr. Brady ignores widespread evidence that students from all walks of life can meet high academic standards. It’s all well and good to advocate flexible curricula, but it’s naive and pernicious to ignore or toss aside the very real role that strong literacy and numeracy skills play in guiding children toward success in our society. If we don’t equip students with those skills, we greatly limit their future options.
“Human variability” should be celebrated, yes, but not by sorting students into different “breeds” (by academic ability at age 8? by socioeconomic class? by race?). Any teacher knows that each student has his or her own strengths and weaknesses, and needs individualized, thoughtful instruction. But the way to get to that point is by raising expectations and encouraging excellent teaching, not by lowering standards and giving up on some “breeds” of students.
New Haven, Conn.
A version of this article appeared in the February 25, 2009 edition of Education Week as ‘No Dog Left Behind’ Satire Draws a Serious Response