Opinion
Assessment Letter to the Editor

Essay Perpetuates ‘False’ Line About Biggest Learning Factor

August 26, 2014 1 min read
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To the Editor:

We should all be comforted that a self-described “communications consultant” has all the answers for public education. Too bad Leslie Francis’ insulting Commentary gets most things wrong.

He writes that “we know that teacher quality is the single biggest factor in how well children learn.” False. Experts have long known that the most important determinant of a child’s success is family income. Teachers are crucial, but they have to educate children whose lives are fundamentally shaped by the conditions of their lives beyond school.

If you actually care about how children will do in school, you had better attend to their health and welfare. Focusing on high-stakes tests as the only answer is educational and moral malpractice.

Mr. Francis repeats with robot-like precision the tenets of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-inspired education reform movement, including the usual slander that teachers don’t care about quality, have never assessed anything, and have no plan of their own. The new social-justice-oriented union leaders described in the same Aug. 6, 2014, issue—such as the president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, Barbara Madeloni (“AFT, NEA Agendas Converge Amid External, Internal Pressure”)—argue that we should provide for all children the kinds of schools that education reformers want for their children.

On the website of the Lakeside School, which Bill Gates once attended and where his children go to school, there is no mention of high-stakes standardized tests for students or teachers, or of the Common Core State Standards. Instead, students take a rich array of courses, including in art and music, with small class sizes. Maybe Mr. Gates sends his children to the kind of school all children deserve.

Max Page

Professor of Architecture and History
Director of Historic Preservation Initiatives
University of Massachusetts
Amherst, Mass.

A version of this article appeared in the August 27, 2014 edition of Education Week as Essay Perpetuates ‘False’ Line About Biggest Learning Factor


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