Sunday, September 16, 2007

What’s Good for Children

Here is a reprint of an opinion article published in the NYTimes and the letters responding to it:

Editorial September 12, 2007

America’s business community was an early advocate of reform and a prime mover in the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, which required the states to improve public schooling for all students. With Congress gearing up to reauthorize the act, business leaders are rightly raising their voices in an attempt to prevent the teachers’ unions and their political allies from weakening this important law.

Corporate leaders have complained for years about job applicants who don’t read, write or think well enough. Faced with poorly educated workers at home — especially in science — American companies are increasingly looking abroad, not just for lower-paid workers, but for workers with the training and skills to compete in a globalized economy.

With those concerns in mind, the Business Roundtable, an association of chief executives from the nation’s largest companies, spoke out forcefully this week. At a House hearing, the Roundtable’s president, John Castellani, cited troubling provisions in a draft reauthorization bill that would allow schools to mask failure in teaching crucial subjects like reading and math by giving them credit for student performance in other subjects or on alternate measures of performance.

Mr. Castellani voiced strong support for the accountability principles underlying the original law and warned that the draft would allow too many schools to “game the system” by hiding the records of underachieving students. The provisions, he warned, would weaken the process by which schools are identified as in need of improvement and would replace a “transparent accountability system” with a tortured and confusing one. As such, the new system could cover up deficits that the current law has clearly exposed.

The draft, the work of the House Education Committee chairman, George Miller of California, contains some good reforms as well. But those ideas would be wasted if states, schools and teachers were not held accountable for the quality of the education they provide. Not only do America’s businesses need better-educated workers, the country needs better-educated citizens as well. And America’s children all deserve a sound education.

1 comment:

Sunday's Times said...

To the Editor:

Re “What’s Good for Children” (editorial, Sept. 12):

I am a future teacher, and you’ll hear no argument from me about the weak state of the educational system in this country. But renewing the No Child Left Behind Act would only be a hindrance to real educational breakthroughs.

Though the law has a sound principle at its core, the method of evaluation it uses forces schools to teach students how to take tests and tempts administrators to fudge what they can. The tests become more important than the education. This isn’t the fault of the teachers but of the system they are forced to work with.

Corporate leaders need to rethink their support of this law. Perhaps they should be asking teachers for advice on what bills to back so that they have well-educated job applicants in the future. No one knows what goes on in schools better than teachers.

And besides, a teacher would never presume to know how to do a businessman’s job.

Maya Zabar
Rego Park, Queens, Sept. 12, 2007

To the Editor:

Your editorial highlights the business community’s interest in the No Child Left Behind Act. But it does not mention an important constituency that often goes unmentioned: parents.

Some of the reforms being discussed are good, the editorial says, but “would be wasted if states, schools and teachers were not held accountable for the quality of the education they provide.” Yet many of the shortcomings students have are due not to the hard work of their teachers but to the lack of interest by their parents.

Frank Nefos
West Chester, Pa., Sept. 12, 2007

The writer is a geography teacher.

To the Editor:

Flexible testing requirements will strengthen, not weaken, No Child Left Behind.

No test, and no single point in time, is representative enough to justify an educational decision for a student or for a school. Testing programs must account for variation in student strengths, for students who are learning English and for students with handicapping conditions.

Better education means more than testing. The law must include not only flexible testing requirements, but also training, support and financing both for testing programs based on curriculum and for teaching the curriculum.

Accountability is good, but it is not simple.

Allison Tupper
New York, Sept. 12, 2007

The writer was a teacher and educational administrator.

To the Editor:

Until the No Child Left Behind Act creates a single set of national educational standards to which each and every state must adhere, it will remain essentially flawed or even meaningless. As it stands now, states with stricter standards are penalized in relation to states with looser standards.

Allowing the players to engage in different sets of rules opens the door to constant bickering and tampering. If politicians don’t have the political courage to fix this flaw (and face their constituents honestly), then the law should be allowed to lapse into meaningless obscurity and drop from the books.

Wil Hallgren
Brooklyn, Sept. 12, 2007

To the Editor:

Your editorial says corporate leaders are “faced with poorly educated workers at home — especially in science.” Yet you seem to agree with John Castellani, president of the Business Roundtable. He says provisions in the draft No Child Left Behind reauthorization bill would let schools hide their failures in reading and math by granting credit for students’ success in other subjects.

If you want science to be taken seriously by students, then it has to be among the benchmarks that are tested and that count.

Jay M. Pasachoff
Williamstown, Mass., Sept. 12, 2007

The writer is professor of astronomy and director of the Hopkins Observatory at Williams College.

To the Editor:

Your editorial implies that schools want to mask problems in public education, but the editorial itself masks the central ones: low salary and respect for teachers, classes that are too big, overcrowded schools and limited resources.

No Child Left Behind is seen by many teachers as all stick and no carrot; it punishes schools for failing to perform while withholding the resources that would let them perform better.

The teachers with whom I’ve worked buy basic classroom supplies out of their meager salaries; if they don’t approve of No Child Left Behind in its present form, this ought to tell us something.

Catherine Carter
Cullowhee, N.C., Sept. 12, 2007

The writer teaches English education at Western Carolina University.

To the Editor:

You suggest that business leaders are genuine advocates for our children, and that teachers’ unions are our children’s foes. If you survey teachers — the people who work with youngsters every day — I think you would find that they feel their unions are expressing their serious concerns and misgivings about the No Child Left Behind Act in its current form.

If the chief executives from the Business Roundtable come into our schools and try their hand at teaching our youngsters, I’ll be less skeptical about allowing them to drive legislation that affects education in our country. Until that time, I think it would be unwise to discount the critiques of the law put forward by the unions that represent millions of teachers.

Denise Gelberg
Ithaca, N.Y., Sept. 12, 2007

The writer is the author of “The ‘Business’ of Reforming American Schools.”