Cambridge, Mass.



Cambridge, Mass.

Would that Congress had consulted Linda Darling-Hammond, Pedro Noguera, Velma Cobb and Deborah Meier when drafting No Child Left Behind [“Evaluating ‘No Child Left Behind,'” May 21]. They lay out a powerful case for why NCLB needs fundamental reform if it is to help us “pay off the educational debt to disadvantaged students that has accrued over centuries of unequal access to quality education.”

Darling-Hammond cites the work of the Forum on Educational Accountability (FEA) in building a consensus for a new NCLB that would shift the law’s emphasis “from applying sanctions for failing to raise test scores to holding states and localities accountable for making the systemic changes that improve student achievement.” The Joint Statement on NCLB has been signed by 121 education, civil rights, religious, disability and civic organizations, a constituency of more than 50 million people. These voices are beginning to be heard, but much more must be done.

Congressional committees are writing legislation. Now is the time to act. Contact your senators and Representative today. Tell them NCLB should not be reauthorized until its serious flaws are fixed. Ask them to contact the Education Committee and press for adoption of the FEA’s legislative recommendations.

Rather than just test and punish, the new federal law proposed by FEA would improve schools through high-quality professional development for teachers and administrators; involve parents more deeply in school improvement; enable families to participate better in their children’s education; continue to assess and report student learning but based on multiple measures, not just test scores. Expectations for achievement would be realistic, based on rates of improvement actually achieved by schools. Targeted assistance would replace sanctions (see www.edaccountability.org).

Chair, Forum on Educational Accountability

New York City

I’ve had a lot of contact with NCLB, a flawed program but, on balance, well worth having. Contrary to the position taken by the Nation forum, NCLB has had a beneficial effect on education. It has surfaced widespread performance failures in reading and math, and required educators to get better results. Most objections raised are just pie-in-the-sky. Of course we’d do a better job if we eliminated poverty, secured trained dedicated teachers, mobilized parents and raised the education budget. Other objections are just wrong. Reliance on multiple-choice questions is not an error but the best way to measure performance quickly. Teaching to the test is not wrong. The test appropriately requires students to read and analyze long selections and to solve math problems. A lot of practice is essential. It’s true we’ve reduced time spent in music and art, but it was because we wisely doubled time spent in math and reading.

Former member, Johnson Task Force on Poverty and Education


The NCLB forum identified the nonacademic needs of children. But no one said unequivocally what must be said: No program aimed at educational improvement that fails to address those nonacademic needs head-on, fully financed and with passionate support by the government can possibly achieve significant educational gain.

Clinton’s Goals 2000 and Bush’s NCLB deceived the public into believing significant change was in the offing, muffled their critics for years and, because there was little if any improvement, succeeded in reinforcing racist views about the innate inferiority of “those people” (blacks, Latinos and poor whites).

Americans must learn that even good teachers have difficulty contending with the consequences of depreciated parental earnings, parental exhaustion, malnourishment, homelessness and unattended health problems. There is no alternative: Societal change must accompany educational change.

This emphatic statement is not just a theoretical bias. The social ferment in the 1960s led to President Johnson’s Great Society programs and to a seeming change in consciousness toward the view that the government was really for them. The result, as psychologists Wendy Williams and Stephen Ceci reported, was that the gap in IQ and achievement-test scores between blacks and whites was halved in fifteen years. This trend came to a grinding halt with Reagan’s presidency, marked as it was by racist code words, so-called small government and freedom to profit with little oversight to protect workers and the poor.

The sad record of workers’ wages since Reagan shows that little has changed: The top 5 percent, if not 1 percent, control America’s policies. The time is overdue for the bottom 95 percent to wrest control. That is the road to true educational reform for 100 percent of the population.

Emeritus Dean, Graduate School of Education, Rutgers University

Sacramento, Calif.

There is a hole in the dialogue: the voice of the classroom teacher. Any experienced classroom practitioner will tell you that if you have not worked in a public school classroom continuously during the past five years or so, it would be presumptuous to assume an understanding of the impact this law has had on practice, pedagogy and the welfare of our children. Most teachers are eager to jump into the twenty-first century, re-evaluate practice, assessment and professional development–if we can. The dictatorial mandates associated with the fear of failing APIs and AYPs have undermined the educational system. Teachers are on the front line. We have a clear view and feel the impact of inequalities, the focus on testing, the narrowed curriculum and, primarily, the effect this has on our students.


Eidson, Tenn.

As a retired high school mathematics teacher, I remember studies on educational effectiveness in my own school. Never was a “front line, in the trench” teacher asked for an opinion. My recommendations for improving the schools are: Limit class size to no more than twenty-three students. Teachers with more students tend to go into “defensive perimeter” action. All schools should mandate a locally approved school uniform. The academies and charter schools have uniforms (and it makes it easier to identify an intruder). Make parental involvement mandatory. Create textual, audiovisual support of all classes available to parents. Make pay scales between administrators and teachers comparable, if not equal. Require all school systems to give teachers sabbaticals. Administrators should be expected to teach classes, and professors of education must be required to teach school every three or four years so they can experience the changes in student thought and behavior. I laugh when I remember a professor who said, when the topic of student discipline came up, “Gum chewing must be strictly controlled.”


La Mesa, Calif.

If only the Education Department would follow Linda Darling-Hammond’s model in assessing our nation’s schools. Having served public education in three states as an English teacher, special education teacher, middle school principal and director of special services, I have watched the multiple-choice measurement of student achievement diminish student incentive and teacher motivation, not to mention innovative school programs.

The true purpose of the current Education Department is the same as that of other agencies under the Bush Administration: to privatize government functions. NCLB threatens both state and local control, as effective resources are replaced with materials from high-profit publishers and parents are encouraged to enroll their children in private schools subsidized by vouchers.


Scotts Valley, Calif.

Whether the writers and supporters of this law realize it or not, its fundamental effect will be to further advance the growing trend toward a two-tier education system wherein affluent communities have good schools and poverty-prone areas do not. The more you observe the results of the law’s application and the actions of the federal education officials, the more their underlying motive becomes obvious: Struggling schools are in worse shape, while affluent schools are in clover.


La Honda, Calif.

NCLB does not reward excellence. It does not matter to NCLB how many children score above “proficient.” It only matters how many are below. The result is that schools do not focus on the gifted children, who will become our future leaders. Their parents will then move their children to private schools and will probably support vouchers. That will leave behind the poor and the more challenged children. Then public education as we have known it will end.


Sherrill, N.Y.

As I read Linda Darling-Hammond’s article, it occurred to me in a nauseating flash that Bush’s intent from the start has been merely exploitative. He doesn’t care two pins about neglected kids; he cares about privatization. By setting unrealistic standards that don’t take immigrant and learning-disabled students into consideration and then punishing schools with kids who fail to meet those standards, Bush is engaging in propaganda to drum up support for school vouchers. And conveniently, while he makes his case, his friends in the testing industry make a tidy profit and no doubt make generous contributions to his party.


Portland, Ore.

I work in the Reading First program. I can anonymously attest that it is the greatest attack on democracy imaginable. The programs are designed to take the teacher out of the equation. Teachers must spend a minimum of five years learning to deliver the program. Forget about discussing current events or introducing information that does not relate specifically to the anthology. Teachers learn that they must follow orders. If you point out that the program teaches incorrect information (like “more” is the superlative and “most” the comparative, as I noted) you will halt your ascent of the bureaucratic ladder.

Teachers soon begin to pass that message along to students: Don’t think; just do what’s in front of you. We don’t need qualified teachers to implement these programs; we need unqualified teachers. There are two choices for educators like myself: Teach public school and teach the poor how to follow orders, or teach private school and teach the rich how to think for themselves. I can’t say this publicly because I would lose my job. We all have to watch what we say.


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