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[Susan notes: The author makes the point that increasingly people send their children to private schools--not because public school teachers aren't excellent but to avoid the "numbling learning environment" caused by state allegiance to standards of learning.]

Published in Washington Post

To the editor

Mark Christie's enthusiasm for Virginia's Standards of Learning [Close to Home, June 1] is in contrast to the trepidation many parents feel about this program and the boredom that many students experience.

I just returned from a fellowship in Charlottesville, and I was stunned by the number of people there who send their children to private schools because they worry that the SOLs have created a numbing learning environment and have driven talented teachers to quit. Perhaps perception is the biggest problem, because I found the local schools, students and teachers to be lively and engaging.

My daughter and her friends loved public schools in Alexandria and the cultural and intellectual mix they experienced at T.C. Williams High School.

By their junior year, however, studying for and taking the SOL tests took more and more time from what they wanted to study. They had to stop reading American literature at F. Scott Fitzgerald, for example, to prepare for and take SOL tests. The language arts test asked them to interpret a guarantee for a new CD player and to decipher a telephone bill.

As teachers get the SOLs under their belts and find ways to teach creatively again, things are improving. In the meantime, the public schools continue to lose gifted educators and middle-class families.

If things are as good as Mr. Christie believes, the schools will sell themselves in the future. For now, though, the Virginia Board of Education has a major public relations job on its hands as standardized teaching and testing of "the basics" make private schools alluring to many families.

Paddy Bowman

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