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[Susan notes: Great letter from a resistance leader who is never cowed by officious bureaucrats.]

Published in Education Week
07/09/2003

To the editor



Education week



july 9



To the Editor:



Donald B. Gratz ("Leaving No Child Behind," Commentary, June 11, 2002) adeptly cuts through the lofty rhetoric of the "No Child Left Behind" Act of 2001 and zeroes in on its punitive essence. In so doing, he reveals the law's real intent without actually uttering the words.



The words he avoids are these: The No Child Left Behind Act was never designed to help disadvantaged students. It was written to dismantle public schools. Why else would the law require that all students everywhere—including students with limited English and students with disabilities—be proficient in reading and math by 2014?



It makes no difference that no state or country in history has ever been able to achieve 100 percent proficiency in these areas, as called for by the No Child Left Behind legislation. It also counts for naught that schools are being financially shortchanged as they struggle to meet the Sisyphean task that lies ahead.



It's further interesting to note that private and parochial schools are exempt from the provisions of the federal law, even when public funds are involved. If they weren't, they would do only slightly better in reaching this unrealistic goal than their public school counterparts, which must enroll all who show up at their doors.



It's time to call the No Child Left Behind Act what it is: a fraud perpetrated on the public in the name of accountability by those who want to privatize education.





Walt Gardner

Los Angeles, Calif.







To the Editor:



Please allow me to respond to assertions and personal attacks in Kirk T. Schroder's letter ("Virginians Debate Standards, Exam," Letters, June 11, 2003) responding to my earlier letter about Virginia's Standards of Learning program ("Virginia Test Gives No Aid to At-Risk," Letters, May 21, 2003).



Mr. Schroder is absolutely correct that I have ties to public education, something I've never tried to hide but am quite proud of. I taught students with moderate and severe cognitive disabilities in several school divisions in Virginia from 1978 to 1989 and was recognized by the Virginia Department of Education as the 1986 Virginia Teacher of the Year.



In 1988, I left teaching to stay home to raise my own children. I now work part time as an educational consultant in the areas of severe disabilities, alternative and augmentative communication, and challenging behavior. I am also a volunteer advocate for children with disabilities, having served as the president of the Virginia Chapter of TASH, an organization championing equal opportunity for children and adults with severe disabilities, and the president of The Arc of Virginia.



And Mr. Schroder is also correct that I am a Bedford County and Bedford city school board member, a position I assumed just before the current Standards of Learning program's advent. I became a school board member to become more involved in the education of the children in my community. And I will not ignore problems that have become increasingly evident in the years since the SOLs. I'm not sure why my education expertise should disqualify me from trying to have flaws in the SOL (or any other education program) addressed.



I have five children who are currently completing 8th, 7th, 5th, 4th, and 2nd grades. I have watched what has happened in their classrooms over the years as we chase after pass rates. Because my children's educational quality is at stake, I feel a deep sense of urgency over this issue and can relate to other parents who feel the same way. That is why I have organized parents around Virginia who have serious concerns about the negative effects of our high-stakes testing program on kids and education, almost all of which the state, like Mr. Schroder, continues to dismiss.



If the SOLs are, as Kirk Schroder and other supporters claim, working to raise the achievement of all students (especially the at-risk kids), then most other measures besides SOL-test pass rates should show the same kinds of "impressive" gains, but they do not. While Mr. Schroder cites several numbers, he very carefully avoids the statistics I laid out.



The data, "when looked at fairly and without ideological bias," show that the achievement effects of the SOLs are questionable at best. The SOL-test pass rates and percentage of schools labeled fully accredited based on those pass rates are rising on a steady and unpalatable diet of narrowed curriculum, teaching to the tests, intensive practice testing, and "adjustments" to pass rates and some cut scores designed to improve the bottom line.



Perhaps Mr. Schroder believes that students are learning more and performing better academically, but his belief is not supported by all the facts.



His effort to distort what is happening to our kids and our schools should be recognized for what it is. As a parent, I urge policymakers, the media, and other parents to carefully examine the information they are given about the effects of high-stakes testing. Our children's future is at stake.



Mickey VanDerwerker


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