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[Susan notes: Here are five letters on Is the 'Texas Miracle' a Mirage? Don't miss Kati Haycock's defense of the miracle--in the typical Education Trust blame-the-messenger-protect-Rod-Paige style]

Published in New York Times
12/06/2003

To the editor

Re "Gains in Houston Schools: How Real Are They?" (front page, Dec. 3):



As a former teacher in the Houston Independent School District, I know that the focus on test scores, at the exclusion of all else in the classroom, tells only part of the travesty that has altered schooling.



Students are deprived of the opportunity to think critically and openly. Teachers are locked into curriculums that deny the freedom to create provocative learning environments. Administrators are shackled to a system that reduces them to sycophants toward their leadership. The community is silenced from a progressive dialogue about real quality in education.



Theirs were not the voices that proclaimed the "Texas miracle." Maybe it is time to hear more from these essential members of education, and less from the propagandists who make policy.



NEIL J. LISS

Houston, Dec. 3, 2003



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Re "Gains in Houston Schools: How Real Are They?" (front page, Dec. 3):



Neither Houston nor Texas is perfect. Texas should have put in place a higher-level assessment earlier than 2003, especially as student gains began to level off.



But both the city and state have made serious efforts to improve the achievement of poor and minority students. And while those efforts have had some very real payoffs, your article left out many sources that show that progress.



This country has a sad history of treating successes among low-income and minority students with deep suspicion. Why do we seem unable to accept the fact that these kids actually can learn?



KATI HAYCOCK

Director, The Education Trust

Washington, Dec. 4, 2003



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The news in "Gains in Houston Schools: How Real Are They?" (front page, Dec. 3) should come as no surprise.



As with Enron and other recent business debacles, results that seem too good to be true usually are. What is particularly frightening is when national policy is set based on these fantasy situations, rather than on the reality.



JOHN W. DOLLHOPF

Pottstown, Pa., Dec. 3, 2003



The writer teaches high school mathematics.



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As an assistant instructor at the University of Texas, I have taught several students like Rosa Arevelo, who is mentioned in "Gains in Houston Schools: How Real Are They?" (front page, Dec. 3).



These students enter the college classroom without knowing how to take notes, evaluate reading assignments or think analytically about abstract ideas. But they often excel at memorizing names and dates, much the way politicians routinely nail down "talking points" without thinking too deeply about them.



This testing fails to address inequality in schooling. Students from more privileged backgrounds are better positioned to succeed in spite of the albatross of a narrowly conceived test.



Poorer students, many of whom work very hard and want to do well, face greater academic obstacles once they reach college.



BILL BUSH

Austin, Tex., Dec. 3, 2003



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The "Texas miracle" has always been a mirage (front page, Dec. 3). I taught fourth grade from 1990 to 1994 in the Houston Independent School District. Even back then, specialists who analyzed test data were lamenting that strong scores in the fourth grade were not transferring into strong achievement in eighth grade or high school.



The writing portion of the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills had the effect of forcing teachers to try to teach writing. This was admirable, but many teachers sadly have little skill in writing themselves. So formulaic, humdrum drivel became the standard.



For the last 10 years I have taught English in a suburban Houston school. Even out here, where there are few minority students, administrators place enormous emphasis on state test results. I have had students whose witty, creative styles of writing did not muster the highest score on the stodgy TAAS writing test, but they went on to win scholastic writing awards, achieve 1600 on the SAT and be accepted to Ivy League schools.



CANDACE TANNOUS

Cypress, Tex., Dec. 3, 2003







multiple authors


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