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[Susan notes: Great letter puncturing Fordham slease and explaining the deceit.]

Published in Education Week

To the editor

Your front-page article "School Law's Story: Read All About It" (June 23, 2004) performs a vital service by revealing how the media inadvertently or deliberately form public opinion about the controversial No Child Left Behind Act. The essence of the exposé is contained in the comments made by Justin Torres, the research director of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in Washington.

Mr. Torres cites a series on the No Child Left Behind Act by Ohio’s Dayton Daily News as an example of all that is wrong with media coverage of the law. By asserting that the articles "exhibit all the standard symptoms of self- righteous hyperbole that characterize much of NCLB reporting," he throws down the gauntlet. He goes on to list the counts in his indictment: The articles "‘present a smattering of episodes as a nationwide trend’; ‘stack the deck with experts’ to bash testing; and ‘demolish distinctions, reduce complexities, and conflate facts.’"

The gravamen of his argument warrants equal time for rebuttal. What Mr. Torres conveniently fails to mention are the techniques used by enemies of public education to advance their agenda. These take many forms, but they all are designed to disguise ideology as science.

One of the most common devices is to equate group averages with the performance of all individuals within the group. There will always be some cases of disadvantaged students or inner-city schools that manage to achieve success despite overwhelming odds. These few examples are used to "prove" that demography is not destiny. But averages, by definition, include relatively higher and relatively lower performance of some in the group being studied. Nevertheless, Mr. Torres and his ilk want to convince the public that economic reforms take a back seat to moral and cultural self-help as a way to raise student achievement.

They also like to point to the success of some schools serving poor students, such as the KIPP charter schools, as evidence that determined leadership can trump social class. The KIPP program deserves praise for its accomplishments, but it is highly unlikely that its approach is replicable on a wide-scale basis. That’s because KIPP is composed of a self-selected group of students, whose parents are deeply involved in their education.

It’s time that the public learns the truth about how the media mold their attitudes and opinions on educational issues.

Walt Gardner

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