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[Susan notes: This letter is a scorcher, terrific all the way, and the last paragraph is a stunner.]

Published in New York Times
10/11/2004

To the editor

Having observed teaching in more than thirty schools in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands and in countless schools around the United States, and having had my own children attend Belgian and Israeli schools for a year each, I have a far different view of the comparisons among them than expressed in your Oct. 10 editorial (How to Rescue Education Reform).



In fact, until No child Left Behind (NCLB) came along I was always proud of how much better and fairer American schools were than their European counterparts. As a long time teacher in the elementary, middle and high school grades and, then, as an administrator, I saw that our schools consistently opened the world of knowledge and ideas to students, pushing them to be thinkers and creators, not just recipients of information, which was the approach of European schools.



More important, however, American schools gave repeated opportunities to students who were late bloomers, which was something European schools never did. In a European system, if you werenıt a good student by age 15, which meant having high grades and scoring high on national exams, you could forget about college and a good paying job. I am particularly sensitive to this difference because three of my own children bloomed late and yet were able to go to top notch universities and graduate schools and have successful professional careers.



Under NCLB there is little chance other American students will be so fortunate. As early as age 9, large numbers of children are already being held back and labeled academic failures on the basis of a single test. In order to make high schools look better than they are, even larger numbers of ninth graders are repeating that grade two and three times or being forced out of school altogether. Maybe thatıs why, as you say, ³This country once led the world in high school graduation rates, but it has dropped to 14th.²



Despite what the New York Times believes, inadequate funding and the incompetence of the Department of Education are only warts on the ugly face of NCLB. It is a narrow-minded and punitive law whose major tactic is to deprive public schools and their students of opportunities to show their successes and make improvements over time, whose emphasis on testing and arbitrary standards hits hardest at poor and minority children, and whose philosophy of education is ³ swallow and regurgitate.²

Joanne Yatvin


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