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[Susan notes: Several experts respond to the recent (and disreputable) editorial in the New York Times. The editorial seemed to prove that editorialists don't read news articles in their own paper.]

Published in New York Times

To the editor

Your defense of the punitive - and cynically misnamed - No Child Left Behind Act ("How to Rescue Education Reform,'' editorial, Oct. 10) rests on exactly the same premise used by the Bush administration and other conservatives to justify privatizing public education: sweeping claims about the failure of our schools. But there is very little merit to these arguments.

You assert, for example, that the United States "once led the world in high school graduation rates'' but no longer does. In reality, the United States is doing better than ever in terms of how many students graduate from high school. The drop in rank simply reflects the improvement of other countries, a welcome development, surely, unless one values relative standing more than universal learning.

An international examination of 9-year-olds' reading literacy found that American students had the second-highest average score of 32

participating countries.

The one place our education system clearly falls short is in mathematics teaching in the higher grades. But math educators mostly agree that this reflects an overemphasis on narrow, skills-based teaching, with more attention to calculation than to problem-solving.

Ironically, this is precisely what has been accelerated in a desperate effort to raise scores on standardized tests, the heart of the reform efforts you champion.

Alfie Kohn

Belmont, Mass., Oct. 11, 2004

The writer is a contributor to a new book about the No Child Left Behind law.

To the Editor:

"How to Rescue Education Reform" (editorial, Oct. 10) is predicated on the dubious assumption that schools at their best alone can eliminate

the persistent achievement gap between rich and poor children.

But no country in the free world has been able to close the learning gap completely. That's because class and ethnic backgrounds of children

affect relative achievement.

Unless the social and economic factors that account for the differences are addressed early in disadvantaged children's lives, the No Child Left Behind law will eventually result in virtually all of this country's schools' being declared failures. This would set the stage for

privatization of schools and the eradication of our history of public education.

Walt Gardner

Los Angeles, Oct. 10, 2004

The writer is a retired teacher.

To the Editor:

An Oct. 10 editorial identifies shortcomings in the No Child Left Behind law, but its successful implementation may serve only to reveal

fundamental weaknesses arising from internal contradictions.

Highly qualified teachers (one of the law's requirements) believe that testing (another requirement) is only one measure of learning and has inherent flaws. What is the effect of betting everything on a test?

In some districts, the regular curriculum has been abandoned in favor of six weeks of test preparation. There is also evidence that subjects like art and foreign language are being cut back, especially in high-poverty areas. Few highly qualified teachers would endorse that.

Rebecca R. Kline

Carlisle, Pa., Oct. 11, 2004

The writer is executive director, Northeast Conference on the Teaching

of Foreign Languages.

multiple authors

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