[Susan notes: Here are several letters responding to a recent and execrable Times editorial. Notice that none call the editorial writer a stooge of Capitalism, a Standardista jackass, or an ignoramus. As the Times Public Editor has pointed out, the paper does not publish letters that directly criticize its writers. ]
"High School Reform, Round 1" (editorial, Feb. 23) gets one critical thing wrong: you say that talking about testing is "putting the cart before the horse."
It has long been true in education that assessment drives the curriculum. Teachers teach to the test - especially if that test is what determines their personal status and the status of their school as a whole. This is what makes the whole standardized "testing game" so absurd.
Tests do not teach critical thinking skills or communication skills. They merely teach students how to pass tests. Without a purpose to their learning, no one will learn. High school needs to be re-thought and should likely be cut back to three years instead of four. The last year could be directed to internships and community service, where real learning can take place.
Nyack, N.Y., Feb. 23, 2005
To the Editor:
President Bush's high school improvement proposal does put the cart before the horse by adding testing before determining what the real educational problems are. But that's not its only flaw.
The administration and groups such as Achieve and the National Governors Association, which advocate "raising the test-score bar" for all students no matter their interests or skills, continue to promote the fiction that more emphasis on standardized tests will push high schools to help students develop high-level skills. But these exams are extremely poor tools for helping students learn to solve problems and communicate effectively.
Imposing an even harsher test-driven curriculum will do nothing to help the disproportionately low-income, minority-group students who are leaving high school in greater numbers and at younger ages. It's time to investigate, with rigor and high standards, whether a decade's worth of raising the bar through politically defined high-stakes tests is pushing more students out of school toward futures devoid of opportunity.
Cambridge, Mass., Feb. 23, 2005
The writer is co-executive director, FairTest.
To the Editor:
I am dismayed that "High School Reform, Round 1" laid the blame for the low quality of high school education at the doorstep of teachers. "The curriculum must become far more rigorous across the board," you wrote, "and that can happen only if teachers improve."
I don't know what high school teachers you had in mind, but those I know are very skilled and demand much from their students. The problems they face are families that have low regard for education; students who would rather earn money than study; parents who allow their students to spend hours online, playing video games or watching TV; or a lack of concern in families about children's development of character, including responsibility for one's work. In fact, teachers often have to deal with parents interceding for their children when teachers "keep" them from getting good grades.
The breakdown of "family values" of the sort detailed above is the greatest obstacle to teachers' being able to deliver the high-quality education they are quite capable of offering.
Ronald L. Troxel
Spring Green, Wis., Feb. 23, 2005
To the Editor:
President Bush's package for reforming the American high school system gets an A on rhetoric but flunks on almost every other measure.
Yes, school reform is desperately needed, but you don't get there by killing off the $1.3 billion federally financed vocational education program, which by itself doesn't begin to pay for what's needed, and which has received a bad rap - even in your editorial. In recent years, "wood shop and fender pounding" have given way to courses in nursing, accounting, heating and air-conditioning, computer graphics design and automotive diagnostics. Such training gives students a leg up on jobs that are really available, and usually with the endorsement of local industry and business councils.
Vocational ed is no longer a dead end for poor and minority students but a practical way to obtain highly marketable skills and internship experiences, taught by instructors who have classroom as well as industry credentials. We need to support it, not kill it.
Berkeley, Calif., Feb. 23, 2005
To the Editor:
Your editorial about high school reforms makes some valid points. But it does not mention some key realities of career and technical education, or C.T.E., in New York State.
All students in newly state certified C.T.E. programs must take the five Regents exams required for a high school diploma, plus 10 to 20 additional credits to complete C.T.E. trade requirements, which lead to a technical endorsement on the high school diploma. Students earning these enriched diplomas are prepared to go to college or enter the job market.
Ironically, as New York State upgrades its vocational programs, they are now so demanding and rigid that only the most accomplished students can succeed in them. As a result, we are shutting out a lot of at-risk students who could benefit from C.T.E. programs.
Quality high school reform should insist on high academic standards in vocational education while still ensuring access for students who want to pursue it.
United Federation of Teachers
New York, Feb. 23, 2005