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[Susan notes: These three excellent letters point to children's very real economic needs contributing to the achievement gap. We all need to hit this point over and over in our own letters to local papers. For starters, we call all quote David Berlinter's observation that "poverty is the 600-pound guerilla in the classroom."]

Published in New York Times

To the editor

In emphasizing race-based achievement gaps, “Schools Slow in Closing Gaps Between Races” (front page, Nov. 20) pays insufficient attention to the significant role of socioeconomic inequalities in explaining these gaps.

For social scientists studying the No Child Left

Behind law, the slow progress comes as no surprise. The education researcher David Berliner has noted that “poverty is the 600-pound guerilla in the classroom.”

As long as proponents of No Child Left Behind continue to dismiss the examination of the economic backgrounds of students as an example of what President Bush has called the “soft bigotry of low expectations” or as an

excuse for low achievement by low-income students,

standards-based reforms like No Child Left Behind will have limited effects.

It is time for policy makers to place as much emphasis on reducing poverty as they do on improving the schools attended by poor children. Both are necessary, but are alone insufficient to reduce the achievement gap.

Alan R. Sadovnik

The writer is a professor of education, sociology and public affairs at Rutgers University in Newark.

To the Editor:

All the tests in the world will not close the

achievement gap. When politicians and business leaders stop blaming the schools and start focusing on the real reasons for the achievement gap — the economic gap, the health care gap and the racial gap — poor and minority students may have a fighting chance.

Until then, the more than $2 billion testing industry will continue to reap a bonanza as our nation falls further and further into the educational abyss.

Judy Rabinowitz

Ocean, N.J.

To the Editor:

How can you discuss the test-score gaps between

minority and white students without attributing some of the problem to the child poverty rate of almost 18 percent, the child hunger rate of 17 percent and the 19 percent uninsured rate for poor children, when African-Americans and Hispanics bear the brunt of those disadvantages?

Yet the education experts quoted in your article speak as if poverty and hunger, and the illnesses associated with them, had no effect on children’s school attendance and capacity to learn.

That’s not the way the principal of a school that

narrowed the gap between black and white students saw it. You write that he “credited a prekindergarten program and a school health clinic that helped keep poor students from missing class.”

No Child Left Behind is big on testing and promises. But it does far too little to address the social and economic needs of black, Hispanic and poor white children — needs that are inextricably linked to school achievement.

Milton Schwebel

The writer is the emeritus dean of the Graduate

School of Education, Rutgers University.

To the Editor:

Standardized tests may be relatively efficient to

administer, but they do not provide the information educators need to understand and work to close the achievement gap. Teachers need detailed information about their students’ strengths and areas of need. All they get from a standardized test is a number.

If we want to make greater progress toward the goal of leaving no child behind, let’s shelve those standardized tests and work together to truly understand the nature of the achievement gap and the academic, social and economic factors that contribute to it.

Howard Miller

The writer is an associate professor of literacy education at Mercy College.

Alan R. Sadovnik , Judy Rabinowitz, Milton Schwebel, & Howard Miller

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