"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, March 23, 2009

Letters to the NYTimes

The recent coverage by the Times on ELL students in American schools produced these insightful responses (ht to Bob Schaeffer at ARN):
To the Editor:

Applying one-size-fits-all state exams and the No Child Left Behind law to immigrant children results in narrowed curriculums, endless test prep and arbitrary declarations of school failure. Increasing percentages of students are denied a quality education, which benefits neither the students nor society.

Policy makers must face the reality of the country’s public school population and revise testing mandates accordingly. In particular, the law’s goal of 100 percent proficiency by 2014 is impossible when so many non-English-speakers enter our schools every year.

President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan should consider these realities when proposing legislation to “fix the failures of No Child Left Behind” as promised in last fall’s campaign.

Jesse Mermell
Executive Director, FairTest
Boston, March 15, 2009

To the Editor:

What a disgrace that the talented Ginette Cain, who directs the high school program for English learners in your article, needs to waste valuable class time teaching immigrant students how to memorize disjointed facts so they will pass required standardized tests.

Public education in the United States has so much to offer students — from social assimilation to the ability to achieve personal and economic success — yet these opportunities are being lost because of high-stakes testing.

This is the time to return to the education of the whole student.

Elizabeth Ball
Glenview, Ill., March 15, 2009

To the Editor:

I thought we’d pretty well settled in 1954 that segregation’s stigma was not something American schools should perpetuate. But your article’s more distressing image was the teacher informing her charges: “You don’t really need to know anything more about the Battle of Britain, except that it was an air strike. ... If you see a question about the Battle of Britain on the test, look for an answer that refers to air strikes.”

No wonder dropout rates are high. It appears that the testocracy that runs our schools has turned even the most vital, engaging stories of human history into an exercise akin to memorizing phone books.

If I were still in high school, I might find something better to do with my time, too.

Sara Mayeux
Palo Alto, Calif., March 15, 2009

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