A Closer Look at Solutions to Urban Education Blight

Re: Seeking Alternatives to Standardized Testing

Letter to the Editor
The Washington Post

By Elizabeth Carson
February 17, 2004

To the Editor:

Jaime Escalante's success with inner city poor students in his Garfield HS AP calculus classes showed that these students, usually written off and given watered down math (like in NYC, alternative and traditional environments alike) could reach the level of mathematics achievement of their middle class peers if they were taught well and with the expectation they could achieve.

Escalante supports rigorous classical math instruction and objective assessments. I seriously doubt he'd give a thumbs up to the math instruction in the schools Meier points to as successful in New York state.

To attempt to reduce classical instruction to the "testing approach" or "teaching to the test" is ignorant, and from some sources, represents blatant anti-classical education spin doctoring by those who support the alternative approaches used in schools like School Without Walls in Rochester, NY or Urban Academy in NYC.

Honesty is the best policy. Deliberate false and misleading descriptions of what one disagrees with serves none.

My view is that alternative schools should be allowed to flourish, should be offered as one option for families among others, and with an adequate and appropriate system of accountability for them developed so that all understand what the schools do teach and are able to achieve.

However promotion of Meier's alternative Coalition of Essential Schools philosophy and practice as the sole and best answer to the urban education blight is myopic.

For examples such as Escalante's Garfield HS AP Calculus classes indicate the classical approach can serve poor, underprivileged students quite well.

I like Meier's amendment, but would extend it. I propose administering basic subject area competency tests to all those who develop, decide and approve policy decisions on instruction and Curriculum in our schools.

Can't pass it? Go back to school before deciding what our children should be taught, what our children should know and be able to do.

I've seen the destruction of math instruction in Manhattan District 2 as a result of new fuzzy math programs, implemented by an administrator with no math credentials, rather only a degree in theatre and counseling, who lacked the subject area qualifications for certification to teach math past the 6th grade in New York.

We'd see an end to a good deal of nonsense and experimentation in education reform pretty quickly if those in power, policy makers and administrators alike, had the right stuff, that is content knowledge and the skill and insight developed through real-time classroom experience, or the mandate to rely on the advisories of those who do.

Elizabeth Carson

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