No distractions


Why did you distract readers with a cruel and unnecessary reference to corrections officers being fat slobs among the first few sentences in your story on Andy Block? ["The quiet advocate," August 28, 2007.] Just yesterday, as I was driving away from the Washington Park pool with my daughter, I saw an extremely fit and trim young man putting a gym bag of items in his car, a sporty thing that said PREDTOR or something on the license plate. He had on his corrections officer uniform, and might have been headed to work. And it no doubt was a difficult and dangerous night shift.

So lay off the smart aleck stuff about peripheral people when you’re writing a profile of someone significant. Don’t cheapen the story with snide, unsupported comments.

Carl Briggs

Pass it on

Thank you for this excellent article on Andy Block, "The quiet advocate" [August 28, 2007].

I’ve e-mailed it to my two sons; one a teacher with Job Corps in Vermont and the other a middle-school teacher in Brooklyn.

I respect and admire those who commit their time and energy to this much-needed advocacy.

Mary Lou Quinn
Albemarle County

Children left behind

Will Goldsmith’s article ("Buford Middle Has Cause to Celebrate," Government News, August 28, 2007) on local schools’ scores on Standards of Learning (SOL) tests as they pertain to annual yearly progress (AYP) under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation was an interesting read. But there is far more to the SOL/AYP/NCLB story than the article details.

NCLB was enacted, some say, to help solve the crisis in American public education. American public education is not perfect, but the premise that it is in crisis is a false one. The Sandia Report, which comprised the May/June 1993 issue of the Journal of Educational Research, undermined virtually every critical allegation about public schools contained in the polemic, "A Nation At Risk" (1983), which warned of a "rising tide of mediocrity" in public education that threatened to undermine the nation’s future and national security. Not surprisingly, the Bush I administration tried to suppress the Sandia Report, and even today its conclusions are not well known among parents, teachers, politicians and educational leaders. More recently, the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) found American students average in math at the fourth grade level, but only three nations scored higher in science.  At the eighth grade level, American students scored in the top quartile in both math and science. Yet media reports and comments from local and state education leaders continue to echo the sky-is-falling mentality.

NCLB legislation requires schools in Virginia to achieve yearly progress on the state’s SOL tests until all students are proficient in math and reading by 2014. Regardless of what some education "leaders" say ("we’re going to make it…we can’t rest until we’re at 100 percent"), because NCLB relies on standardized tests to measure proficiency and because each state has a different measure, that is statistically impossible. As education researcher and former American Educational Research Association president Robert Linn calculated, getting all fourth, eighth and 12th graders to proficiency using currently aggregated (averaged) data would take 61, 66 and 166 years, respectively. Disaggregating test scores into NCLB’s required myriad subgroups has led researchers to calculate that by 2014, 99 percent of all schools in California will be "failing" schools and even 85 percent of all schools in traditionally high-scoring Minnesota will be labeled "failing." Just last week, The Washington Post reported that the number of "failing" schools in affluent Northern Virginia (think Loudoun and Fairfax and Prince William counties) doubled under current SOL/NCLB measures. Hmmmm.

There’s no doubt that all students deserve to learn. But not all students—or adults, for that matter—learn at the same rates or in the same ways. NCLB applies a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach to learning that is punitive to school systems, that causes increased drop outs especially among those groups the law purports to help, and results in a narrowed and often rote-based curriculum that impedes high-quality instruction and stifles the motivation to learn. Even former Virginia governor George Allen, who foisted the SOLs on Virginians under the guise of "reform," has questioned how the SOLs are used to calculate AYP under NCLB.  

So too should thoughtful parents and educators.

Mark Crockett
Kents Store