Frank Bruni argued a week ago in his column in the New York Times that American students are too “coddled” and need the Common Core and rigorous testing to toughen them up. He also suggested that some parts of schooling ought to be “relatively mirthless.” Today the newspaper printed letters to the editor, in response.

Tony Wagner of Harvard University wrote:

To the Editor:

Re “Are Kids Too Coddled?,” by Frank Bruni (column, Nov. 24):

The problem with Common Core is not coddled kids; it is high-stakes testing. And the anxiety that kids feel is not from their parents but rather from their teachers, who fear for their jobs.

We can have high academic standards without high anxiety. In Finland, which is the best performing education system in the world, the first high-stakes test that kids take is the high school matriculation exam, which they have between two and four years to prepare for — their choice — and can retake if they are not satisfied with the results. Kids are assessed continuously in class, and get feedback that urges them to do better, but it is not high stakes. Grades are played down.

If we want Common Core to succeed, we have to dial back the high-stakes testing, and test only sample populations every few years. Otherwise, what we are going to get is just more teaching to the test, squeezing out of the curriculum everything that is not on the test and undoing whatever value Common Core may have.

TONY WAGNER
Cambridge, Mass., Nov. 24, 2013

The writer is a fellow at the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard and the author of “The Global Achievement Gap.”

Other letters were also excellent, including one from a “white suburban mom,” who says that implementation of Common Core in New York has been “an unmitigated disaster,” and another from a high school English teacher, who writes, “A fourth grader who can’t participate in music, art or recess because she now attends a remedial class as a result of a low score on a standardized test aligned to the Common Core can tell you all about “mirthless.”