With all due respect, Christopher Paslay's comments ("False goals for city schools," Sept. 10) may represent the single biggest factor in why so many of our schools fail to educate our children. Paslay says it should be expected that roughly half of all students will perform below proficiency on state math and reading tests. He argues that "average, by definition, means that about half the students are above it and half are below." This is a classic example of the tyranny of low expectations. This tyranny too often afflicts numerous adults in a child's life, including parents and teachers. The result is that these low expectations seep into the child's mind and end up becoming reality.

Too often, parents hope for the best but don't expect or demand the best for their children. And too often, teachers and other adults simply feel that some kids are destined to fail, and we should stop banging our heads against a wall. This seems to be Paslay's thinking. However, expectations are vital. The proof lies in the day-to-day results of the many parents and teachers who have high expectations and work very hard to make sure students of all backgrounds succeed.

Paslay's error is in assuming that the state tests are meant to find the average. In fact, they just establish a baseline or a floor. They simply say that every child should be able to read, write, and do a certain amount of math in order to be successful in life. The state simply sets the bar; it is up to all of us to do what we can to help our children get over that bar. And they can do it. The single biggest factor in their not achieving is the false belief that they can't.

Brian Armstead

Director of civic engagement

Philadelphia Education Fund