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A Rebuttal to Rebecca Raby's Review from Nichols & Good

Posted By: Sharon Nichols on August 24, 2004
I thank Rebecca Raby from Brock University for her thoughtful review of Nichols & Good “America’s teenagers—Myths and realities: Media images, schooling, and the social costs of careless indifference” published in Teachers College Record online. Her review covered the book’s major points concisely and generally accurately. However, there are a few points that need to be clarified.
In the first paragraph, the reviewer states, “while media representations of young people suggest that their violence, sexual activity and drug use have been increasing in recent years, Nichols and Good draw on various statistical surveys, most prominently the Public Agenda polls of 1997 and 1999, to indicate that teenage involvement in each of these activities has been decreasing.” Her conclusion that we base many of our arguments about youth’s declining at risk behaviors on Public Agenda evidence is misleading. Throughout the book we draw upon many well-established data bases to make our arguments that youth are doing much better than they are commonly portrayed. For example, in terms of youth violence, we draw on statistics from United States Department of Justice. In terms of youth’s alcohol, tobacco and drug use, we rely heavily, on the University of Michigan’s annual surveys known as “Monitoring the Future.” The reviewer’s claim ignores our heavy use of research evidence.
The reviewer was also concerned that “after providing a strong argument for the unreliability of national testing and its results, the authors proceed to draw on such results in making later arguments on behalf of certain forms of schooling.” The reviewer isn’t clear about this problem. We do argue that national testing has its problems—specifically in terms of how test scores are used. For example, we argue that the current trend to use test scores for making important decisions about students (for withholding diplomas, ending social promotion), is an egregious problem. Tests should not be used for making these kinds of decisions. Our broader point, however, is that if you do use these tests as valid indicators of student performance, as policy makers do, then it should be seen that youth’s aggregate performance is increasing. But, if you look at disaggregated scores it is clear that “average” achievement is misleading. .
The reviewer’s last sentence reads, “Although the book argues on behalf of youth, potential readers should note that it is, in the end, rather conservative with regards to intersecting sites of inequality.” The reviewer apparently wanted us to make extended comments about the needs of particular youth groups than we provided. Two points are worth making. First, we agree with the reviewer that opportunities for American youth are grossly unequal and unfair and there are numerous topics that merit more in depth analysis. However, the goal of our book was to describe youth in general terms, specifically addressing society’s overarching problem of low expectations and inadequate resources for youth. Where relevant, we refer readers to other important authors whose writings have addressed these many important issues. Second, and building on our first point, we make important recommendations that are not “conservative” but a strident call for a series of policy and community actions that could effectively improve the quality of youth lives
Thanks to Rebecca Raby for taking the time to review the book. As we argued earlier in Teachers College Record, an important goal of the book was to spark dialogue and debate around issues concerning youth and we are encouraged that the dialogue has started.

Sharon Nichols, Assistant Professor
College of Education and Human Development
University of Texas at San Antonio

Tom Good, Professor
College of Education
University of Arizona
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 A Rebuttal to Rebecca Raby's Review from Nichols & Good by Sharon Nichols on August 24, 2004
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