A large, authoritative hand shuffles a group of happy white children through a doorway, presumably into a classroom, while a group of predominantly minority children stand unhappily outside. That is the image that illustrated Patrick Welsh's article "Fast-Track Trap: How Ability Grouping Hurts Our Schools, Kids and Families" {Outlook, Sept. 16}.

Welsh began his article with a description of a situation at George Mason Elementary School in Alexandria that resulted in 15 families' withdrawing their third-grade children, complaining of discipline and curriculum problems and a lack of administrative responsiveness. I withdrew my daughter, and because I was quoted in the article, I'd like to clarify some points.

First, placing a story about what's going on at George Mason under the racially charged graphic and a headline pertaining to tracking and so-called talented and gifted (TAG) programs grossly misrepresented what happened at George Mason. Welsh implies that parents withdrew their children because of the TAG program. But the problem wasn't the state-mandated TAG program per se; the problem had to do with a lack of appropriate instruction -- not only for the kids in the TAG program but for all the children at the school.

The third-grade TAG program at George Mason was a sham. The students typically were receiving A's on daily work (regardless of performance) and A's on their report cards (regardless of whether the subject was even being taught that quarter). Discipline was a significant problem, but it was not limited to members of one racial group. Good instruction, characterized by pre-testing, teaching, post-testing and remediation, if necessary, was lacking. Enrichment for the children was almost nonexistent.

From October to February, despite huge differences in achievement and motivation, all children in the class, TAG and non-TAG, were on the same page in math and were made to progress at the same rate. For the second year in a row, the children were given almost no composition work that would help develop their spelling, handwriting and grammar skills.

Tests and written work were not given in science and social studies, because, as one teacher explained, "half of the kids cannot read, and it would not be fair to them."

We who withdrew our children from this program are not chronic complainers. Quite the opposite. We have been strong supporters of the Alexandria Public Schools and value their diversity. The parents who left understood and still understand that the Alexandria schools have many urban problems requiring exceptional parental involvement and support so that they work for all children.

To that end, one of the 15 parents who left acquired a grant last year enabling George Mason to get full-time counselor to supplement the school's overburdened half-time guidance counselor. Another established the primary computer lab and coordinated efforts for staffing that lab. A third started the before-school foreign language program, and so on.

The parents who withdrew their children served either as room mothers and volunteers at school fund-raisers and other school activities or on various citywide task forces, which resulted in services that benefited all Alexandria schoolchildren.

This September, a school board-appointed task force of parents and teachers investigating the concerns of third-grade parents made their report to the Alexandria School Board. They identified major curriculum, teacher morale and discipline problems at George Mason and assigned much of the responsibility for those problems to the principal.

Many of us involved would ascribe equal responsibility to the superintendent of schools, the school board and the city council, which reappointed three school board members despite considerable public opposition. Virginia is the only state with non-elected school boards (the city council appoints them). Had there been an elected school board, school administrators might have been more responsive.

The children and parents of George Mason left the public schools reluctantly. Many of us tried for two years to communicate our concerns, and only after determining that George Mason could no longer serve our children did 12 of us request that our children be transferred to another Alexandria elementary. These requests were not granted. Thirteen of the 15 ended up in private schools.

We all know that public education can work. We have seen it work. We have helped make it work.

But we also know when public education is not working and when school and city officials are not listening.

Carol LaSasso is a professor of education at Gallaudet University.