Tuesday, January 17, 2006

No Child Gets Ahead -- School choice and the achievement gap

Posted by Craig Westover | 7:27 AM |  

Interesting pair of comments posted here.

Damn, wish I could remember the link to the article I recently read about US test scores vs. the world.

Question to minister of education in Singapore. Your students test exceedingly well, yet American students surpass yours when they enter the job market. explain.

Answer: Our students are trained to test well. They are taught the knowledge to pass their exams. However, they lack the opportunities US students have, and the experiences, combined with education, that make them successful.(very rough transcription from my memory)

Yes, we should always be vigilant regarding our educational system's quality, and but no, the sky is not falling.

Russ 01.16.06 - 12:02 am #

The counterpoint --

Actually the sky is falling if it hasn't already fallen. We have spent the last 20 years dumbing down our education system with multiculturalism, tolerance, diversity, and a thousand other things that have nothing to do with learning. Our schools have been one giant social experiment gone tragically wrong. In the meantime our foreign competitors have raised up a generation of kids who are better educated by far than ours and lack only the opportunity which our economy provides. Unfortunately for our kids the growth in telecommunications technology is nuking that advantage and you see now the outsourcing not just of factory type jobs, but of engineering and technical jobs as well. I just hope that somebody gets mad enough to destroy the education cartel in this country before it is too late.

J. Ewing 01.16.06 - 12:57 pm #
Both writers are correct. Top American students are the equals or betters of any in the world. Coupled with the opportunities driven by our capitalistic economy, their potential is unlimited. More so, their achievements are the fuel that keeps the economic and social engines running and enables the good life for millions of others.

Just as high taxes and over-regulation dampens the American economy but cannot kill it, “multiculturalism, tolerance, diversity” et al isn’t going to stop high achievers from succeeding. We need not worry about our best and the brightest.

The tragedy of American education is while high achievers succeed no matter what obstacles one puts in their paths, those obstacles needlessly hinder and stop others. An effective education system removes barriers to achievement; it does not erect them. The achievement gap between white students and students of color is not just a matter of social justice. The government-run, monopoly education system philosophy is contributing to a permanent underclass of citizens unprepared educationally to survive, let alone compete in today’s world.

Unfortunately, the “No Child Left Behind” approach to education implies and actuates a “No Child Gets Ahead” system. Closing the achievement gap by throwing obstacles in front of high achievers so that the back of the pack can catch up and/or focusing in on the back of the pack at the expense of educational opportunities fo students with high potential are faulty approaches to the problem. Both produce the artificial success of a narrowing gap at the expense of greater achievement.

If we’re going to fix education, we must accept a bell-shaped curve of achievement while recognizing that distribution on that curve has nothing to do with the color of one’s skin and everything to do with the character of students. The shape of the curve is to a large degree the result of students' educational opportunities.

There will always be students at the under-performing end of the curve. However, rather than use those students and their family circumstances as excuses for continuing failure of and continuing funding requests for public schools, can we not provide those on the cusp of the rising curve the freedom to seek educational opportunity for their children regardless of their income level? Why limit the success of the many for the sake of the failures of a few?

A voucher system targeting low-income families, allowing them to escape schools not meeting their children’s needs by attending private schools -- secular or religious -- is not an impediment to high achievers. It simply provides choice options to low-income families approximating those of the modestly well-to-do. Closing the achievement gap is important, but it needs to be done by skewing the bell curve to the right, narrowing the deviation about the center of the curve and pushing the “average” student towards the high achievement tail of the curve.

Closing the achievement gap without sacrificing opportunities for high potential students simply cannot happen in a monopoly education system concerned, not with achievement, but that “No Child Gets Ahead.”

Category: Education, Achievement Gap, School Choice, Vouchers