Monday, December 19, 2011

Some Children Left Behind

It seems to me, for instance, that the algebra curriculum should be the same in every school district. I don't think of any immutable regional/cultural/developmental factors that would differentiate it in any particular place or state.

We all know that's not happening now. Indeed, it's an impossible goal when you consider that we have roughly 15,000 independent or semi-independent school districts of widely differing sizes, wealth and governance across the 50 states that incidentally aren't in agreement on common standards. For the moment, let's tilt the discussion in favor of sanity by not mentioning the districts with school directors who think the history teacher should be telling students that the Earth is 6,000 years old…

It also seems to me that algebra tests should be the same in every school district. Algebra in Minnesota = algebra in Alabama = algebra in California.

Of course, schooling isn't just about algebra, and educational achievement isn't fully and neatly measured in standardized tests. We’ve had No Child Left Behind (NCLB) for 10 years. We have the chaotic disputes about "teaching to the test." In general, NCLB is a sadly unfulfilled dream. We have some high school graduates who aren't, well…literate.

And the two commentaries cited below make a further point: there are frightening, persistent and wide gaps between the educational achievement of our poorer, less healthy, less socio-economically advantaged children and our wealthier, healthier, more socio-economically advantaged children. The same children are still being left behind.

We should focus less on aggressive standardized testing, teacher bashing, vouchers and charter schools (overall, charters are neither better nor worse than public schools).

We should focus more on providing decent, equitable resources (classrooms, teachers, training, supplies) for every school district. Our government and our society must work harder to minimize the poor kid-rich kid gaps. We must stop cutting our school budgets, and, indeed, start raising our school taxes.

"The goal of our education system should not be competition but equality of educational opportunity," says Diane Ravitch (see below).

"Today some 22 percent of American children live in poverty. Are we going to pretend forever that it is acceptable to ignore the needs of children outside the schoolhouse and blame teachers and principals for everything that happens inside?," says John Kuhn, a Texas school superintendent (see below).

The free market system that embraces competition and the profit motive will never produce good, universal education for every rich, poor, white or minority kid. Only enlightened government and an enlightened citizenry can provide a good, universal education. The dream is distant, but real.

Diane Ravitch says, "What we need is a vision of a good education for every child. We should start now. Today."

Amen to that.

"Many children are still left behind. We know who they are." – Diane Ravitch
"Well, I'm calling their bluff." -- John Kuhn

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