Insofar that America has a serious problem educating its children, it’s because some of those children come from terribly disadvantaged backgrounds; of the more than 13 million children who live in poor families, close to two-thirds are African American and Hispanic. Our failure to educate those children has as much to do with the conditions of their lives as it does the quality of their schools.
That said, and at the risk of sounding a little cynical, it might be good that attention is focused on the school system as a whole, and not just those schools serving disadvantaged populations; Americans tend to be a lot less enthusiastic about reform efforts when the beneficiaries are black and brown
Why? Because the education reform movement seems hell bent on experimenting with children and forcing failed models on all of them:
The group portrait shows wide variation in performance. The study reveals that a decent fraction of charter schools, 17 percent, provide superior education opportunities for their students.
Nearly half of the charter schools nationwide have results that are no different from the local
public school options and over a third, 37 percent, deliver learning results that are significantly
worse than their student would have realized had they remained in traditional public schools.
I have a more angry post brewing about the charter school movement, but it is clear that the movement hurts more children than it helps. Now, maybe that kind of radical experimentation would be justified if the education system was really in crisis. I would argue no, but at least it would be a real argument. But are we in crisis? The so called education reformers want you to think so. They have plenty of statistics about average scores. But those aren’t the numbers that matter.
We, unlike a lot of OCED countries, do not have anything approaching a homogeneous population or one school system. We have many school systems with varying degrees of resources and wildly differing student populations. So the question is not really how does the US do on average against other countries, but rather how does the US do once socio-economic factors have been accounted for. It might be that some aspects of our school system do fine, and other are atrocious. It might be that no one has figured out how to effectively educate the most disadvantaged kids but because of national social programs, the US has more of those kids dragging the averages down. Or maybe the whole system really is under-performing and radical methods are worth the damage to children.
But education reformers don’t want to seem to talk about results to that level of degree. I can find nothing — nothing — about socio-economic corrected results. Instead I see plans like NCLB and Race to the Top that assume all schools are in desperate need of radical experimentation and lots and lots of talk about average scores. Away from the education reform cocoon, I find things like this:
On a policy level though, Obama’s statement is misleading. As this NAEP chart demonstrates, math performance among high school seniors has remained basically static since 1973. That’s not a good thing; of course we should be improving! But it’s not the crisis of declining performance Obama (and the media) often make it out to be.
This is, in part, the point Nick Lemann made in his New Yorker column on “the overblown crisis in American education.” It’s important to note that the major problem with American education is the problem of class and race inequality. As Linda Darling Hammond writes in The Flat World and Education, “students in the highest-achieving states and districts in the United States do as well as those in high-achieving nations elsewhere.” Indeed, American white, Asian, and multiracial children perform better than the OECD average in reading, science, math, and problem solving. It is black and Hispanic kids that are falling behind.
So it is entirely possible that education reform is experimenting with kids lives for no good reason in most cases. That is monstrous, but it appears to be the case. If nothing else, the case for experimenting on children certainly hasn’t been proven by the reform movement. And they don’t even seem interested in asking the question. The arrogance of that is breath taking. Here, they say, let us experiment on your children with untested methods and hope it doesn’t permanently scar them. And don’t ask us to justify our actions — haven’t you heard there is a crisis?