Posts Tagged ‘Education reform’

The education of America’s rich and poor

October 11, 2014

 Robert Reich, who was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, took note on his blog of the education gap between rich and poor.

  • The United States, among the 65 nations participating in the Program for International Student Achievement, has one of the largest gaps in achievement between children of the rich and children of the poor.  This wealth gap in educational achievement has been growing while the gap between white and black Americans has been shrinking.
  • The United States, among the 34 nations that belong to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, has one of the largest gaps between spending on schools attended by children of the rich and schools attended by children of the poor.

He quoted Eduardo Porter, who wrote about unequal education in the New York Times.

“The debate about education reform is a lot about process,” said David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center in Newark, an advocacy group for disadvantaged students. “To a large extent it is a huge distraction. We never get to the question of what resources we need to get the students to meet the standards.”

The United States is one of few advanced nations where schools serving better-off children usually have more educational resources than those serving poor students, according to research by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.  Among the 34 O.E.C.D. nations, only in the United States, Israel and Turkey do disadvantaged schools have lower teacher/student ratios than in those serving more privileged students.

Andreas Schleicher, who runs the O.E.C.D.’s international educational assessments, put it to me this way: “The bottom line is that the vast majority of O.E.C.D. countries either invest equally into every student or disproportionately more into disadvantaged students. The U.S. is one of the few countries doing the opposite.”

The inequity of education finance in the United States is a feature of the system, not a bug, stemming from its great degree of decentralization and its reliance on local property taxes.



What is the purpose of the public schools?

July 20, 2013

CT ct-met-back-school220.jpgIf I had the power to change things, I’d change the prevailing idea of the public schools—the idea that the national purpose of education is to train the work force of the future so as to make this country economically competitive with other countries, and that the individual purpose of education is to give your children a competitive advantage over other people’s children.

If the purpose of education is to gain an individual competitive advantage, it is not enough for your children to succeed.  Other people’s children have to fail.  From that standpoint, the disparity between the schools of the well-to-do and the schools of the poor are not a problem.  If there was less of a disparity, the well-to-do would have less of a comparative advantage.

I don’t intend this as a slur against the well-to-do.   I intend it to show why you shouldn’t think of education in terms of the economic advantages it confers.

The purpose of public schools should be to help children to understand the world they live in.  Yes, of course, this includes the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic.  Yes, of course, this includes the skills and habits needed to hold down a job.  It also should include enough about history, civics, literature and science that they are in a position to judge the information and values of our mass entertainment and advertising culture.

Maybe I look at the past through a distorting golden haze (I’m 76), but it seems to be there was a time when these were goals to which we Americans aspired.

Good teacher, bad teacher

February 28, 2011

Current proposals for educational reform come down to this:

Reward the good teachers, and get rid of the bad ones.

When I look back on the teachers I had in grade school, in high school and in college, there are some for whom I still feel gratitude, others I hardly remember, and at least one I have bad feelings about.  I think anybody who in their lives encounters a teacher like Mrs. Vance, Mr. Hershman, Mr. Grove or one of my other best teachers is blessed.  It would have been nice if they could have been rewarded monetarily as well as in the memories of their students, but I don’t think more money would have made them do better teachers.

I can’t think of any metric by which their achievement could have been quantified by someone who didn’t know them.  The thing I remember about my best teachers is that they liked their students and they loved teaching.  They didn’t need external rewards and punishments to do a good job.

I think the experience of most professional people who work for large institutions is the need to balance compliance with management with doing their real jobs.  Colin Powell in his autobiography, My American Journey, referring to his career in the military, called this “giving the King his shilling.”  I did the same balancing as a newspaper reporter, so did my mother as a school teacher, and so does my sister-in-law as a school teacher.

A more powerful system of rewards and punishments will bring more compliance by teachers.  Will it bring better teaching?  I doubt it.