Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fragment of an Overview of the Current "Crisis"

This is the beginning of a post that would be far too long to actually finish right now. It lacks links and references as well. But it is a nice start, so you might like to read it.

The Nature of the Crisis

Compared to other reasonably prosperous and developed countries on internationally administered tests, aggregate US results are middling. However, compared to other countries, the US primary and secondary education system is highly decentralized, segregated, inequitably funded and operates within the context of high and growing income inequality.

When individual states like Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire are compared to other countries, they rank near the top. To the extent that students in high income districts can be compared to other countries, they compare well, too.

While Singapore and Finland, exotic locales to most Americans, are the most cited examples of high performing countries, Canada is also consistently at the top. The most straightforward and accessible education reform lesson derived from international comparisons for Americans would be to become more like Canada.

There is not so much a crisis as a chronic problem of educating poor and minority youth in America, particularly concentrated in segregated schools. There is no existing model in the world for doing this right: nobody has overcome our level of income inequality, inadequate access to health care, high level of incarceration, etc. No other country of comparable wealth considers these conditions tolerable, no other country's schools successfully dig a sub-set of their students out of such a deep hole.

The Global Crisis

At any given time, there are many concurrent crises and moral panics in education (cyber-bullying! the new(est) math! the cost of college! etc.). In addition to the above concerns about US education compared to other countries, there is a sense today of global crisis, that no country is really preparing it students for a rapidly-changing and vaguely yet sensationally defined future, and thus education must rapidly undertake some vague and sensational reforms.

This has, I would argue, been true for the past 100 years, at least, and will continue to be the case indefinitely. And while it is possible that the present moment is the exact inflection point at which things can and must be fixed, it is equally possible that point was 20 years ago, or 20 years from now. And the solutions offered for this crisis are inevitably ones that fundamentally could have been, and in many places were, implemented 20, 50 or 100 years ago.

1 comment:

abellia said...

The differences in test success in various states is interesting. NAEP broadly correlates with income - students in richer states do better than students in poorer ones. But there are exceptions to this rule and it is the exceptions that are interesting.

Why does Montana do well? Why don't California or New York do better than they do? Is it teaching? It could be, but I doubt it. Is there a single factor that causes outliers, or a different factor for each case? Has good research been done on this?

Seeing as family income does seem to be the most obvious predictor of student success, perhaps we should forget about the schools, and just do something to try to make sure that well-paying and fulfilling employment is available to all who want it. Perhaps then the schools will take care of themselves.