Apples to Apples
Let’s compare apples to apples. This is what I think whenever I hear one of those dire comparisons between the public schools in the United States and India…or China…or Japan…or Finland. Without exception the US stats pale in comparison. But are we comparing the same populations? Several years ago I had the opportunity to visit a high school in Shanghai. It was impressive. I observed diligent students in well run classrooms; computer use by all students; high college entrance rates. Definitely this was a high performing public school. Or was it something else? As I passed other schools in Beijing where students hung out of third story windows cleaning the outer panes, I wondered would these young people soon be in high schools. The group I was with did not visit these schools, but I learned through conversations and observation that they would not. I learned that the school I observed in Shanghai was more akin to a prep school in the US than it was to any American public high school. Not only were young people winnowed out of schools into the workforce as early as middle school age, entrance into elite public high schools like the one I saw in Shanghai required a substantial payment. Yes there are scholarships available to needy students, but the majority of poorer students will enter the workforce or attend inferior high schools that limit college opportunity. In more ways than one they were being hung out to dry. How many of these students were included in the PISA and TIMSS results? How many of these students took the test.?
American schools educate the entire population into high school. There is no active institutional winnowing into career paths. American schools educate the entire barrel of apples. We do not hand pick a few golden ones. And yet the beauty of educating everyone through high school is also our greatest challenge. Meeting the needs of a diverse population; ridding our system of the passive filters that limit opportunities for some while enhancing opportunities for others; developing competent and passionate educators with high expectations for all; achievement gaps; digital gaps…the challenges are many and in these economic times they might seem insurmountable , but it must be achieved if this democracy is to remain vibrant.
I am proud that we educate all of our students. I am proud that anyone at any point in their life can reenter our educational system. I embrace our “all apples” approach and as an educator I am determined to address the challenges educating everyone poses because the alternative of education for a select few is the true danger to us as individuals and as a society.
Jay Mathews of the Washington Post has a recent article that addresses a similar idea. It is an interesting read.
What are your thoughts?