Apples to Apples

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?


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4 Responses to “Apples to Apples”

  1. Conny Jensen Says:


    Two of the three major international tests—the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study and the Trends in International Math and Science Study—break down student scores according to the poverty rate in each school. The tests are given every five years. The most recent results (2006) showed the following:
    students in U.S. schools where the poverty rate was less than 10 percent ranked first in reading, first in science, and third in math.
    When the poverty rate was 10 percent to 25 percent, U.S. students still ranked first in reading and science.
    But as the poverty rate rose still higher, students ranked lower and lower.


    • strategicteaching Says:

      Interesting data. Thanks for including the links. My next question is …. why is it that this disctinction is never made to the general public?


  2. Heather Wolpert-Gawron Says:

    Great post, Darlene! Public Education’s missive is a true miracle, and should be maintained at all costs. That’s why I don’t understand how charter schools funds can be interchangeable with pubic school funds.

    I always find it interesting that Finland is brought up as a basis for comparison. With its homogeny and the fact that what we spend on testing is spent in Finland on teacher training and life-long professional development, it too, is apples to oranges.

    Thanks again for the great post.

    -Heather Wolpert-Gawron
    aka Tweenteacher


    • strategicteaching Says:

      Thanks Heather. I have a particular fondness for public schools as the main artery for developing the lifeblood of this democracy…an educated, thinking citizenry.


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