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Tuesday 02 July 2002

Schools ‘crisis’

A recent Washington Post editorial on the whole school-voucher kerfuffle begins:

The failure of many public school systems around the country to offer any semblance of an education to millions of children is not a matter of serious dispute. Wealthy and middle-class people have an out: private schools or a move to a jurisdiction with better public schools.

It appears that they’re leaping to a conclusion here. Children in schools in better neighborhoods perform better. Ergo, the schools there must be better.

This ignores the fact that people who live in better neighborhoods are, almost by definition, more successful. High-achieving people who live in decent neighborhoods that are served by lousy public schools — like, for instance, nearly all neighborhoods in Washington, D.C. — already send their kids to private schools. Isn’t it at least possible that these higher-achieving people are passing along to their children values that result in them performing better in school? Has no-one noticed that certain classes of immigrants seem to succeed in any kind of school, no matter how economically poor their families are? Might that suggest that the school is just a resource, one that’s used or not according to the cultural value of the student?

We’re not likely to find out soon. The first kids from lousy neighborhoods to attend better schools on vouchers will be the relatively high-achieving children of relatively high-achieving parents — the parents who value their children’s education enough to jump through the voucher hoops. The average performance in public schools will then drop; even assuming constant funding and no flight of teachers to the now-larger market for private schools, sending the right-hand fringe of the bell curve to other schools will certainly cause the public school’s performance to appear worse. The critics will point to this as irrefutable proof of their argument that vouchers undermine the public school system. It’s not until the currently low-performing students start going to ‘better’ schools on vouchers that the truth will out.

At which point, of course, there will probably be some other excuse put forward, that the private schools are not ‘culturally sensitive’ or some other garbage.

Because it must be the system and the schools that are faulty. Accepting that the student is primarily responsible for his own education — not his teaching — would mean that the students of failing schools, and their parents, are at least to some degree responsible for their own failure. A larpe proportion, possibly a majority, of students in failing schools are ‘minorities’. While the mainstream opinion seems to readily accept that one’s culture is an important factor in determining who one is, it very much wants to avoid having to deal with the simple fact that some cultures prepare their members for certain things better than do others.

Posted by tino at 16:37 2.07.02
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