Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Level Playing Fields Are Full of Weeds

Skoolboy over at Eduwonkette's place has an analytical post on education and socio-economic status, one of the issues addressed by the Broader/Bolder approach to ed reform. He starts off with:

skoolboy doesn’t know who was the first to say that the true measure of a society is how it treats its weakest members, but it’s an appealing proposition. All societies have children and adults who vary in their economic, social and cultural status within the society. In virtually every modern society, the more advantaged, as a group, do better than those with lower status, although individuals can rise or fall in relation to their peers. Today’s visit to the Olympics looks at the relationship between a child’s socioeconomic status and proficiency in math and science across countries.

His post made a connection to a fascinating program I saw on PBS yesterday (Wide Angle) on the rigid exam system in China and the pressures on students. When Aaron Brown questioned a defender of the system, she claimed that this was the closest to a level playing field where the child of a peasant has an equal chance with the child of a high government official. Brown was skeptical. "Well," she said, "naturally there are advantages and the peasant may have to be 10 times smarter than the official's child but if he/she is then the playing field is equal."

It's worth checking out just to see her justification at the end of the program. All rote learning all the time and you get weeded out before you reach high school Of course, China invented the examination system over a thousand years ago.

With the US schools, especially in urban poor areas, heading in the same direction, we hear the same claims of a level playing field from the Joel Klein/Al Sharpton Educational Equality Project. What they are really doing is picking off the 10 times smarter kids and pushing them into charter and other privatization situations while leaving the other kids behind in large, overcrowded, under serviced high schools.

Sort of like they weed them out in China in the 8th grade.

Level playing field indeed.

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