By Elizabeth Perelstein, School Choice International
How can we compete with India and China when we value athletic prowess, fashion and trendy music above education? According to New York City Chancellor Joel Klein “Those countries that are doing best are recruiting their K-12 teachers from the top third of their college graduates. America is recruiting our teachers generally from the bottom third… I pay teachers, basically, based on length of service…I can’t, by contract, pay math and science teachers more…” (Wall Street Journal, October 26, 2009).
Historical View of Education Reform:
Throughout United States history, we have instituted periodic educational reforms, largely in response to crisis and generally by introducing standards.
– Sputnik era (1957) produced unanimous recognition that we needed better schooling to compete against Russia, but reforms focused on bringing up the floor, rather than challenging advanced students.
– In 1983 the U.S. Department of Education released a report called “A Nation at Risk,” causing another wave of reforms targeting the underperforming.
– The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 resulted in similar action targeted towards weaker students.
Teaching to the Test: Following No Child Left Behind, teachers throughout United States public schools began “teaching to the test” in order to raise evaluations and certain states actually lowered standards hoping to flaunt better performance.
Skewed View of Equality: The concept of “equality” can also be an issue. Our democratic system has positioned education as the great equalizer. Equality of education has long been considered a vehicle to foster the equal occupational and financial opportunities intrinsic to our democratic values. Confusion between equality of curriculum, racial equality and equality of outcomes, however, has obfuscated our educational goals.
Ill Performing Gifted Programs: For the most part, education for advanced learners has been uninspired—a poor attempt to develop inquisitive minds. In the actual classroom, high achieving children are most often given more work—rather than more interesting work—to keep them busy and enable the teacher to focus on those who “need her attention.”
The Challenge to Value our Gifted Learners: The Social Aspect of Being “Smart:” Being “smart” can be taboo; some students hide their intelligence and pursue more socially acceptable activities, believing that they can successfully “fit in” by foregoing interest in learning. We worked with a boy with an IQ of 165. In elementary school he read Scientific American and became a chess champion. Hoping to achieve popularity during adolescence, he abandoned these pursuits in favor of football. His teenage years were marked by failed classes and behavioral difficulties as he tried to be someone other than himself. Peer pressure causes children to sink to the least common denominator, rather than cultivating the brightest minds.
Until our country recognizes intelligence as a positive attribute and feels comfortable fostering our highest achievers regardless of race or socioeconomic class, the United States cannot compete with countries that identify and train their brightest to accomplish their utmost.