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The Down Are Up But the Up Are Down

Good news and bad news: The good news is that SAT scores for America’s lowest-achieving students are up; the bad news is that the scores for the top achieving students are down. Recently, state governments and the Department of Education have focused their attention on bringing kids who fall behind up to speed, but this also means slowing down the kids who are way ahead. The WSJ has the story:

A report by the National Association for Gifted Children released this week said public schools deny top-performing children the resources, properly trained teachers and coherent policies they need to excel. It called for policy changes that don’t require additional spending, such as holding schools accountable for the scores of the top-fliers.

‘There is this myth that gifted and talented children will be fine on their own,’ said Jane Clarenbach, director of the National Association for Gifted Children, a nonprofit advocacy group. ‘But I think history is showing us that this is not true, and we now have a crisis in this nation where our top achievers are being ignored.’

Meeting the needs of students at all levels of achievement will require us to rethink our institutions at a more fundamental level. In the early 20th century, it might have made sense to educate hundreds of students in identical classrooms and stamp them all with the same basic lessons so that they could become the next generation of factory workers. Today, this is no longer the case.

Our whole system of ‘grades’ is geared to the routines of factory life and to the standardization of individual training and performance that went with it.  No two people are exactly alike, and that goes double for teenagers.  People learn with different styles, at different speeds and they have different gifts and different limits.  The school systems of today were consciously designed to reduce the differences among individuals as part of the Great Standardization of the progressive era.  Today, that needs to change.

We need more, and more different, options for different kids.  In the 18th century many people when to university in their early to mid teens; so far as one can tell the many Founding Fathers who attended college at an age that today would have them pegged as high school freshmen did pretty well. Artificially holding bright kids back is as destructive as ‘socially promoting’ slower kids who haven’t mastered basic skills.

The changes in American education have only begun; one of our society’s most barnacle encrusted, stodgy institutions, the K-12 complex, is bit by bit going through the biggest restructuring since the introduction of universal secondary education.

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  • Mike Anderson

    It looks a lot like Statistical Process Control! Reduce variation to manufacture completely interchangeable parts. All the better for learning from a Common Core Curriculum.

  • Kenny

    This general dumbing down of brightkids in the American public schools is part and parcel of multiculturalism and the desire to close the academic gap among the races at all cost.

  • JLK

    Dr Mead

    My ex wife ran into this “movement” to dumb down the best and the brightest 20 or more years ago.

    Here in Oregon, PC has a long and thriving history and was the chief driver behind the movement against “TAG” (talented and gifted) schools. The powers that be in school admin did not want to hurt the feelings of lower producing students and as you say believed that the gifted can take care of themselves while elevating the others.

    What is lost in all this is the pursuit of excellence for the future of the country. At my daughter’s high school it was okay to give athletes accolades but woe be to those who try to elevate the academic all stars.

    We had to work swimming upstream the whole 12 years our daughter was in the system. She was grudgingly accepted to the gifted programs and graduated with top honors at all the schools she attended, including Grad School.

    She was accepted, prior to graduation, to an executive traing program that was so competitive that she was one of 36 out of 4000 applicants.

    So the obvious moral to this tale is that the real world is a rough and tumble place where competition is a daily reality. And joining a sitdown strike will never yield an even playing field so you can have a guaranteed high-paying job without having to compete.

    It is this mind set that is causing the kinds of incoherent complaints from the “1%’ ers. They have been taught from the get-go that everyone gets a prize for just showing up and being competitive does not matter because you are “just as good” as the next person. So we are now seeing the results of this kind of PC thinking so prevalent in our education systems.
    These young people are confused when they find that their degree in Gender Studies or whatever does not give them a guaranteed happy and prosperous life. Because that is what they have been taught in our K-12 school systems.

    Maybe we should be less concerned about state or nation-wide science and math SAT scores and more concerned about preparing our children, how to compete in the real world.
    It is an immutable fact that some people are more talented than others whether it be in athletics or academics. Teaching each child to be the best they can be given their individual limitations is one of the greatest legacies a parent can give their child.

  • Alexander Christman

    “A report by the National Association for Gifted Children released this week said public schools deny top-performing children the resources, properly trained teachers and coherent policies they need to excel. It called for policy changes that don’t require additional spending, such as holding schools accountable for the scores of the top-fliers.”

    This makes no sense to me. Does the NAGC think that school districts can magically create resources and properly trained teachers without additional spending?

    I would love to see a world where schools are more responsive to the needs to their students. Every day I teach World History to freshmen (some as old as 17) who have already failed the course at least once. In the afternoon I teach A.P. U.S. History to juniors. Every day I see students of 20 different skill levels put into the same class. However, I do not see any way around this without a substantial investment in schools and education (not administrators and bureaucracy, which is where the money usually goes). Until this changes I don’t see the point in punishing (sorry, “holding accountable”) individual schools.

  • Preston Pate

    I’ve read a lot of WRM’s commentary about the educational system on this site. People argue and complain all the time about how our kids are being educated and their lack of accomplishment. So what does it mean to be properly educated? I’d like to know WRM’s take on what a proper education should consist of at the primary, secondary or college level. Our current approach is very quantitative. The recipe consists of certain parts of reading’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic sprinkled with a small quantity of arts, science and technical knowledge. Quantities of which can be adjusted to taste. Or should we judge a well educated human on their ability to adapt and function in an ever changing world? One approach attempts to proscriptively replace subjective judgement with a very regimented bureaucratic approach that serves to standardize outcomes between different schools. It serves the middle of the bell curve but not the ends. We can’t improve the educational system unless we have a clear idea about what we’re trying to achieve.

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