In the WashPost, Jay Mathews analyzes the debate over the Manhattan Institute’s “teachability index,” which tries to evaluate the obstacles to teaching today’s disadvantaged children. According to the index, children face fewer learning-related disadvantages than in the past; they’re more teachable. The index examines:
¥ Readiness (including data on preschool enrollment, language other than English, and parents’ education).
¥ Economics (family income and poverty levels).
¥ Community (crime victimization, drug use, religious observance and residential mobility).
¥ Health (disabilities, mortality, low birth-weight survival and suicide).
¥ Race (the portion of non-Hispanic whites among school children).
¥ Family (teenage birth and single parenthood).
One locus of debate is how to look at disabilities: A much higher percentage of students are in special education than in the past. Does that mean more are disabled? Or that schools are more eager to call a learning problem a disability in order to boost funding? The number of mentally retarded students is way down, suggesting that fewer students face serious disabilities.
I think the index has to be fairly arbitrary: So much is so hard to measure. But I’m biased in favor of anything that takes away excuses for not teaching students. The good old days weren’t really very good: Parents were much less educated; children faced far more health problems. Poor people were a lot poorer.