Do the right thing

Over at Chalkboard, Joe Williams has a great post challenging the idea that we need to close the achievement gap in order to compete in the global economy. He’s responding to an otherwise good New York Times editorial that calls for enforcing the teacher quality provisions of No Child Left Behind.

Why do I think this is the wrong reason for closing the gap? I’m not entirely convinced the “create a supply of good workers” line is as emotionally/intellectually compelling as “maintain an equal, just, democratic society” in terms of the primary reason we should care about the future of impoverished black and brown children.

If producing more high-tech workers is the number one goal, we’d do better working on improving mediocre suburban schools rather than tacking inner-city schools, Williams argues. The reason to close the achievement gap is that providing educational opportunity to all Americans is the right thing to do.

I agree.

Update: D-Ed Reckoning criticizes the whole editorial, including the claim that we need to close the achievement gap or lose out in the global economy.

One advantage of having one of the most economically free systems in the world (thanks to not following the unfailingly wrong advice of the editors of the NYT) is that there is no shortage of well-educated foreigners clamoring to come to the good ol’ U.S. of A to work. We have the ability to brain drain the rest of the world and we’ve been doing so for a long time now.

In the global market for talent, the U.S. competes very well. But it would be nice to develop more of our homegrown talent.

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  1. > improving mediocre suburban schools rather than tacking inner-city schools

    It’s not an either/or … both improvements are vital — and for the reasons Joe correctly articulates: a better society.

    Some of the gaps are the mediocre and even highly thought of suburban schools are quite substantial.

  2. I suspect that to compete more effectively in the global economy, the best marginal action would be the number of high performing kids that go into productive enterprises such as engineering and science. That is, instead of killing off gifted programs in the name of “closing the gap”, we should spend the (at most) few percent of the education budget that these things would consume on the students that would most benefit from an education.

    However, as you point out, being competitive in the global economy isn’t the main reason that we should be worried about how rotten our public schools have become. And our absurdly over-priced universities tend to do a pretty good job with the smartest kids, anyway, except for the ones that major in non-subjects.