French children left behind

France’s Nicolas Sarkozy is worried that too many French children are left behind academically. The Economist reports:

A government-commissioned report reveals that two in five pupils leave primary school with “serious learning gaps” in basic reading, writing and arithmetic. One in five finish secondary school with no qualification at all. Even the baccalauréat is under attack. This year’s pass rate of 83% is up from just over 60% in the early 1960s. “The bac is worth absolutely nothing,” asserts Jean-Robert Pitte, president of the Sorbonne-University of Paris IV.

Compared to other developed countries, French students in the top half of the class are excellent; but the low performers are very low. Some 38 percent of French students repeat a grade by the age of 15.

Should students be tracked by ability? What can be done to improve teacher quality? Is there enough time for music, art and athletics? The issues sound very familiar.

Update: Via Gadfly, an incredible Sarkozy story: He came to national attention as a mayor in 1993 when he walked alone into a nursery school that had been taken over by a psychotic “human bomb” who was holding the children hostage. Sarkozy walked out 30 minutes later with the children.

Update 2: KitchenTableMath has more on the epidemic of reading problems in France.

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  1. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Perhaps the little dears are too tired from an evening burning cars to pay attention in class. Perhaps the missing link in this article is ethnicity. Perhaps they need an incentive – pass or go back. Algeria was France and they didn’t llike it.

  2. Ed goes to France pretty regularly, and has been hearing similar complaints to ours over here — and these are from college professors trying to educate their children in public schools deemed to be good. The couple he talked to got the run-around from their superintendent (or perhaps the principal, not sure) and finally ended up sending their children to Catholic school.

    As I recall (it’s hazy now), these parents had moved to a particular town specifically for the good schools, then had all kinds of trouble with placement, etc. (I’m thinking the school decided to put the children in the not-so-good school after having said they could enroll in the better school, but again, it’s hazy now.)

    I think I also recall that one or both of them actively loathed Catholic schools, because he/she (or both) was a) not religious and b) went to Catholic schools as a child and had bad memories.

    In other words, these were college professors who had zero interest in Catholic schools for their children, and the public school situation was so bad that’s where they ended up.

  3. otoh, this week he took part in a dissertation defense of a graduate student from France. She was superbly educated, he said. She knew the Bible, she knew Aristotle, she knew everything and could talk fluently and knowledgeably about subjects our students never even see in a dissertation defense, which is a high-stress situation.

    Of course, she is in her 20s (I assume).

  4. Last but not least, Ed spoke this week with a woman who sent her two children to the French Lysee here, in Manhattan.

    She said the education was incredible.

    The one problem, she said, was that the curriculum was so rigorous and so set that they wouldn’t allow tracking or acceleration — not because they wanted everyone to be equal, but because the curriculum, not the students’ abilities, “ruled.”

    I thought that was interesting.

  5. Ed just came home with the new copy of le nouvel Observateur.

    Cover story: ecole
    Le scandale de l’illettrisme

    40% des eleves de 63 en difficulte
    Fautes d’orthographe chez les etudiants
    Stages de mise a niveau pour les cadres

    He thinks their schools may be in worse shape than ours. Constructivism, whole language, “kinesthetic learning,” “French across the curriculum,” etc.

  6. “He thinks their schools may be in worse shape than ours. Constructivism, whole language, “kinesthetic learning,” “French across the curriculum,” etc.

    Alas, poor Yorick!

    Could’na hae happened to a nicer people!

  7. Catch Thirty-Thr33 says:

    …and it’s not just the public schools. French universities, like much of the rest of “mainland” Europe, are in terrible shape. The only French universities worth attending are the elite ENA schools that tend to churn out their ruling class (with the current Sarkozy administration being an exception).

  8. Walter E. Wallis says:

    JJ, when does the French version of your book go on the market – sounds like they could use it there.