Different goals for different folks

Achievement should be defined broadly, argues Ted Kolderie, who works on redesign of K-12 education, with the Center for Policy Studies, in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Bob Wedl, formerly Minnesota commissioner of education, asks: “If proficiency meant being able to speak two languages, which students in Minnesota would be ‘high-achieving’?”?

He asks, too: Why don’t we define the “gap” as being below-proficient and close that gap first?

And: Do all students need to be equally good in all subjects? Standards for aircraft differ based on what a plane is going to do. Why not for students? Proficiency might be enough in math for a student heading into the arts. It would surely be too low for one aspiring to an engineering career.

Education reformers — “middle-class folks with advanced degrees and aptitudes that are verbal, conceptual and abstract” — have decided that achievement is “doing well what they do well,” Kolderie writes.  Instead of pushing everyone to do well in school and go to college, we should “recognize that all young people can learn better and need to learn better, but that different students will do well at different things.”

Defining achievement down may sound reasonable, but it’s not, responds RiShawn Biddle. To start with, academic achievement is connected to success in non-academic endeavors.

. . . it is hard to engage in critical thinking without having a strong knowledge base that only comes from being literate, numerate, fluent in science, and knowledgeable about history and philosophy. This is especially important because critical thinking involves dealing with abstractions, the ideas at the very heart of civilization and society; even seemingly basic concepts such as the Golden Rule, as well as discourses mundane and critical, are formed from the complex interplay between ideas, facts, and morals. A child with a working understanding of, say, algebra, will also be able to understand why the Laffer Curve matters in discussions about tax cuts.

Low-income, minority parents have “learned the hard way about the consequences of not having the high-level reading and math skills needed for the high-paying blue- and white-collar jobs,” he writes. They know their children won’t have a future in the job market if they’re not “literate, numerate, and knowledgeable about the world around them.”

High-quality schools serving disadvantaged students, such as KIPP charters, have shown that “poor and minority children can succeed if they are provided comprehensive college-preparatory curricula, high-quality instruction, help in the form of intensive reading and math remediation, and the nurturing cultures of genius in which they are more than just future athletes and musicians,” Biddle concludes.

Remember “natural rhythm?”

About Joanne


  1. Here’s the thing: we can’t stand the idea that there might be students who could soar if we would just keep offering them high-powered, academically-oriented curriculum all the way through high school. Our educational system (and really most educational systems) have histories of writing children off just because they arrive at school with weak skills, or have difficult home lives, or don’t speak standard English, and we want to do whatever it takes to help them overcome those setbacks.

    But at some point, we have to stop making the perfect be the enemy of the good. We have to (very carefully, and not before applying powerful academic interventions for each child who seems not to buy into academic subjects) allow mid-teen students to choose options that they like that are not the traditional academic path. And we have to look, even earlier, at students who consistently can’t keep up with grade level work and figure out what curricula will give them a good grounding in what they truly do need to know to be employable as opposed to pushing them through classes that they do not benefit from.

    This is harder to do in countries like the US where there is such a history of racial discrimination. We rightly question motivation whenever we see disparities in the makeup of different academic trajectories. But I have to tell you that in the low-income African-American community where I work, there is great interest in improving technical-vocational offerings at the local high schools and community colleges. The high schools have been trying to provide a college-for-all curriculum, but they realize they are not reaching students whose reality is elsewhere.

    By the same token, at very high income high schools in the region, there is starting to be a sense that sending all of their grads to college leads to a high rate of college drop outs a semester or a year down the road. They are beginning to consider more technically-oriented options too.

  2. Richard Aubrey says:

    Achievement is going to be defined as whatever the kid does–presumably excluding felonies–and so both the kid and his teacher succeed.
    What a fine idea!