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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

All children can learn -- but how much?


Not all education problems are solvable, if we just try hard enough or spend enough, argues Freddie DeBoer in a column on optimism bias. "At least a half-century of research, spending, policy experimentation, and dogged effort has utterly failed to close the gaps that so vex our political class," he writes.


Teachers feel they're blamed when student outcomes are unequal, he writes. It's assumed students who do poorly are the victims of "some sort of error or injustice." Arguing that expectations are unrealistic are dismissed as "excuse-making or as evidence of bigotry."


Some students are more academically capable than others, he writes.

No one wants to deny the potential of any kids to flourish. (You might say that most people want to ensure that no child is left behind.) But someone has . . . to say that the empire has no clothes. Someone has to defend teachers and schools by pointing out that they simply don’t control outcomes in the way they’re usually assumed to.

DeBoer proposes strengthening the social safety net so that people for whom schooling doesn't provide upward mobility can have a decent life.


Andrew Rotherham responds here. He thinks DeBoer has constructed some straw men in arguing for the futility of education reform -- but also makes points worth discussing. What expectations are reasonable?


Most people don't really believe all students have equal potential to excel, he writes. But can we expect more than the "abysmal" outcomes we see?

If we expect more, how much more? And, if so, then how much? I argue yes. Many argue no, or no unless we make enormous other reforms to American society. It's an important conversation because how you see this question will define how you see questions about deploying people, resources, focus and also how you see the politics of our sector - and increasingly partisan politics, too.

"We're talking about millions of kids in schools with less than one in five kids proficient" on tests in which "proficiency' is a very low bar, Rotherham writes.


I suggest reading both essays.

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11 comentarios


Invitado
03 abr 2023

I am an old guy (92) who was educated in parochial schools. Even as a child, I saw that learning for me was a lot easier than for most. (I was gifted with eidetic memory). Those who deny differential capabilities in children are jus plain nuts.

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Invitado
23 mar 2023

Sigmoid as in S-curve or a normal distribution/bell shaped curve?


lazygeorge

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Invitado
25 mar 2023
Contestando a

To make the previous response's point somewhat more formally, the derivative of a certain sigmoid curve is a bell curve. The same data can be graphed in two different ways.

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Invitado
23 mar 2023

I see high school students with grades of 8% in multiple classes, with seniors barely having enough credits to have passed their freshman year, and in such cases I'm not convinced that schools are necessarily the major problem . The *biggest* fault I see in schools is just passing on failing kids, year after year, and pretending they'll "pick it up later". We're not going to teach multiplication tables and decimals/percents in high school, we have other classes we're required to teach. Besides, if a kid hasn't learned 3rd grade multiplication by 9th grade, I can't imagine being arrogant enough to think that *I* am going to be the teacher that finally teaches that kid to multiply.


Schools are a…

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Invitado
03 abr 2023
Contestando a

The problem begins at home. My daughter (retired teacher) said the parents were not involved in teaching the basics while the kids were young. In my time, kids knew their alphabet and could count to a hundred before their first class in grade one.

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Invitado
23 mar 2023

Schooling doesn't have to provide upward mobility in one generation, but since people are compelled, they should get value for their time. The court ruling that only 'adequate' education must be offered is the problem here. Basically a fourth grader from a literate family can pass the high school English Regents' Exam in my state. His next six years are effectively study hall waiting for others to 'catch up', which they never do despite double period core classes and intervention. Most unclassified students need more than 'adequate' if they are to move on to community college or the military without remediation.

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Invitado
23 mar 2023

Interesting that two academics are arguing over the effects of education achievement falling along an S-curve.

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