Camden School Choice Advocates and DetractorsApril 2, 2013
Public, Schmublic: Camden’s State Takeover and NJ’s Abbott Preschool ProgramApril 4, 2013
Today’s business section of the New York Times features an article about top US economist James Heckman, who has a Nobel Prize on his resume. According to the article, at a Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry meeting this past February Heckman “demolished the United States’ entire approach to education” by proving that the only way to inch towards educational equity is through fully-loaded preschools. Kindergarten is too late.
American students from prosperous backgrounds scored on average 110 points higher on reading tests than disadvantaged students, about the same disparity that exists between the average scores in the United States and Tunisia. It is perhaps the main reason income equality in the United States is passed down the generations at a much higher rate than in most advanced nations.
That’s a scandal, considering how much the government spends on education: about 5.5 percent of the nation’s economic output in total, from preschool through college.
And it suggests that the angry, worried debate over how to improve the nation’s mediocre education — pitting the teachers’ unions and the advocates of more money for public schools against the champions of school vouchers and standardized tests — is missing the most important part: infants and toddlers.
And this: “Erick Hanushek, an expert on the economics of education at Stanford, put it more directly: ‘We are subsidizing the wrong people and the wrong way.’”
Actually, today’s NY Times is bursting with education stories, mainly about standardized testing. Here’s one on Memphis, home to 80 percent of the bottom-ranked schools in the state and site of much charter school expansion; one on the cheating scandal in Atlanta, featuring Beverly Hall, former Newark superintendent; and an analysis of cheating on standardized tests which draws the distinction between testing high-achieving kids and low-achieving kids.
From the article:
Such criticism is often loudest in more affluent, high-achieving communities. “If you’re an upper-middle-class parent in Scarscale and you hate standardized testing, you have some reason to hate it,” said Michael J. Petrilli, executive vice president at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education policy group. “It’s probably not doing your kid and your schools a whole lot of good, because these tests are mainly about raising the floor and putting pressure on the lowest-performing schools to do better.”
“The idea that a superintendent who says, ‘We’ve got to have our kids learning more and I don’t want to hear excuses about your lack of progress’ is somehow a bad thing is, I think, unfortunate,” said Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, a nonprofit group that works to close achievement gaps for racial minorities and low-income children. She added that the tests generally evaluated fundamental literacy and math skills. “We do know that kids who don’t know what’s on these very basic tests will not be able to succeed,” Ms. Haycock said.