Monday, October 17, 2011

On the Freedom to Advance in One's Studies

Joe Nathan seems like a good guy. Yesterday I got into a kind of spontaneous debate with him on Alexander Russo's Facebook page. The topic was selection in (chartered and magnet) school admissions. I recommended to him a paper I read about a year ago that was published by two professors working with the Sutton Trust in the United Kingdom.

The Sutton Trust has an overall social and educational agenda similar to WestEd and myriad similar groups in the United States, so when it published a report advocating selective admissions in secondary schools, I was intrigued. Crucially, the report, "Choice and Selection in School Admissions", demonstrates that, contrary to Andreas Schleicher's preferred narrative coming out of the OECD, countries that practice selective admissions have a larger achievement gap, but also produce more total knowledge throughout their student populations, than do countries like ours that generally (our exceptions are mostly in our eminent private sector) maintain open, non-competitive admissions all the way through secondary school.

Put baldly but briefly, our country faces a choice: we can have a narrow achievement gap among a generation of generally ignorant young people, or we can raise a generation of happy young people, much more fully and fulfillingly employed as well as more knowledgeable overall, who, not worried about being "left behind" in a single "race" to a single "top", have given up being measured by a single standard, that of the highly educated ruling class whose self-love impels them towards the mass reproduction of their own self-image.

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