How do public schools treat average and below-average students who may not be “college material”? In the era of closing achievement gaps at all costs and “college for all”, are these kids being short-changed? Are all kids being hurt, just some more than others?
Michelle Kerr, an English teacher covering a unit on Elizabethan theater in her high school class of students with “reading abilities ranging from fifth grade to college-level“, had a miracle moment when she played the audio of the Milton sonnet, “Methought I saw my late espoused saint“.
… such perfection as twenty-some-odd adolescents with no particular interest in literature being touched to the core by a Milton sonnet.
Even Kerr’s students with the poorest literacy skills were able to appreciate great literature, a rare occurrence in a system that promotes equal opportunity for all but does not always deliver it. The irony is that public schools seemed to have increased achievement gaps with their “college for all” and “everyone is equal” mindset. This is consistent with Robert Samuelson’s view that high schools have been undermined in the switch a predominantly college-prep mode.
Implicit in the expectations for all students is the belief that truck drivers, manicurists, retail clerks, fire fighters, and all other occupations that aren’t driven by intellect, simply aren’t good enough. They don’t matter. These aren’t lives that might benefit from beauty or poetry, an opinion about the Bill of Rights or, hell, even an understanding of why you should always switch if Monty Hall gives you the option.
Naturally, anyone on the “college for all” bandwagon, reformers and progressives both, would vehemently deny such beliefs. But the logic of their demands is inescapable. Students have no way to step off the college train. … Denying them that choice leaves failure as the only other option. That lack of options betrays the value system at the heart of those who deny education the right to sort by abilities and interest.
Obsessed with ending the achievement gap, our current educational policy pushes everyone down the same college path and then blames the teachers when they don’t get the desired results. Lost in these demands are the millions of students who are doomed to years of boredom and, worse, a sense of inadequacy-lost, that is, until the teachers are blamed, again, for failing to help them achieve more.
This problem starts in the early grades, when public schools force students of vastly different proficiency levels into the same learning groups, thus denying almost all children the type of education most appropriate for them. At the very least this system breeds boredom, a sense of inadequacy, and cynicism. Fast learners are denied the chance to accelerate at the pace most comfortable for them, while slower learners are denied the extra practice they need to develop fundamental skills and knowledge. Teachers are burdened with differentiating instruction, a costly strategy with questionable efficacy.
This approach stunts later achievement levels for many students of varying ability levels. But it’s the students on the lower end of the distribution curve who probably suffer the most, with fewer resources to make up for an inadequate educational process.
Education, long praised as the great equalizer, no longer seems to be performing as advertised. A study by Stanford University shows that the gap in standardized-test scores between low-income and high-income students has widened about 40 percent since the 1960s—now double that between black and white students. A study from the University of Michigan found that the disparity in college-completion rates between rich and poor students has grown by about 50 percent since the 1980s.