We’ve written before about how NCLB essentially federalized education, making schools (and states) answerable to Washington, instead of keeping the power and accountability closer to home, where it belongs.
But Washington Post writer Robert Samuelson points out another reason to cheer NCLB’s demise: the law actually does — in practice, if not philosophy — leave some children behind. High achievers lose out when a school must redirect all its resources to bringing up low scores.
He cites a study called “Exam Schools: Inside America’s Most Selective Public High Schools,” which looks at districts that have made provisions for their “elite” students — and by “elite,” it doesn’t mean affluent or privileged. It means smart and hard-working.
“Written by Chester Finn Jr., head of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and Jessica Hockett, an educational researcher, the study asks whether we’re doing enough to educate elite students,” Samuelson reports. “Granted, some families can afford private schools; and many wealthy suburbs have first-class high schools. But what about the rest?”
For decades, education reform has been all about increasing low test scores and graduation rates. Certainly, those are important.
“As more money and energy went into advancing equity in American K-12 (and higher) education, less was devoted to the pursuit of excellence,” the study found.
One thing we’ve learned, however, is that environment matters. High-performing students thrive in an environment of high expectations. When only the minimal standards are the focus, many of these students respond by, well, meeting them.
Of the nation’s 23,000 public high schools, only 165 met the study’s definition of “selective” — meaning there were high standards for both admission and attendance. One example is Boston Latin School (in fact, the nation’s oldest public high school) which offers a classical education.
“Academically, the select schools have two great advantages,” Samuelson writes. “First, they can create a climate that favors success. Peer pressure encourages it. Students aren’t disparaged for doing well in class. Second, these schools can attract superior teachers.”
And they attract students you might not expect.
“These select schools don’t primarily serve upper-middle-class white students,” he writes. “About 30 percent of the students are African-American compared to a 17 percent black share for all high schools; 35 percent are white (compared to a 56 percent national share); 13 percent are Hispanic (20 percent) and 21 percent are Asian (5 percent).”
The study and Samuelson’s observations have important implications for local East Texas school districts. Few of them have the financial resources to establish a stand-alone elite academy or even a magnet school (Tyler’s Moore MST Magnet School is a notable exception), but academic programs on existing campuses should be looked at.
No child should be left behind. Even the bright ones.