Monday, February 28, 2011

Race to the Top or the Bottom of the Ladder?

February is the month when parents and caregivers start to lay the groundwork for the next academic school year. Conversations about schools crop up everywhere as people try and figure out where they are going to send their child for the next year or what the school their child is at now can do better. Register for kindergarten. Public or private? Does the school go to the eighth grade or are you shopping around for middle schools in another few years? What middle school is the right fit?  What makes the best school for your child?   
We have all heard the grim statistics of how far behind the rest of the world the United States is in terms of children’s academics and education. Our current ranking lands us at 15th in reading, 23rd in science and 31st in math out of 65 countries according to an international study. The top earners are, not surprisingly, places known for their reverence to the pursuit of academic conquests. 
China, and the rest of Asia, are at the top of the list and nourish cultures that hold teachers and educators in high regard. The most admired student in the classrooms of these countries is the student who is the winner at the science fair, captain of the math team and a consistent top performing student. 
The respect for the academics in these countries must certainly bolster the success of these students being in the top tier of educational standards. In the United State’s efforts to lift lackluster student performances on test scores, compared to other countries around the world, all sorts of programs are created to help improve the education system.    
 In looking at the impressive results of test scores in a country like China, we are perhaps making a mistake in trying to figure out how these high performing schools are creating the student scores that they have been able to achieve. In the past twenty years, China has closed the gap between the country’s most successful schools in comparison to the schools in what are considered to be in the rural, peasant areas. This has created a global imbalance that now places a school in the poorest area in China a full grade ahead in math compared to children enrolled in one of the better schools in the New York area. You have to start at the bottom before you can even dream of being at the top.
Be well, 
Alice Knisley Matthias
SFC Education Writer

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