On requiring every child to be above average.
This is the story of educational romanticism in elementary and secondary schools —its rise, its etiology, and, we have reason to hope, its approaching demise.
Educational romanticism consists of the belief that just about all children who are not doing well in school have the potential to do much better. Correlatively, educational romantics believe that the academic achievement of children is determined mainly by the opportunities they receive; that innate intellectual limits (if they exist at all) play a minor role; and that the current K-12 schools have huge room for improvement.
Educational romanticism characterizes reformers of both Left and Right, though in different ways. http://www.wvwnews.net/story.php?id=2545, children of poor parents, and girls whose performance is artificially depressed, and their academic achievement will blossom as soon as they are liberated from the racism, classism, and sexism embedded in American education. Those of the Right see public education as an ineffectual monopoly, and think that educational achievement will blossom when school choice liberates children from politically correct curricula and obdurate teachers’ unions.In public discourse, the leading symptom of educational romanticism is silence on the role of intellectual limits even when the topic screams for their discussion. Try to think of the last time you encountered a news story that mentioned low intellectual ability as the reason why some students do not perform at grade level. I doubt if you can. Whether analyzed by the news media, school superintendents, or politicians, the problems facing low-performing students are always that they have come from disadvantaged backgrounds, or have gone to bad schools, or grown up in peer cultures that do not value educational achievement. The problem is never that they just aren’t smart enough.
The apotheosis of educational romanticism occurred on January 8, 2002, when a Republican president of the United States, surrounded by approving legislators from both parties, signed into law the http://www.wvwnews.net/story.php?id=3084, which had this as the Statement of Purpose for its key title:
“The purpose of this title is to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging State academic achievement standards and state academic assessments.”
All means exactly that: everybody, right down to the bottom level of ability. The language of the 2002 law made no provision for any exclusions. The Act requires that this goal be met “not later than 12 years after the end of the 2001–2002 school year.”
We are not talking about a political speech or a campaign promise. The United States Congress, acting with large bipartisan majorities, at the urging of the President, enacted as the law of the land that all children are to be above average. I do not exaggerate. When No Child Left Behind began in 2002, the nation already possessed operational definitions of proficient in the math and reading tests administered under the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, pronounced “nape”). NAEP is seen as the gold standard in educational testing. Only about 30 percent of American students were proficient in either reading or math by NAEP’s definitions when No Child Left Behind began. In other words, by NAEP’s standard, all students are not just to be brought to the average that existed when No Child Left Behind was enacted. All of them are to reach the level of students at the seventieth percentile.