GIFTED BUT NOT MOTIVATED, PART II

GIFTED BUT NOT MOTIVATED, PART II… Andy “Eduwonk” Rotherham and Matt Yglesias both take issue with the Washington Post op-ed I mentioned yesterday, about how Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act shortchanges gifted students. Both Andy and Matt argue that if a federal testing mandate must concentrate public schools’ attention on one group of students at the expense of another, better–for political, moral, and policy reasons–that the focus be on the lowest-performing kids.

I can see their point, and Andy especially knows more and has though more about this issue than I have. But I’m not convinced. As a matter of pure politics, how can you expect to retain public support for a school reform regime that short-changes high-achieving students, whose parents, whether rich or poor, are likely to be more politically engaged and influential than the parents of low-performing students? And as a matter of morality, if one has to choose between helping the low-performers or the high-performers in an impoverished school, why is the former the obvious moral choice? If I were an innercity teacher and I had to decide which students to give extra time to, I can easily see myself deciding to focus on the smarter, more motivated ones, on the grounds that they want the help more and the investment in them would have a higher chance of paying off in terms of increased life chances. Others might make a different moral calculus, but it’s not clear why mine would be wrong.

The larger point, though, is that I’m not sure we want to have a government-sponsored testing regime that forces teachers to go one way or another. That’s one of the reasons I’m intrigued by value-added testing, which, if I understand it correctly, would rate teachers and schools based on the progress made by each and every student, not just select groups.

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Paul Glastris

Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly. He was an editor at the magazine from 1986 to 1988.