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.

Paul Glastris

Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly.