Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Mediocre Middle Schools 

The local papers are covering the release of Cheri Pierson Yecke's new book, The War Against Excellence: The Rising Tide of Mediocrity in America's Middle Schools. The StarTribune covers it here. Dr. Yecke, currently Minnesota Commisioner of Education, argues that the loss of "ability grouping" (putting students of like ability in classes together and basing the curriculum on that ability level) has led to a decline in student achievement. At my junior high around 1970, you had class markers from 7-1-1 to 7-4-16. The first number was the grade, the second an ability marker, and the third a subclassification. 7-1-1's were required to take a foreign language and got pre-algebra; 7-4-16's got neither. Most of the 7-1-1's, like me, were children of working class families who were encouraged by the experience to become better students. Most of my friends from that class have achieved living standards greater than what would have been expected from their family backgrounds.

Jane Shaw, in the latest issue of Liberty (not online, alas) argues that you see ability grouping in high schools through AP classes. Joanne Jacobs offers some thoughts on this. Jacobs' post is inspired by Mental Multivitamin, who quotes Daniel Pink:
If we're so dumb, how come we're so rich? How can we fare so poorly on international measures of education yet perform so well in an economy that depends on brainpower? The answer is complex, but within it are clues about the future of education -- and how "free agency" may rock the school house as profoundly as it has upended the business organization.
Free agency means, in this sense, freeing parents to act on their own in determining their children's education. Homeschoolers find an increasing number of options for hire to assist in teaching children at their ability levels. What government schools will not provide, market schools will, if there's demand. Pink explores the wide range of options available. RTWT.

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