From the Tutor's Corner

Rambling Thoughts

"No child left behind" (President Bush)
"Excellence is our standard" (Abington School District)

What do these words mean? What do they imply? "Accountability" implies measuring achievement against a previously-established level (bar) of knowledge. So should the bar be raised to show excellence, or lowered to leave no child behind? Should we teach more, or teach less but teach it more thoroughly? In math, should we teach advanced concepts to everyone in grade school even though most will never use them, or should we emphasize fundamental mathematics that almost everyone will use? And where do we set the bar for an Einstein who is a poor reader, or a Shakespeare who can't grasp math, or a Mozart who has trouble with both?

The present emphasis is on raising the bar. Thus in grade school those students who are able to absorb the advanced material are now in a better position to progress even further. But those students who struggled with the old material now find the struggle even harder. They must now contend with more advanced material at the expense of having less time to learn basic fundamentals. For them, raising the bar means that more pass under it. The net result is that those who are capable advance further, while those who are less capable fall further behind.

What is the goal of our educational system? Is it to raise each child to a high level of proficiency in all subjects? Or, is it to raise each child to the highest level of proficiency it is capable of achieving in each subject? Stated differently, should graduation be a pass/fail certificate indicating an overall level of proficiency. Or, should graduation be a scorecard indicating the student's level of proficiency in each subject. Medical evaluations, for example, don't read simply "healthy" or "unhealthy", they detail the patient's status.

Does all this imply that optimum progress requires the early grouping of students according to their ability on a subject by subject basis? Is this the best way to raise every student's basic skills level, while at the same time allowing each student to reach his or her own potential?

These are things I ponder as I wander.

John Schwarz