Friday, June 27, 2008

The Unintended Consequences of Focusing on Proficiency

Summarizing neatly my concerns about the short shrift given to high achieving kids, Eduwonkette quotes one of her commenters:
One of my worries about the emphasis on "proficiency" -- and the lack on emphasis on anything above proficiency -- is the unintended consequence of creating a two-tier, mostly segregated, educational system. Public school teach poor kids basic skills, and parents who want more than basic skills try to figure out how to get their kids into private schools -- or, if they can, move to affluent suburbs.

Now, public schools that teach poor kids basic skills are better than public schools that don't teach poor kids basic skills. But in my district -- which has an interesting demographic mix -- there's a clear tension between the "let's make sure everyone's proficient before we think about anything else" point of view, and the "we need to make sure each kid makes a year's progress every year" point of view.
To be sure, I worred about the two tier aspect, but from a different perspective.

Henry Cate, commented on my post on a similar subject. My post had to do with resource allocation, sort of, but the resource allocation is a real problem.
"I don't think the schools necessarily need to spend more time or money on gifted students ..."

I do.

It should be at least somewhat roughly at the same level. Cheri Yecke reported in The War on Excellence that the bottom 5% or so got something like ten times as much as the top 5%.
Henry quoted me in the first sentence there. Looking back, I created a bit of confusion. I don't want more money spent on educating high acheiving kids than is spent on other students of any ability level. I am not advocating a higher per pupil expenditure just becuase they happen to be successful in school.

But I can imagine a trend where parents with high achieving kids are looking for other resources.

As a kid, my friends and I, who spent parts of our summer at soccer or other sports camps, would tease the kids who spent parts of their summer at academic camps. Geeks, Nerds and other less polite terms were used. But I can easily imagine more parents doing so in order to keep their kids moving in a positive direction educationally.

I know that schools, like any other operation, have to allocate resources that are not only scarce but finite. However, it is impossible to not worry about whether the resource allocation is doing the most good for the most students.

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