Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Educational "Fairness"

Thomas Sowell skewers proposals to bring fairness to education.
A recent flap in a Berkeley high school reveals what a farce "fairness" can be. Because this is ultra-liberal Berkeley, perhaps we should not be surprised that a proposal has been made to eliminate four jobs as science teachers and use the money saved for programs to help low achievers.

In Berkeley, as in many other communities across the country, black and Latino students are not performing as well as Asian and white students. In fact, the racial gap in academic achievement at Berkeley High School is the highest in California-- no doubt a special source of embarrassment in politically correct Berkeley.

According to the principal, "Our community at Berkeley High School has failed the African-Americans." Therefore "We need to bring everybody up-- that's what this plan is about."

Surely no one, not even in Berkeley, seriously believes that you will "bring everybody up" by eliminating science teachers. This is a proposal to redistribute money from science to social work, by providing every student with advisors on note-taking, time management and other learning skills.

The point is to close educational gaps among groups, or at least go on record as trying. As with most equalization crusades, whether in education or in the economy, it is about equalizing downward, by lowering those at the top. "Fairness" strikes again!
It never ceases to amaze me that when it comes to education, we have come to believe that the answer is not raising expectations but lowering them. In order to promote "fairness" Berkely is going to water down the academic standards for everyone, in order to raise up the lesser achieving students.

Sowell's piece comes not long after the announcement that the Obama Administration is considering scrapping significant portions of No Child Left Behind. Look, I know NCLB has more than its fair share of critics and problems, but the law has highlighted the achievement gap that we all knew existed. But because the Obama Administration is afraid of calling a spade a spade or a failing school a failing school. You cannot create a successful education system by premising it upon dumbing the school down.

Yes, there are problems outside of schools that may impact on minority students, but I don't believe you can fix that by making your performance standards lower. Expect more, work hard to provide more and you will get more. When a Berkley high school proposes to eliminate science teachers, where does the education system go from there?

Sowell makes another important point regarding equality of opportunity versus equality of outcome:
This is not just a crazy idea by one principal in Berkeley. It is a crazy idea taught in schools of education across the country. A professor of education at the University of San Francisco has weighed in on the controversy at Berkeley, supporting the idea of "projects designed to narrow the achievement gap."

In keeping with the rhetoric of the prevailing ideology, our education professor refers to "privileged" parents and "privileged" children who want to "forestall any progress toward equity."

In the language of the politically correct, achievement is equated with privilege. Such verbal sleight of hand evades the question whether individuals' own priorities and efforts affect outcomes, whether in education or in other endeavors. No need to look at empirical evidence when a clever phrase can take that whole question off the table.


Achievement by overcoming obstacles is a special threat to the left's vision of the world, and so must be magically transformed into privilege through rhetoric.

Those with that vision do not want to even discuss evidence that students from different groups spend different amounts of time on homework and different amounts of time on social activities. To admit that inputs affect outputs, whether in education, in the economy or in other areas, would be to undermine the vision and agenda of the left, and deprive those who believe in that vision of a moral melodrama, starring themselves as defenders of the oppressed and crusaders against the forces of evil.

Redistribution of material resources has a very poor track record when it comes to actually helping those who are lagging, whether in education, in the economy or elsewhere. What they need are the attitudes, priorities and behavior which produce the outcomes desired.
It is shocking that liberal, politically correct thinking now equates "achievement" with "privilege," particularly when you consider the speaker that Sowell discusses is one of the privileged achievers. Yes, to a certain extent educational achievement creates a certain amount of privilege--the privilege of knowing that you have earned an education that will allow you to do whatever you want with your life--that you, even as a minority, are not doomed to poverty, crime and second class citizenship.

But when the state, throught these high minded liberals, takes away vital educational services like the teaching of science in the name of equality, what the state-centric liberal elite are saying to you is that the minorities don't need science to open up doors to better education or even bigger dreams. The liberal elite has to "give" minorities help by "taking" away substantive learning.

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