The Ten Percent Solution?
We have just receive the 2012-2013 New York State test results for our eldest daughter. The two subject areas tested are Mathematics and English Language Arts. In each area her test results put her among the top 1% of students in New York State.
But very little of the credit for this belongs to her.
Our daughter has the good fortune of being born to well-educated and intelligent parents who value education. Those same parents had the luck or foresight to settle in a community with an excellent tax base for its school, and strong community support for that school. There is a private school 25 miles to the west and a parochial school another 20 miles beyond that, but between distance and cost, these other schools do not draw that many Montauk children. The student body of Montauk Elementary School more or less reflects the socio-ecomomic diversity of the village of Montauk, including its more affluent and education-valuing families (not the same thing.)
So there. Lucky for Maggie, and she has made the best of her good fortune. Good for her.
I have been following the SCOTUS case involving race consideration in higher education in Michigan. I listened to the NPR synopsis of oral arguments and am persuaded both ways. It does seem unfair that a more qualified student of one race would be displaced to make room for a less qualified student of another race. It also seems unfair that an aspiring and motivated students from circumstances less fortunate than my daughter Maggie’s would perpetually compete at a disadvantage.
In some cases the profundity of this disadvantage cannot be overstated. In the aftermath of 9/11, my long-time producer left her communications ministry and became a kindergarden teacher in a rough neighborhood in New York City. To help her complete her educational requirements she asked me to come to her classroom and tape one continuous classroom session. This tape would then be submitted as a part of her final accreditation process to show her command of the classroom and pedagogy.
What I witnessed was sheer pandemonium.
No fewer than 25% of the pupils lacked the basic social skills needed to be in a kindergarden classroom. They could not sit still. They were disruptive and belligerent. When attempts were made to mold their behavior to appropriate classroom decorum they responded with insults and curses. Some were violent.
I felt bad for these children. At five years of age they could hardly be held responsible for their behavior, yet ultimately they would be held accountable for its consequences. I felt worse for the other children imprisoned in the classroom with them, hope and exasperation writ on their faces as all of the teacher’s time and energy was diverted into the most difficult children. Paraphrasing LBJ, would you set these children at the start of a(n academic) race next to Maggie, yell “Go!” and then declare the race fairly run?
Life is not fair.
Amidst the NPR reporting on the Michigan case I heard the idea (proposal or practice, I don’t know) that the top 10% of the graduating class of any high school in a state would qualify for admission to that state’s system of higher education.
This idea appeals to my notion of fairness. The children I saw in my friend’s kindergarden class are no more responsible for their circumstances than my daughters are for theirs. Grading on a curve within the socio-economic segregation that is an inevitable facet of schools that serve their communities seems like a good solution to dispersing opportunity more evenly and engaging human potential.
But I really don’t know much more than that. My curiosity is piqued. Perhaps some of you with more expertise on this question would care to comment, or provide links to lucid thoughts on the matter.
EDITED TO ADD:
I hope that I am not misunderstood, I don’t see a 10% (or 5% or 15%) solution as being some sort of magic bullet that will solve all problems of inequity and race as they relate to education. Nor am I offering an opinion on the current race and education SCOTUS case, nor should an opinion be inferred. I am curious where, if any, such an approach has been tried, and to what effect, positive or negative, intended or unintended.
If what you think you have to offer is, “I don’t have any experience with this, but I can think of reasons why this might not work, and why it won’t solve the larger problem” may I gently suggest you put the time and energy you might put into expressing that thought into doing some research, and then post what if any informed opinions you might find.
A post from the Wall Street Journal on income and education sorting: Richer Americans Like Living With Poorer People Until They Have Kids
“This hurts the economy in at least two ways. While a lot more research needs to be done, it’s probably not great for children in poor areas to not have access to better schools and more educated adults. More perniciously, though, if the better-off aren’t living in the same place as the worse-off, they won’t be as willing to pay for future social services in the worse-off areas. Indeed, their tax payments will go to supporting their own schools and parks, leaving the lower-income areas to fend for themselves. That, in turn, will reinforce the economic inequalities that already exist.”