Education Equity: Why Different Education Models Produce Varying Results

Equity in education is a myth. The results of yet another international education test are in, and the United States finished in the middle of the pack among developed countries. Now American education experts claim the sky is falling. Is it?

Unfortunately, like with so many things in the U.S. education system, the people trying to fix the problem are very misguided. Equity is a noble goal and an impossible one at that. Studies show that when you try to pull the bottom up with a laser focus, you achieve some amazing if inconsistent results. What you mostly get is the equalizing downward that has been going on in American education for years.

Let’s take a quick glimpse at the most recent test results released in December 2010. fifteen-year-olds in developed countries were tested in math, science and English. The usual suspects finished at the top: China, Japan, Singapore. Is anyone really surprised anymore when Asians—whether in their native land or in the United States—do well on standardized tests?

Asian-American students have been among the highest-achieving students in America for a very long time. Close-knit families that put a high value on education tend to produce high-achieving students. Simple as that. No equity needed.

Equity can’t be legislated, and those who try fail miserably. Experts will appear as talking heads on the chat shows, and they will say that we need to put more money in education (only Luxembourg spends more per student) as if that is the solution. It is not.

If the Chinese culture were as diverse and free as many other countries, the life of the average Chinese citizen might improve, but the test scores would surely fall.

To look at the high test results of Chinese students, one can start with the Chinese one-child-only policy. It has long been known that an only child in America will, on average, achieve more than the kid who has a bunch of siblings. It makes sense that when two parents pour all their time and resources into one child, that child will do better in school.

This child will also feel an enormous amount of pressure to succeed. This may partially explain why Finland, the highest-ranking European country, also consistently ranks high in suicide rates.

Not that you can take anything away from the Chinese. Chinese students spend forty-one more days in school per year than their American counterparts.

In Finland, elementary school teachers are required to have a master’s degree. So if you look at these countries and how they are succeeding, there are certainly things that we can mirror to raise test scores. For America to achieve educational equity, we could simply go back to what was working when we ranked at the top of the charts. Raise standards and stop teaching self-esteem instead of math.

Having the school day go from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. like it does in China is a good idea, or adding more instruction day, or perhaps even rewarding good teachers instead of being unable to fire bad ones.

The bottom line is that, despite the test results, we don’t want to be China—they want to be us. They can boast about all those new college graduates, but eventually their society is going to implode because educated people won’t accept a closed society so readily.

This is not to say that America shouldn’t try to do better by its students. For low-achieving students to achieve educational equity, however, there has to be a change in attitude, priorities, and behavior toward education.

Unlike the Chinese, we don’t teach rote memorization. The Chinese will never be able to match the originality and creativity of the American mind. The beauty of the American culture is that we can take the best ideas from around the world and make them into something uniquely American.

There has been a crisis in American education for years, and one test result isn’t going to make that go away. It should, however, be a call to action to ensure educational equity for the poorest-performing students. But those students need to understand that true equity comes in opportunity, not results.

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