In today’s Washington Post and then on Fordham’s site here, Fordham’s Mike Petrilli and AEI’s Rick Hess write that we are “defining excellence down” by not sufficiently challenging high-achievers. They are concerned that the nation’s focus—federal education efforts in particular—will “compromise opportunities for our highest-achieving students.”
Petrilli and Hess seem to think the federal government is wrong to force schools to have equitable numbers of poor kids in advanced classes because, let’s be realistic, the “unseemly reality” that poor kids are way behind and can’t hang in tough classes is just a fact. Putting them in tough classes isn’t fair to anyone (including our kids who could really reach the moon if these other kids weren’t dragging them down).
They are right that we are playing games when we call classes full of remedial-level students “on-level” and classes full of on-level students “advanced.” But they are wrong to push the argument that what’s good for poor kids isn’t good for rich kids. The way to do this is what? Put poor kids in their own schools, in classes they can handle, maybe give them some special help, while the kids with real potential get to take all the advanced classes? Of course it’s important to develop high-achievers, and I’m in favor of this. Yes, let’s do more for the truly gifted kids who may solve our nation’s and our world’s problems. But let’s also be clear that this population is small, includes just as many poor as rich kids, and in all probability doesn’t include mine or yours. The other 90 percent of kids who don’t fit here deserve high standards, high expectations, and high quality teaching and learning, from the earliest years and through higher education. And as inconvenient or difficult as this may be, they belong together.