Returning to the question of education reform, I want to question what the ultimate goal of our education system is. Do we want every child to graduate from high school? Do we want all children to have an equal knowledge base, or at least an opportunity to achieve a minimum education? Do we want our nation to have a workforce competitive with that of other countries?
I think the obvious answer is that we have many goals. But some may be more important than others.
One of the reasons I ask is that some of the stated objectives I have come across seem unrealistic or unnecessary. Perhaps the best example is the goal of having every student achieve mastery of the material presented in Algebra II. Although I happen to love math, I am just not convinced that every single American needs to know how to solve a system of inequalities, or find the roots of a quadratic equation. Those skills just aren't that useful in public life.
Maybe everyone who goes to college needs to understand that level of math, but that only raises another question. Does every single person in the country need to spend four more years studying after high school? I suppose I am asking that as a rhetorical question. My answer is no, not everyone needs to go to college and not everyone needs to know Algebra II.
Having said this, I do think it is important that everyone have the opportunity to go to college if they want. Part of the problem with saying this is that whether or not someone wants to go to college depends a lot on the environment they grow up in. It would be too easy to simply put those students who don't show much motivation on a low achievement track and forget about it. There is a fine line between helping students to find an appropriate role in society and imposing our preconceived expectations on them.
I am not sure there is any way around this dilemma. On the one hand, it would be nice to simply help each person achieve their own personal potential. But since students don't come with a label stating their academic potential, there is no way to tell if we have achieved this goal without some expectation of how potential is distributed.
In any case, trying to determine whether our schools are effective doesn't make much sense unless we have a clear idea of what kind of effect we want them to have. Any thoughts?