For years, we have heard about how the U.S. education does not keep up with our global competitors. I would like to make a few analogies to the comparisons to help illustrate the deficiency in such a comparison.
Two different people have two separate gardens. In both gardens, they plant 100 tulip bulbs. In the first garden, you wait two weeks and eliminate 25% of the tulips who are not thriving. In three more weeks, you eliminate another 25% of the original planting, leaving only half still in the garden. In another few weeks, you eliminate another 25-35% of the original crop, leaving only 15-25% of the original crop to benefit from the garden’s (hopefully) nutrient-rich environment. You have a stellar crop of 10%.
In your second garden, you allow all 100 tulips to grow unfettered for the duration of the cycle. You have some stellar tulips, some pretty tulips, some fair tulips, some rather unsightly flowers and some that just did not grow the way they should have.
How should the choice being made by the gardeners on how to allow their gardens to come to fruition be judged? Is the first a better gardener for whittling his yield to 10%, but the best 10%? Is the second a better gardener for attempting to allow his entire yield to grow?
Many counties competing with the United States run the first garden. They only allow a certain percentage of children to move up in each level of schooling. Essentially, if the U.S. ran it’s “garden” the same way, we would remove a large chunk of students with each rise in school level. From the elementary level, we would push a large number of students to training only for work-focused activities. From the middle school to high school level, we would again remove a large chunk, pushing them toward work, vocational school or government (military or civil servant-oriented service). The last remaining 10% of students would compete doggedly for seats at the college / university level. In essence, the system decides for you what your options are based on your demonstrated academic level (and sometimes your connections).
Compare that with a system that lets you decide how when and where your options are. Maybe you don’t put the work in while in high school, but you decide at 30 to get yourself together and make it happen. You can’t do that in the first garden.
The way that we are evaluating our effectiveness in preparing our adult workforce IS NOT congruent with the systems in which our young people are being educated. In those competing countries, 10% of the population is effectively being compared with the progress of 90% of the students in the US.
It comes down to what freedoms you are willing to give up. Are you willing to run the risk that your child will be refused entry to a traditional high school because we want better performance statistics, or does your child deserve each and every opportunity to succeed, even if it means there is potential for failure? I have my own bent, but I went back to school at 35 to get my doctorate. No one, not even our global competitors who would never have let me in can take that away from me.