"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Alternative Fact: Students Deprived of All Knowledge

US president Donald Trump made a scathing comment on public schools in his inauguration speech, "But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential." Trump criticizes public schools along with crime, gangs and drugs. US public schools certainly do not belong to the same category as crime, gangs and drugs.

First of all, there is variation is learning outcomes. This is seen even with standardized international exams such as PISA:

Above obtained from PISA 2012 Results: Excellence Through Equity
And second, the variation can be explained by a school's socio-economic status. What Trump says is clearly a distortion of the truth. Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post shares an article written by William Doyle in "If Trump really wants to fix troubled schools, here are five things he could do". Of course, president Trump first of all needs to stay within the facts and not the alternative ones (lies), but one of the five things that Doyle recommends is this:
Deliver maximum school choice – by giving parents the choice between safe, well-resourced, high-quality schools in their neighborhoods, especially in high-poverty areas. Guarantee this choice to all parents, not just those who live in affluent school districts or win a charter lottery or school voucher.
"School choice" does sound similar to president Trump's favorite slogan for solving problems in US basic education. There is a major difference here, however. Doyle emphasizes that the choice can only be made available if there are high-quality schools in all neighborhoods, especially in communities where the majority are low-income families. The data from PISA reveal the fact that poor performance correlates with poor socio-economic status of the school. The absence of choice is therefore caused by an under funding or under resourcing of schools that serve mostly poor children. These schools are not "flush with cash".


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