Monday, August 16, 2010

Resource allocation in education

Two articles I read today speak to the single issue of resource allocation in education.

The first article ("grim graduation rates") mentions, among other things, that New Jersey's higher results are due in part to a deliberate effort to reallocate resources to level the playing field. The suggestion here is that, given a fair shake, black males are not only equally capable, but equally willing to do their part to learn, with higher results to prove it.

The second article ("standardized tests") discusses standardized testing in Ontario. While my issue with a particular shortcoming of standardization in education is mentioned in StudyRite, and echoed in another article that ran today, there is some merit to standardization, although I'm not sure it came through clearly.

In my opinion, standardized testing should not be about how well the students are learning. Nor should it be about how well the teachers are teaching: standardized testing should be about assessing how equipped a school is to meet the needs of its students. All things being equal (and human nature being what it is) most teachers will teach and most students will learn; government is thus left to determine how it will allocate resources to support teachers' teaching and students' learning.

I remember reading a Maclean's Magazine article back in 2001 about John Chambers, head of Cisco Systems, and his  project, called Networking Academies, which champions the value of computers and new, customized teaching methods. "We run more than 6,000 Networking Academies with 180,000 students in 110 countries and, given technology and the correct environment, these kids all score high, no matter the disparity in incomes or situations," Chambers said at an international economic conference. "Education is No. 1, but even the rich countries are leaving behind 25 per cent of their kids," (my emphasis).  (Francis, Diane. "A Learning Revolution". Maclean’s Magazine. March 5. 2001.)

The results in New Jersey appear to support Mr. Chambers' assertion. As such, the OughtThoughts here are that under-performing students are not always inherently to blame for their poor performance, and that we can make different decisions to improve the learning environment and expect progressive results to follow.

If lower scores on standardized tests in Ontario are indications of where more attention is required, and there is a weak correlation between scores and school location in higher or lower income areas, we may reasonably go ahead and look at teaching methods and student issues. If, however, there is an observable correlation between lower results and lower income area school locations, reallocation considerations must be in play, because these kids may be, in Mr. Chambers' words, "being left behind" in spite of their true capabilities.

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