Poor little rich student: Different schools for different kids?

I wanted to offer a curricular observation about Mike's Understanding upper-middle-class parents since he raised the issue of whether ?different kids need different schools.?? It's a great question and an especially loaded one in a socio-economic context because, of course, most of the modern reform movement is premised on the assumption that too many poor kids already go to different schools ? lousy ones ? and that rich kids, by definition, go to good ones.

At the extremes, I think, it's easier to see "good" and "bad" schools -- or "rich" and "poor" ones -- and make decisions about how best to educate your children.?It's tougher in the middle, where most of us live ? or think we live -- but the sociology of the thing, no matter where you are, is a huge factor; all parents have an eye on "future happiness" or "future success" for their kids and run that through their own metrics, which usually include schooling. Lavish spending masks lots of academic problems just as the lack of spending can exacerbate them.? But even in the dark cave of ?adequacy and equity,? the good school / different school shadows are dancing. ?Even the rich want ?good? schools.

In this context I believe that E.D. Hirsch's insight about "background knowledge" provides the best guide for educators and policymakers.? Despite the new noise that the "college isn't for everyone? crowd is making, I think most of us have a pretty good idea of what we should know in order to be successful and our system of colleges does a pretty fair job of managing the marketplace of knowledge so that college grads will get jobs and be happy and successful, etc.? Sure, it's popular to rail against ?one size fits all,? but most people still believe (even if secretly) that true north is true north, even in literature, and that we best know it if we are to get where we want to go.

Poor kids do need different schools, not because they're poor, but because they tend not to get the background knowledge at home that the more affluent kids tend to get with homelives that are book- and language-rich. ?A ?commentor on Mike's post, who identified himself as a former school board member from an affluent district, seems to make this point ( but in reverse), describing a rich district with poor academics and high school grads who don't do well in college. ?Yes, Virginia, even rich kids can be dumb.

My concern with the "different" schools movement is that it is so susceptible to dumbing down. ?If you don't have a firm grasp on -- or belief in -- the kind of knowledge that folks like Hirsch believe is essential, you run the risk of giving different kids inferior schools instead of better ones. And yes, there is a difference.

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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