Benchmark-free Education

We judge an education by comparing it to a standard or other educations. Sally, an eighth-grader, met the eighth-grade benchmark at the end of the year. Success for Sally! And her school! More students at her school than the one down the road met the benchmark. There is something wrong down the road. Losers!

But, what if Sally entered the eighth grade already able to meet the benchmark? What was her school’s duty to her in that case, and did it meet that duty? How could anyone tell?

If we evaluate the school by how many eighth graders met eighth-grade standards, then we don’t care whether it taught Sally anything. She began the year already able to meet the standards. So, what was her school’s duty to her?

If you believe in “school equity,” you believe the school should devote fewer resources to students like Sally. Many resources (the teacher’s one-on-one time, for instance) are finite. Investing them in a student who can already meet the benchmark, means withholding  them from a student below benchmark. That will lower the number of benchmark-meeting students, reduce equity, and possibly mark the school as “failing.”.

We create “equal” distributions by compressing ranges–of wealth, education, etc. Devaluing the further progress of high achievers may (or not) be valid in the case of wealth, but it is wrong to do that to someone’s education.

So, affluent parents of a high-achieving student often send that kid to private school. It’s their duty to their child not to care about equity.

What if schools didn’t have a duty to maximize the number of students that meet a standard based on averaging? Suppose a teacher’s sole purpose were to guide the student to fulfill her own potential, whatever that may be. What would that classroom look like? How would it define “equity”? How would we measure the teacher’s effectiveness?

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