Wednesday, September 2, 2009

School politics according to me - part 4

Sponsored lunch
On papyrus, it's a good idea that all the students get a "free lunch" (financed via tax money anyways) so as to provide them with the nutrition to stay focused during the day and to bypass any inequalities as far as parent income and dietary awareness. This would ensure that the kids get at least one balanced meal during the day, right?

Sure...if you trust the government to actually provide a nutritionally sound diet. If we look to countries like Great Britain where school lunches are implemented and take a look at what menus are available, it's a lot of sausages, chicken nuggets and other "foods" which are nothing but industrial byproducts with some preservatives and coloring added. Bottom line: I wouldn't trust such a system to provide adequate nutrition, and for sure we can provide our kid with a better packed lunch than that. I've often said that the best way to get rid of industrial waste is to put a little bit of it into food products and have people eat it. The difference is that I'm joking.

Public disclosure of national tests and ranking of schools
Absolutely - where do I sign up? I've never seen any logical argument against either of these. Starting with public disclosure of national tests, which are often presented as organized bullying of school districts who don't do well. I strongly disagree - this would offer distinct advantages both to the "customer", i.e., the population, and the "seller", i.e., the school districts. The benefit to the "customer" is obvious; if you've the choice of sending your children to one out of two schools in the area, you obviously want to know which provides the best education. If your family relocates to another area and you're looking for housing in a region spanning several school districts, you also want to take into consideration the quality of the schools nearby. Public disclosure of national tests is one way of accomplishing this.

In case of the school districts, every argument against public disclosure I've heard basically boils down to "Well, if a school district gets a bad rating, feelings are gonna be hurt". So?

If a school scores significantly below average - what are the possible reasons? For the sake of simplicity, we can limit the discussion to schools outside of the Oslo area, so as to eliminate any just or unjust focus on cultural issues. The variables are 1) students, 2) teachers and 3) economy. Out of these, only two are valid, because if you think that some schools score lower because they've got bad students, then odds are that you think phrenology and physiognomy are branches of science and good indicators of intelligence. So; if the bad scores can be attributed to either insufficient budgets or incompetent/lacking teaching staff (or most likely a linear combination of the two), that's good news in that it can be remedied. However, you can't solve a problem unless you put focus on it. In the case of an insufficient budget, this needs to be pointed out if anything's to be done about it. Is the municipality flat out broke or didn't get enough ear-marked money from the national government? Here are the numbers to prove it, now hook us up with some chedda'. The municipality prioritized building a new city hall instead of hiring more teachers? Heads are gonna roll and changes can be implemented.

What if the problem is an incompetent teaching staff? Well; if the results of national tests are not disclosed and nobody knows that the other schools in the district score twice as high in almost every subject, what possible incentive do the teachers have to improve? Am I to believe that the same teachers who sucked at their job to begin with are spontaneously going to get their act together unless acted upon by an outside force? Never gonna happen. You don't need to take my word for it though - the second law of thermodynamics also says so.

On to school ranking. What would be wrong with establishing some high schools for exceptionally good students? For lower year-studies the students still live at home, but it's not at all uncommon to move out in order to go to high school. Same with universities; why can't we have a ranking that's tied up to entrance requirements?

Here's where all kinds of egalitarian, social democracy nonsense usually sets in, despite the fact that this exact system is implemented in many countries we'd very much like to compare ourselves to when it comes to academics. Also, my main issue with this pseudo-egalitarian approach is that it resides somewhere between selectiveness and epic hypocrisy. The thing is; when it comes to sports, there are no such limitations - behold the completely legitimate institutions known as "toppidrettsgymnas" (elite athletic high school), with stringent entrance exams. Also, kids are separated into scrub and varsity teams in pretty much every sport from an early age. Apparently this has nothing to do with discrimination and "sorteringssamfunn", but follows the simple rule that some people are better at something. But for some reason this does not hold true in academia. Unless someone can prove that everyone holds the same academic potential, this is brutal hypocrisy.

Alright - enough.


Anders said...

Sponsored lunches: Have you noticed that SV doesn't mention school lunches this election?

But by all means, it would be good if there were fruit and healthy food available for the students. I just don't think the lack of healthy food is the biggest problem with our school system.

Wilhelm said...

True, true. Due to the massive backlash from last time, I can understand why :-)