Wednesday, February 02, 2005

OPINION: Our School Performance Matters

February 2, 2005

Eric A. Hanushek writes that the performance of our students now will influence the pattern of our nation's future economic success.

1 comment:

  1. Eric Hanshek writes that performance of our students now will influence the pattern of our nation’s future economic success.

    In Hanshek’s statement, there is an assumption of a linear relationship between student performance in schools and the nation’s future economic success. It is hard for many to realize that linear relationships, especially when speaking of educational influences, are few and very far between. For example, let us consider rewriting this phrase to “the pattern of our nation’s economic success will influence the performance of our student’s now, which in turn influence the pattern of our nation’s future economic success, which will again influence student performance….” In this phrase, the relationships are circular, like many relationship’s (organizational to personal) today. Putting it succinctly, it is the social and economic structure of our nation that dictates who will succeed in our schools.
    Since social and economic structure influence success in our schools and vice versa, inequalities always exist. Functional theorists might say that these inequalities exist for a reason, and varying performance by our students in our schools serves a larger division of labor purpose. Davis and Moore’s Functional Theory of Stratification has basic tenets one of which is that high rewards motivate the most qualified to fill the most important positions and that some people and groups do not attain such positions because they are unable and poorly motivated. Perhaps, this interpretation of Hanshek’s statement would sound similar to “the performance of our most qualified students will influence the pattern of their own economic success, and those poorly motivated will influence their own economic success because they just didn’t work hard enough.”
    Critics of the functional theorists think that functional theory ignores the role of socio-economic status and how social and economic structure determine who will be deemed the most qualified and the poorly motivated – two factors that SHOULD have nothing to do with social and economic status. And so the critics of functional theory might append the following statement to the functional theorist interpretation of Hanshek’s statement: “…And the greater economic success of our nation will be dictated by those with power in the most qualified positions.”
    Hanshek does not speak in error when he says that student performance will affect our economic future success. It does and it will. Hanshek is not asking or alluding to the proper question of relationship. If performance of our students now will influence the pattern of our nation’s future economic success, then we must ask what must be done? But, we must become aware that simply “fixing student performance” will not lead to future economic success. Again, I refer back to the circular relationship. In order for us to be successful in student performance and national economics we must change both structures and how they influence each other. Who are those students succeeding and what economic successes have they been awarded throughout life? Who are the students that are not succeeding and how does their socio-economic structure differ from those that succeed in the system? How can we award the same successes to all students while recognizing that the social and economic systems of our nation are working against us?
    Finally, I am reminded of a quote by a known author on the actions and their consequences. There lies a complex relationship between educational, social and economic systems. If we are to promote success in one system, we must change decisions made by the other coupled systems.

    “Every little trifle, for some reason, does seem incalculably important today and when you say of a thing that ‘nothing hangs on it’ it sounds like blasphemy. There’s never any knowing – how am I to put it? – which of our actions, which of our idlenesses won’t have things hanging on it forever.” ~ E.M. Forster, Where Angels Fear to Tread