The basic premise of No Child Left Behind is that all children can learn and that is certainly a concept that most teachers I know firmly believe. With that as the foundation, however, there are still some difficult questions to be asked and answered. Among them are the ones that this essay asks. What can they learn? When can they learn it? What is the best format to foster that learning?
The author goes on to look at the concept of mass education found in other countries, specifically France and Japan, and discovered one major difference. Other countries emphasize that high achievement comes from hard work while in the US we hold to the idea that talent and ability are the keys to academic success.
The Japanese emphasize effort, hard work and hustle. Not surprisingly, Japanese public opinion polls reflect the view that school is too easy and that Japanese students are not learning enough. (By way of contrast, American polls reveal that our students think they know more than they do, scientific evidence that ignorance is bliss.) The Japanese approach might be best characterized as a "forced march," in which all youngsters are expected to keep up the pace.
By way of contrast the French offer a demanding education to anyone with the energy and enterprise to seize it. The French believe in hard work and talent. Indeed, the French baccalaureate degree is so finely calibrated and so uniform across all of France than transcripts of record are not maintained it is enough to know whether a students Bac was earned bien, assez bien or tres bien. The French system might be best described as "build it and they will come."
So which approach is best? Raise the standards and push everyone through? Or raise the standards and offer the opportunity to anyone who wants it? I think there’s probably a middle ground, but anyway you look at it, American attitudes toward education will have to undergo a major change if we really expect every child to learn at high levels. On top of that the structure of American schools will also need a complete overhaul. Unfortunately, I don’t think American students, parents, teachers and politicians have the stomach for the drastic alterations to our educational structures that will be required.