Niche Solutions for Niche Problems

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Dana Goldstein offers a helpful reminder that most American children—particular the white and Asian ones—do fine in school. It would be nice to do better, of course, but there’s not a ton of evidence of a giant completely systemic crisis:

This is, in part, the point Nick Lemann made in his New Yorker column on “the overblown crisis in American education.” It’s important to note that the major problem with American education is the problem of class and race inequality. As Linda Darling Hammond writes in The Flat World and Education, “students in the highest-achieving states and districts in the United States do as well as those in high-achieving nations elsewhere.” Indeed, American white, Asian, and multiracial children perform better than the OECD average in reading, science, math, and problem solving. It is black and Hispanic kids that are falling behind.

Among other things, I think this tends to undermine the oft-voiced scale-based critique of different reform initiatives. I’ve watched with frustration as charter school skeptics complain that these measures will never serve everyone while socioeconomic integration skeptics complain that those measures will never serve everyone. Even worse, everyone then turns around and talks about how there’s no “silver bullet” to solve everything. And indeed there isn’t. But what we’ve got is a bit of a niche problem and we also have a lot of promising looking niche solutions. Which is more or less what the situation calls for.