Thursday, May 29, 2008

Education for All: Does Anyone Care?

The title of my post, obviously, is not the most uplifiting. But, neither is the problem in Brazil, or in the US. Brazil, a developing nation with financial resources that pale in comparison to America's, has just started a ranking system for quality of education, and in the richest state in the country, São Paulo, the average ranking (from 1 to 10) for the major subjects of math, science, reading and Portuguese was less than 3 in all public schools. This is sad, but not a surprise when you factor in the average class size in Brazilian public schools, which is 45. That is correct. That coupled with a lack of books, an average salary of about $500 a month, and almost no time for teachers to get together with teachers from other schools to help each other, leads to terribly disappointing numbers throughout the country.

Today, when I opened up my emailed version of The New York Times, I read in an op-ed piece by Thomas Friedman, about a charter boarding school in Maryland called SEED where a lottery was held, open to the public, for the first 80 students to go to this innovation in education. Friedman was there on the day of the selection, and witnessed the joy and disappointment of the crowd there.

A school program like SEED is not a cure-all for anything. It is not going to turn around the dismal reality of so many public schools in the US. It will not magically reduce total dropout rates in cities like Balitimore, New York and New Orleans. There is no magic bullet, but it is an attempt to face up to the reality that the problem is not just money, but real ideas. The solution is not privatizing schools, or testing the hell out of schools to decide which ones to shut down. the solution is not cutting music and art classes.

The shortcuts are easy. They are easy in a country like Brazil, where quotas have engendered more outrage than the US has ever seen. The affirmative action plans of both the US and Brazil only band-aid a problem that needs to be attacked at the root, which is elementary school. If ideas like SEED can take off in school systems throughout the US, there is no real reason why they cannot be adapted, not necessarily copied, in Brazil.

Something must be done, and steps must be taken. A first step is looking at the reality of things, and not being blinded by ideals.

To read Friedman's op-ed piece, entitled Hope in the Unseen, go to:

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