Debate Magazine

School Are Not in the Business of Education; They’re in the Business of Certification (from the Archives)

By Stevemiranda

I’ve written that traditional schooling offers very little value-add; school serves primarily as a place for kids to go. Once there, the “gifted and talented” get to showcase their gifts and talents. Kids who are not good at the things that school values get marginalized.

I recently reading Anya Kamenetz’s book DIY U, which makes a similar point about higher education. I’ll share a couple quotes from experts cited in her book, then a passage from the author.

From British economist Mark Blaug: “Better-educated people have better-educated parents, come from smaller homes, obtain financial help more easily, live in cities, are better motivated, achieve higher scores on intelligence and aptitude tests, attain better academic grade records, gain more from self-education, and generally live longer and are healthier. To put it very bluntly, clever and/or middle class children get more schooling than stupid and/or working class children, and later they earn more simply because they have had all the advantages of life, of which more education is only one and not even the most important one.”

Stated a bit more simply, from a study by Christopher Jenks: “The relationship between educational attainment and occupational status derives primarily from the fact that schools certify people who were different to begin with.”

Now from the author, Kamenetz: “The nation’s top colleges seem to assent . . . when they agree to rate themselves by how selective they are—that is, how many people they reject, the SAT scores of entering students, and so on. That’s like Weight Watchers advertising that they only take skinny people. If elite schools really subscribed to the value-added, human-capital theory, wouldn’t they instead advertise how good they are at improving the very low SAT scores of entering students?”

Of course they don’t advertise that. Schools aren’t in the business of education; they’re in the business of certification. The teacher establishes a minimum standard to pass and a minimum standard to earn an A; the student’s job is to meet that minimum standard. Those who were born with certain advantages get certified, the rest do not.


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