When UNESCO gave math and language tests to third- and fourth-graders in 13 Latin American countries, researchers were stunned to find that pupils in Cuba's lowest-income schools outperformed most upper-middle-class students in the rest of the region. This test data confirmed years of anecdotal evidence that Cuba's primary schools are by far the best in Latin America, and maybe better than schools in neighboring Florida.Every child can be educated.
Our comparison of Cuba with Brazil and Chile draws other lessons for good schooling. Brazil has a highly decentralized education system: Each state and municipality runs its own elementary schools. Schools have a lot of autonomy and teachers are trained in universities that decide how to best train their teachers, with very little control from state governments. Everyone - parents, teachers, administrators - have many choices, and teachers have the freedom to teach they way they want, with almost no supervision by principals. Sound familiar? It's like our system, and, like ours, it works well for wealthier children and not very well for almost everyone else. Although we extol local control, many school principals and communities do not have the resources or organizational skills to assure high-quality education.
Chile has decentralized even farther, again with little success. Almost half of Chile's students go to private schools, most to private schools where students get vouchers equal to the amount spent on public school students. But like Brazilian students, Chileans don't perform nearly as well as Cubans. Our classroom videos and interviews showed why: When left to their own devices, schools - whether public or private - can't overcome low standards and expectations, inadequate teacher training, and their pupils' social environment.
Many analysts in this country think that vouchers and charter schools are going to make for great education. The Chile-Cuba comparison suggests that they will not, because they fail to address the question of who will change the social environment in which children grow up, who will set and enforce high standards in the classroom, and who will take responsibility for training the teachers to implement those high standards. Cuba's success tells us that only when government takes these tasks seriously does every child get a shot at good schooling.
Via Left I.