When Learning Has a Limit

Ben Wildavsky:

Since the release of “A Nation at Risk” 25 years ago, we have seen the introduction of top-down standards (including the No Child Behind Act), the spread of a bottom-up school-choice movement (including vouchers and charter schools), and the advent of entrepreneurial programs, like Teach for America, that combine a market-oriented approach with a focus on academic results.
Meanwhile, record numbers of students aspire to higher education, not least because the economic returns to a college degree are, despite a recent leveling off, indisputable. Thus all sorts of people are busy trying to make sure that more high-school grads get a shot not only at enrolling in college but at finishing it.
None of this much impresses Charles Murray. In “Real Education,” he suggests that teachers, students and reformers are all suffering from a case of false consciousness. “The education system,” he says, “is living a lie.”
The problem with American education, according to Mr. Murray, is not what President Bush termed the “soft bigotry of low expectations” but rather the opposite: Far too many young people with inherent intellectual limitations are being pushed to advance academically when, Mr. Murray says, they are “just not smart enough” to improve much at all. It is “a triumph of hope over experience,” he says, to believe that school reform can make meaningful improvements in the academic performance of below-average students. (He might have noted, but doesn’t, that such students are disproportionately black and Hispanic.)

Real Education by Charles Murray.