Education: UK & US Much More Radically Egalitarian Than Europe


The Anglo-American countries, as I have surprisingly come to realize, are fundamentally more radical on many fronts than the Europeans.

Take education. Germany has a “The three-tiered German education system—which sorts children on the basis of ability at the age of ten into either university-preparatory schools or vocational ones.” It “has always been criticized for fostering social segregation.” (The Economist: “The dignity of all the talents: A battle over gifted education is brewing in America.”)

The impetus to “to eliminate separatism in secondary education” began in … you guessed it, England and America, where the very idea that some individuals are more intelligent than others is anathema, apparently.

“The debate over whether education of gifted children segregates them on the basis of pre-existing privilege rather than cognitive ability is neither new nor uniquely American. The number of selective, state-run grammar schools in Britain reached its zenith in 1965, before the Labour government of Harold Wilson embarked on a largely successful effort “to eliminate separatism in secondary education”.

In New York City, Bill de Blasio, the city’s left-wing mayor, wants to eliminate what he deems unjust programmes and school screening for gifted and talented students. … “Mr de Blasio floated the idea of scrapping the entrance test and admitting the top 7% of students from each middle school (roughly, for pupils aged 11 to 14) to specialised schools. … One problem is that at some middle schools this would include students who had not passed the state maths exam. This infuriated many Asian parents, who do not see why their children should be punished for studying hard.” Or, for being more intelligent.

An astonishing 40% of high schools in the city do not teach chemistry, physics or upper-level algebra, notes Clara Hemphill, the founding editor of InsideSchools, an education-policy website. “The problem is not learning linear algebra in schools, but not knowing arithmetic.” …
… Only 6% of high-school pupils attend one of the eight sought-after specialised high schools. Because admissions are based on high-stakes tests …

“Some advocates yearn for an egalitarian model like Finland’s—where comprehensive schools and a focus on special education (or disabilities) rather than giftedness coincide with high rankings on international measures such as PISA scores.”

I suspect Finland is so much more homogeneous a society, down to its education system, than the US.

“But even in Finland, more than 10% of upper-secondary schools (those before university) are specialised. Other attributes, such as high education spending and extreme selectivity of applicants to become teachers (only 10% make it), are probably also critical to the education system’s success. Removing programmes for the gifted will not suddenly turn New York into Finland.”

* Image courtesy Stuyvesant High School, for the gifted, 345 Chambers Street, New York (Photo By: Susan Watts/NY Daily News via Getty Images)

MORE: “The dignity of all the talents: A battle over gifted education is brewing in America.”