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Thursday, March 29, 2007


Cuban schools

Stanford Professor of Education and Economics Martin Carnoy has a new book out on Cuban education, entitled "Cuba's Academic Advantage." Here's the Stanford University Press description:
In this book, Martin Carnoy explores the surprising success of the Cuban educational system, where the average elementary school student learns much more than her Latin American peers. In developing the case for Cuba's supportive social context and centralized management of education, Carnoy asks important questions about educational systems in general.
And some reviews:
"In a fascinating saga employing forensic tools of statistical analysis, interviews, and classroom observation, Martin Carnoy is able to pierce the mystery of how economically impoverished Cuba academically outperforms the rest of Latin America. The results of his detective work provide valuable insights to those who are preoccupied with raising student achievement in the United States."—Harry M. Levin, Teachers College, Columbia University

"Small, personalized schools staffed by highly trained teachers offering a child-centered education. Long-term relationships between teachers and students. A coherent curriculum organized for conceptual understanding. Strong leadership from principals who focus on instruction and support teacher collaboration. These features of Cuba's educational system sound like the list of reforms that are constantly being urged by educational reformers in the United States. The difference is that in Cuba, these practices have become virtually universal. This powerful book describes the policy system that has created one of the most effective and equitable school systems in the Americas, and provides compelling data from quantitative analyses and vivid observations of schools and classrooms that illustrate how it works. Everyone interested in improving education should read this book."—-Linda Darling-Hammond, Stanford University
Note how there's no mention that the "free market" (e.g., "vouchers") is the path to better education. Because, quite simply, it isn't.

Michael Krasny's one-hour interview with the author on KQED's Forum will be posted here at some point.

Update: I have to promote this comment from reader Jamie, which is really very much on point:

One question a caller had was (paraphrase): How can children be motivated to learn if their reward is not a high paying job or monetary wealth? In Cuba, all professionals get more or less the same salary - which is one reason why they have very high quality teachers. And no one gets monetarily rich doing anything. The education system, and the society in general, instills and appeals to the better side of "human nature." Love and fun of learning, satisfying curiosity, intellectual achievement, pleasing one's parents and greater social circle, helping others and society as a whole in meaningful work.

We have plenty of people like this in the U.S., most of whom live in relative obscurity. We have a system that rewards greed, accumulation of wealth, selfishness, consumerism, and in some circles, ignorance and superstition. Cuba's system doesn't. It tries to put value on and promotes other human characteristics.
The second paragraph of Jamie's comment is particularly relevant to the old "human nature" question. The question isn't what are the characteristics of human nature? The question is, which characteristics of human nature are rewarded by a particular society?

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