Thursday, July 21, 2011

Equality and Excellence

This Noah Millman post about how it is vastly more difficult to improve many schools and many neighborhoods than to improve a single school, school district, or neighborhood, reminded FLG of something that he has written about on this blog before but hasn't in a while -- the fundamental opposition of equality and excellence.

Excellence is always relative to something else. Something else that is less good. To say that students are entitled to equally excellent educations is almost to speak nonsense. Equally excellent educations are just as equally awful educations.

Now, in fairness, we could say that students are entitled to world-class educations, which would mean that students receive an excellent education in relation to the rest of the world, which, by definition, would mean that most of the rest of the world receives relatively worse educations.

But FLG remains skeptical, even in that case, that the level of education given and received within the United States would be equal. To be more specific, he thinks we could, with much difficulty, raise the overall level of educational opportunity in absolute terms, but that the relative level opportunities wouldn't change all that much. Thus, the issue of inequality remains. However, if the law of diminishing marginal returns applies to education, which it should, then there could be some reduction in education because each additional dollar spent at the high-end of the distribution doesn't buy as much additional educational output.

But FLG is getting off-topic. The main point here is that equality and excellence are fundamentally irreconcilable.

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