Why the US Education System Is So Fascinating

December 30, 2010

I first heard the American term
"achievement gap" after moving to San Francisco from Latvia in 1994 and
watching my sister, Sabina Hentz, navigate the city's baffling public
school system on behalf of her 9-year-old son. "I have absolutely no
clue how to figure out which schools are good and which ones are bad,"
she ranted to me on the drive home from the airport. This was a novel
problem to have, since in Latvia it didn't really matter where you
lived—all schools in Soviet-era Latvia received roughly the same funding
and performed about the same. They even looked alike—most Latvian
schools were built from the same Moscow-approved blueprint during the
Soviet era, and I can still walk into almost any high school and tell
you exactly where the cafeteria, bathrooms, and gym lockers will be. I
have distinct memories of watching a female TV anchor broadcast math
exam problems nationwide in 1987, while I and thousands of other kids in
navy uniforms solved for the 'X' at the same time.