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The following appeared in an editorial from a newspaper serving the town of
ďThe Saluda Consolidated High School offers over 200 different courses from
which its students can choose. A much smaller private school down the street offers
a basic curriculum of only 80 different courses, but it consistently sends a higher
proportion of its graduating seniors on to college than Consolidated does. By
eliminating at least half of the courses offered there and focusing on a basic
curriculum, we could improve student performance at Consolidated and also save
many tax dollars.Ē
Discuss how well reasoned . . . etc.
In this editorial the author recommends that Saludaís Consolidated High School eliminate half of its 200 courses and focus primarily on
basic curriculum in order to improve student performance and save tax revenues. The authorís recommendation is problematic for
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To begin with, the author assumes that the only relevant difference between Consolidated and the private school is the number of
courses offered by each. However, other relevant differences between the schools might account for the difference in the proportion of
their graduates who go on to college. For example, the private schoolís students might be selected from a pool of gifted or exceptional
students, or might have to meet rigorous admission standards whereas Consolidatedís students might be drawn from the community at
large with little or no qualification for admission.
Next, the author assumes that the proportion of students who go on to college is an overall measure of student performance. While this
is a tempting assumption, its truth is by no means obvious. If student excellence is narrowly defined in terms of the studentís ability to
gain access to college, this assumption is somewhat reasonable. However, given a broader conception of student excellence that takes
into account studentís ability to learn and apply their knowledge to new situations, its is not obvious that college admission is reliable
indicator of performance. For example, students in non-academic disciplines could conceivably perform at high levels within these
disciplines but nevertheless be unable to meet college admission standards.
Finally, the author assumes that savings in tax revenues will result from the reduced costs of funding the paired-down curriculum. This is
not necessarily true. For example, it could turn out that both programs serve the same number of students and require the same
number of classrooms and teacher.
In conclusion, the author has not made a convincing case for the recommendation to eliminate courses at Consolidated and focus on a
basic curriculum. To strengthen the conclusion the author would have to provide evidence that Consolidated and the private school were
sufficiently similar to warrant the analogy between them. Moreover, the relationship between student performance and college admission
and the mechanism whereby savings in tax revenues would be accomplished would have to be clarified.