The Low Expectations of Depriving Poor Kids of Science and History

I’ve been exchanging posts over on  a friend’s Facebook about a new initiative launched in Minneapolis to close achievement gaps.  The program, Reset Education, is based on five “proven” strategies for ensuring that all kids achieve in school.  My friend (and her friends) speak of institutional racism and deep need to do “something” to close gaps between low income and kids of color and their peers.  They’re very committed to equity and justice.

Of course.   Yes.  Agreed.

But why is the particular model of Reset so appealing?

Reset is generating public support for five “proven” strategies for closing achievement gaps:

  • Real time use of data 
  • Expectations not excuses (teachers talking about the lack of food, health care, housing, or preschool education are just making “excuses” and don’t believe that poor kids can learn)
  • Strong leadership
  • Effective Teaching (and they cite the debunked extrapolation of “value added” data that a string of effective teachers adds a year’s growth for children).
  • Time on Task (longer school days and years)

The heavy focus on data and the language of “no excuses” comes straight from Teach for America.  In twenty years of putting thousands of unprepared privileged young teachers into classrooms (what?  Yale and Harvard grads are inherently not racist ?) they’ve yet to come close to being able to claim knowing anything about closing achievement gaps.

Which brings us to Solution #2:  Charter Schools, and Reset Education features two super stars as what will work elsewhere if only teachers have higher expectations and submit to stronger leadership.   One school lists $1.3 million in grants and contributions in one year.  If I’m reading their budget right (and it takes 4 clicks to find it), they’re then funded about 25% higher than local public schools.  The other relies on the standard  Super Star Charter school formula: deeply narrowed curriculum,  underpaid teachers working unsustainable hours, drill based instruction.      And they’re proud of it.  

So to be honest, the “Five Strategies that Work” are actually:

  • Reliance on private, unidentified funders to provide resources above and beyond what is available to other kids in public schools.
  • Teaching strategies for test prep heavily dependent on scripted skill drills but devoid of critical thinking.
  • Curriculum narrowed to reading and math, so that low-income and kids of color will be shut out of high-pay STEM careers in spite of their test scores on these narrow tests in elementary school.  No college is looking for kids whose main strength is doing well on standardized tests.  No “information age” career is open to workers who know little of the world beyond their own neighborhoods.
  • Teachers working 60-70 hours a week for $40,000 a year.  You know, like those exploited workers in call centers in India.
  • Depriving low-income children of any education in history, civics, political empowerment, the arts (“writing funny stories for a break” does not count), or the circumstances of their impoverished communities.

But you’ll find none of that on the Reset Education Website or their lovely promotional video.

Yes, we have to do something.  But while national and local policy makers and wealthy funders are beguiled by the idea that  we can solve racism and classism by testing kids into an equitable future (the classic strategy of believing that if we get school right, deep social problems will solve themselves in the next generation, leaving this generation off the hook), it’s very hard to even get other “somethings” on the table.

And it’s very hard to keep more systemic solutions to the disgraceful high rates of child poverty in the conversation.


7 thoughts on “The Low Expectations of Depriving Poor Kids of Science and History

    • momsomniac March 6, 2013 / 1:16 pm

      I was in punlic school to see the transition from no standardized testing to standardized testing, and frankly, I don’t think it is measuring “the problem”, I think it created it.

      • janevangalen March 6, 2013 / 1:45 pm

        It certainly isn’t solving it– without creating others. We have a terrible time now finding classrooms where teacher interns can learn about teaching science. It’s just not happening in most schools, except for a few weeks in spring after the state tests. Yet we hear so much about how vital strong science learning is for being competitive in the workplace (to say nothing about being able to sort through all the public debates around the environment). A so few kids are even getting basic social studies.


  1. Steven Capps March 6, 2013 / 12:35 pm

    It seems that the focus of school work in most public schools is that on memory recollection. I think that this is a part of measuring the intellectual growth of a student but not an accurate representation of their overall growth. I think it could more accurately represent the growth of students if they were evaluated from tasks that required different forms of critical thinking rather than scripted drills that the students need to memorize.

    • janevangalen March 6, 2013 / 1:02 pm

      Steven, yes too much of school work, especially around test prep, can be rote learning. There are great exceptions, but the pressures to prepare kids for particular kinds of assessments are real. But it can seem as if we’re missing the forest for the trees. Yes, it is not rocket science to get 4th graders to pass these assessments. You just focus on only that, including a lot of time on practice testing so that kids learn the format in which they’ll be expected to answer questions.

      But those things can have very little to do with the skills that they’ll actually need to be good citizens, creative employers, and politically empowered. ________________________________________

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