Shifting Blame for Economic Woes Away From Third Grade Teachers

The ongoing churn of test-based education reform that has stripped many low-income schools of arts education, recess, and even science  is persistently justified as essential to economic recovery.  As we educate children to higher standards, the argument goes, we’ll be better able to “compete” with workers from other nations.  High skilled jobs will be created and filled, and the economy will again be able to support families.    Just a few examples of this reasoning from both liberal and conservative voices can be found here, here, here, and here.

It’s become a taken-for-granted mantra: Until we raise educational standards  — even as state after state cuts education budgets –the economy cannot recover.

And thus, it is a breath of fresh air when a (relatively) apolitical group like Standard and Poor’s acknowledges that we cannot test our way into economic prosperity, and that growing levels of income inequality in and of itself slows economic growth,  in part because of declining investments in education.

It would seem possible for poor children to play at recess, draw and paint, learn science, and be prepared for robust citizenship and their place an ever shifting workforce in schools with enough resources, smaller classes, the support staff taking for granted in wealthier communities, and communities in which at least safe housing and health care are available to all.

Now, ed reformers are hell-bent on holding teachers “accountable” for educating us out of economic malaise.

Might we hope that  reports like might begin to shift the conversation?

A New York Times essay on the Standard and Poor’s report is here.


Changing the Subject in Considering Poverty and Education

In the ongoing arguments between those who argue that the high rates of childhood poverty in the U.S. explains much of the disparity in comparisons of international achievement test scores (particularly when so many other developed nations have much lower rates of childhood poverty)and those who believe that we simply have worse schools and teachers comes this round:

Researchers from Harvard recently released the “Not Just the Problems of Other People’s  Children” study in which they claim to present data showing that all children, not just those from low-income and “minority” households, lag behind students in other countries.

Yet as David Berliner points out in his detailed response, the Harvard researchers use parental education, not income in their data.  And as Berliner points out, many parents with college degrees are now working relatively low wage jobs and living in neighborhoods with lower-resourced schools.  Changing the analysis from income to education level is simply changing the subject.

I give the “win” on this round to Berliner.

In the Cupboard, In Plain View

A few weeks ago, the New York Times published their often-blogged article on the growing achievement gaps between rich and poor  children.  In contrast to otherwise careful analysis, the article ended with the unfortunate and widely criticized quote:

The problem is a puzzle, he [Douglas J. Besharov, a fellow at the Atlantic Council] said. “No one has the slightest idea what will work. The cupboard is bare.”

Among those begging to differ are the scholars at the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College who recently released five white papers around the theme “Achievable and Affordable: Providing Comprehensive Educational Opportunity to Low-Income Students”.

Poor kids and their families are neither exotic nor inscrutable, and until we’ve begun to provide at least the minimal levels of support taken for granted in other Western countries, it’s intellectually and morally dishonest to pretend that their marginalization in US public schooling is a mystery beyond solution.

Parsing the Achievement Gap

Teachers Leaving By the End of the Year

My students commonly  insist that family support and family values are major determinants of success in school.  I can’t really argue with that.  We might hope that all kids go home to families who encourage them to  learn and to dream big.

Yet I ask them what would happen if, somehow, we did attain this. If all parents checked homework every day and left college brochures on their children’s  pillows, would children then experience equal outcomes in school?  A new report released by ETS, Parsing the Achievement GapII (pdf attached below) documents that relative to middle-class children and white children, low-income and minority children:

  • are less likely to be taught by certified teachers
  • are more likely to attend schools with high teacher absenteeism and teacher turn-over
  • learn in bigger classes
  • report issues of fear and safety in school
  • be taught by inexperienced teachers

Data is also reported on low birth rates, access to the internet, exposure to mercury and lead, and hunger.  Low-income and minority kids are at the losing end on all counts.

If learning is highly correlated with values, it would seem that we might do well to  value these children enough to invest in equitable childhoods.  Perhaps we could divert at least some of the energy that we collectively invest in fretting over undone homework worksheets to these bigger questions of basic  health and basic educational quality.

Next year, my students will be reading his report.

Parsing the Achievement Gap (pdf)