Thank you David Sirota!
The nationally syndicated newspaper columnist has a piece on Salon — New data shows school “reformers” are full of it.
In the great American debate over education, the education and technology corporations, bankrolled politicians and activist-profiteers who collectively comprise the so-called “reform” movement base their arguments on one central premise: that America should expect public schools to produce world-class academic achievement regardless of the negative forces bearing down on a school’s particular students. In recent days, though, the faults in that premise are being exposed by unavoidable reality.
Sirota knows that this isn’t new information…I’ve read his work. Back in 2011 he wrote about poverty and education…
When a person with a horrific wound or longstanding illness shows up to a hospital emergency room, we don’t typically fault the ER doctors for failing to instantly cure the patient. Yet, those who see schools as social emergency rooms somehow expect teachers to be able to immediately cure children of all the wounds and ailments visited upon them by an economically ailing society. This NBER study shows that such an expectation is unrealistic, unfair and — in terms of policy-making — dangerous.
We’ve actually known this for a couple of years…or earlier…
The late Jerry Bracey wrote in 2007, in Parents, Poverty and Achieving in School
When people have said “poverty is no excuse,” my response has been, “Yes, you’re right. Poverty is not an excuse. It’s a condition. It’s like gravity. Gravity affects everything you do on the planet. So does poverty.”
Ok, so that’s 6 years ago…before that?
In 2006 we read this from the US DOE, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)…
“The relationship between SES [socioeconomic status] and achievement was consistent across all 20 countries. Students with highest levels of SES, as measured in this study, had an educational advantage over their lowest SES counterparts. This reinforces the associations previously documented in the literature both in the United States and abroad between SES and student educational achievement.”
I could keep going of course…since we’ve known for decades that economic factors have a negative impact on achievement. Anyone who has read the works of Jonathan Kozol — starting with Death at an Early Age in 1967 — has been able to follow the relationship between economics (and racism) and achievement.
In 2006 I wrote on these pages about Kozol’s then newest book, The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America.
The first appendix shows the per pupil spending in public schools in six metro areas. As you would expect, the spending for rich, white kids is 30-100% more than for poor black kids. This is important information if for no other reason than to answer the people who say “You can’t fix schools by throwing money at them.” Hey…it works for the rich, white kids.
“Reformers” apparently prefer that we blame the schools…and teachers…and teachers unions…calling for more accountability in teaching and learning. I have yet to hear any teacher or teachers union official suggest that teachers and schools don’t need to be held accountable for the education of children, but accountability is a two-way street. Holding teachers and schools accountable means that they must have the supplies, the staff, and the facilities to do what they are called upon to do.
In Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success (2009) David C. Berliner lists out-of-school factors which contribute to low achievement.
Because America’s schools are so highly segregated by income, race, and ethnicity, problems related to poverty occur simultaneously, with greater frequency, and act cumulatively in schools serving disadvantaged communities. These schools therefore face significantly greater challenges than schools serving wealthier children, and their limited resources are often overwhelmed. Efforts to improve educational outcomes in these schools, attempting to drive change through test-based accountability, are thus unlikely to succeed unless accompanied by policies to address the OSFs that negatively affect large numbers of our nations’ students. Poverty limits student potential; inputs to schools affect outputs from them.
Therefore, it is recommended that efforts be made to:
- Reduce the rate of low birth weight children among African Americans,
- Reduce drug and alcohol abuse,
- Reduce pollutants in our cites and move people away from toxic sites,
- Provide universal and free medical care for all citizens,
- Insure that no one suffers from food insecurity,
- Reduce the rates of family violence in low-income households,
- Improve mental health services among the poor,
- More equitably distribute low-income housing throughout communities,
- Reduce both the mobility and absenteeism rates of children,
- Provide high-quality preschools for all children, and
- Provide summer programs for the poor to reduce summer losses in their academic achievement.
Have “reformers” called for accountability from professionals in other areas or from politicians and policy makers? Where is the demand for accountability in medical care or law enforcement? Where is the accountability from politicians and policy makers for providing funds for preschools, mental health services, medical care, insurance coverage, and summer programs?
The point is, of course, that the link between achievement and poverty is not in doubt. We know better. The “new data” linking lower achievement with poverty just supports the “old data” linking lower achievement with poverty. Let’s hope Sirota’s message reaches people like Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee and Arne Duncan…apparently they haven’t heard yet.
You might also be interested in the following:
- Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success by David C. Berliner, March 2009
- Education and Poverty: Confronting the Evidence by Helen F. Ladd, November 2011.
- Stephen Krashen could eat Arne Duncan for breakfast (Video has been removed, but excerpts are included), June 2011
- The problem is poverty: Evidence from Gerald Bracey, Gerald Bracey and Stephen Krashen, October 2010