If the federal government, in this case represented by the NCLB, wants to improve the school system, it should work on taking kids out of poverty, instead of trashing the schools for failing to bring up all test scores.
Now that probably sounds like the words of some disgruntled teacher, right? Actually, the words are from a signed newspaper editorial. So it is going to be from the heart of an area dominated by liberal, right? Wrong again. The editorial was written by Ken Neal, Senior Editor of the Tulsa World and was entitled simply Blaming schools and I thank George Wood of the Forum for Education and Democracy for blogging about it recently and ask you to keep reading.
Neal puts in bluntly:
The avowed purpose of NCLB is to test, test, test students ostensibly to identify and correct their learning problems. But critics suspect that the real aim is to label the entire public school system a failure.
He is even able to catch Amy Wilkins of Education Trust speaking candidly, rightly calling her a spokesman for NCLB, Speakng on NPR she said:
"Our most affluent kids are getting their lunches eaten by kids in other countries. The system we have has not served our children well. There is no point pouring more federal money into very broken bottles."
Here I need to disclose that I have had my own encounters both with The Education Trust, which claims in its mission statement
The Education Trust works for the high academic achievement of all students at all levels, pre-kindergarten through college, and forever closing the achievement gaps that separate low-income students and students of color from other youth. Our basic tenet is this — All children will learn at high levels when they are taught to high levels.
and with MS Wilkins. In the case of EdTrust, its head Kati Haycock improperly characterized a monograph of which I was co-author in a piece she wrote, although she did apologize to me when I complained. I encountered Wilkins, who is a VP of Ed Trust and apparently was one of those responsible for drafting the original proposal for NCLB, at a hearing on education sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus. In response to a comment I made to the panel on which she appeared, she strongly objected to the use of multiple measures and seemed almost as hostile to the idea of using growth measures, claiming that it was a means of lowering standards for minority children, when in fact my concerns about growth models was that the most likely way of applying them would treat poor children, largely minority, unfairly.
Having given the foregoing disclosure, let me return to the editorial. Neal turns to Gerald Bracey to get an appropriate response to the remarks by Wilkins. Bracey
produced statistics showing that schools with less than 10 percent of their students in poverty, outscored students in all the industrialized nations in reading and science and were third in math.
In schools with 25 percent of their students in poverty the U.S. led the other nations in reading and science.
So it appears that "our most affluent kids" are not getting "their lunches eaten" but instead are eating a few foreign lunches.
Neal, quoting from an important international study, points out that
he U.S. has 12 million children living in poverty. That’s one in five children living in poverty in the richest nation in the world.
. Reread that last sentence, and remember that we have both the world's highest per capita income and the highest rate of childhood poverty. Then you are ready for the bluntness that Neal ofers next:
When poverty is factored out of U.S. public school performance, U.S. schools rank No. 1 in the world. Since the U.S. has the highest childhood poverty among the competing nations, what does that say about the schools? About the nation?
It says that poverty is the biggest problem of the schools and that poverty, not schools, is the biggest problem in the U.S.
In other words, were we to address the issues of poverty, most of the problems of school performance would disappear. This of course is not new to those who have paid attention to education over the past 4 decades. The original intent of Title I programs was to attempt to ameliorate the effects of poverty on school children. But that is after the fact treatment, and as we well know in medical matters, it is usually far more effective to prevent the disease in the first place, something seen in our insistance upon inoculations as a condition for attending public schools. Of course, our approach to medicine is in general is not much different that what we do with education: didn't our president recently say that no one was being denied medical care because they could always go to the emergency room?
Since I began this posting with words from Neal, let me end in a similar fashion, using the words with which he ends:
NCLB is but the latest of endless schemes to improve the public schools in the mistaken belief that if only teachers, principals and administrators would do a better job the product, our children, would improve.
The figures on test scores and poverty should give us clear direction on how to "improve the schools." It’s simple. Take the kids out of poverty.
Easier said than done, of course. But until we deal with high poverty rates and hungry children, most of the other solutions for schools will continue to fail.