The Grey Lady Needs a Make-Over

What’s up with the New York Times? First Michael Winerip apparently has been assigned some sort of anti-ed reform beat, reduced to compiling lists of where people like President Obama and Bill Gates went to high school. Yesterday he checked in by misconstruing a series of emails between Eve Moskowitz, who runs the Success Academy charters in Harlem and the Bronx, and former NYC Chancellor Joel Klein into a case of the big bad charter operator of beating out a virtuous teacher for scant facilities space.

And today, new op-ed columnist Joe Nocera, in "The Limits of School Reform," comes out with this whopper:
Going back to the famous Coleman report in the 1960s, social scientists have contended — and unquestionably proved — that students’ socioeconomic backgrounds vastly outweigh what goes on in the school as factors in determining how much they learn. Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute lists dozens of reasons why this is so, from the more frequent illness and stress poor students suffer, to the fact that they don’t hear the large vocabularies that middle-class children hear at home.

Yet the reformers act as if a student’s home life is irrelevant. “There is no question that family engagement can matter,” said Klein when I spoke to him. “But they seem to be saying that poverty is destiny, so let’s go home. We don’t yet know how much education can overcome poverty,” he insisted — notwithstanding the voluminous studies that have been done on the subject. “To let us off the hook prematurely seems, to me, to play into the hands of the other side.”
Really? I don’t know of any advocate of the ed reform persuasion who claims “a student’s home life is irrelevant.” Of course it’s relevant; there’s no greater challenge to academic achievement. But there’s a difference between saying that “we won’t fix education until we fix poverty,” a self-defeating truism spouted often by luminaries like Diane Ravitch, and “we can do better than we’re doing now, even with poor kids.”