Tuesday, April 26, 2011

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.”

1 comment:

A. Gad Fly said...

OK, cast this as a dichotomy if you like... Opponents of some of the proposals that have emerged from the overheated political atmosphere don't claim that ed reformers are unaware of the externalities you list. Nor do they oppose improvement in schools. They are simply trying to slow down a train that is in danger of running off the rails.

There is a frenzied scramble to focus our limited resources on pressuring teachers and their unions to whip the educational system into shape - even sometimes while acknowledging and pooh-poohing the most serious problems as you are doing now. I would turn this around and claim that the real problems are truly being neglected, and the disproportionate focus on education reform is part of the problem. It wastes precious attention and resources.

It's all connected. So who is really assuring defeat?

The point is that some factors are a LOT BIGGER than others. That's all.