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Big Props for a "Broader, Bolder Approach to Education"

The potential effectiveness of NCLB has been seriously undermined, however, by its acceptance of the popular assumptions that bad schools are the major reason for low achievement, and that an academic program revolving around standards, testing, teacher training, and accountability can, in and of itself, offset the full impact of low socioeconomic status on achievement.
-The Broader, Bolder Approach to Education Task Force Report

This morning, more than 60 heavy hitters kicked off a campaign calling for a "broader, bolder approach to education policy." (You may have already seen the print ads in the Washington Post and NY Times.) Co-chaired by Sunny Ladd, a Duke University economist, Pedro Noguera, a sociologist at NYU, and Tom Payzant, the former Boston schools superintendent and U.S. assistant secretary of education, the task force calls for a more expansive view of education policy that views schools as one component of a comprehensive youth development strategy. Here are their four recommendations:

1. Continued school improvement efforts. To close achievement gaps, we need smaller classes in early grades for disadvantaged children; to attract high-quality teachers in hard-to-staff schools; improve teacher and school leadership training; make college preparatory curriculum accessible to all; and pay special attention to recent immigrants.

2. Developmentally appropriate and high-quality early childhood, pre-school and kindergarten care and education. These programs must not only help low-income children students academically, but provide support in developing appropriate social, economic and behavioral skills.

3. Routine pediatric, dental, hearing and vision care for all infants, toddlers and schoolchildren. In particular, full-service school clinics can fill the health gaps created by the absence of primary care physicians in low-income areas, and poor parents’ inability to miss work for children’s routine health services.

4. Improving the quality of students’ out-of-school time. Low-income students learn rapidly in school, but often lose ground after school and during summers. Policymakers should increase investments in areas such as longer school days, after-school and summer programs, and school-to-work programs with demonstrated track records.

eduwonk suggests that the acknowledgment that schools can't do it alone is just another tired opinion, "The explicit rejection that perhaps schools are even a substantial part of the educational problem is unsettling." Recall that many of these signers have spent years studying school effects - the effect of going to one school versus another, all else equal - on test scores. This is a conclusion derived from years of confronting that distribution of school effects over and over again.

Particularly notable in this regard is the leadership of Sunny Ladd, who spent the last 10 years investigating the effects of accountability on North Carolina schools. She's an economist - hardly someone against the use of incentives - but she's seen the meager effects of accountability alone on the reduction of achievement gaps. And many early supporters of NCLB-style arrangements are represented here as well - Susan Neuman, Bob Schwartz (the President of Achieve from 1997-02), and Milt Goldberg (of the A Nation at Risk commission).

No one is saying that schools aren't important. No one is saying that we should abandon efforts to improve schools. And no one is saying that we should "let schools off the hook." What they are saying is that the effects of schools are not large enough to wipe out the gaps that are created by students' out-of-school environments.

You can - and I hope you will - become a co-signer on the statement here.

I am generally cautious about signing petitions and statements. I read the statement carefully, over and over, thought about it, took a deep breath, and co-signed.

This initiative is crucial. Of course it must include improvements of our education system, curriculum, and schools. Of course it must be implemented well in order to work. Of course schools must not use it as a way of evading responsibility. Rather, responsibility makes more sense when we actually have the means to fulfill it.

My one concern is that the statement is open to so many interpretations. No one could argue with "improving the quality of students' out-of-school time," but does that mean more SES programs like Kaplan? Does it mean extracurricular activites? Do the kids with high test scores get more choices than the others? I am sure the authors and signers have given much thought to this question and that there will be more discussion.

I look foward to following the development of this initiative and participating in discussion when appropriate.

Finally, a glimpse at sanity. A group of people actually dared to suggest that even the best teacher in the most productive school could not succeed with a child who must spend the other 16 hours of the day in a below proficient environment – the teenage alcoholic who does not sober up until 3rd period, if at all; the 15 year-old girl who is worried she may be pregnant and the other one who knows she is; the sixth grader who is spending class thinking only about the drug dealers who will be looking for him the minute he turns the corner on the long walk home; the third grader who is happy just to be somewhere where an adult is not going to punch him, but can't stop thinking about the one who will; the child whose parents don't check her homework because they can't check her homework; the child who lives in a house with no books because when you move three times a year you don't travel with four bookcases and the family library.

Yes, Maggie, all of these children can learn, but none of them will today. And you, your private-school friends on the right and your limousine liberal friends on the left, can continue to call us bigots for saying so. But the statement put forth here proves that a growing number of people are willing to be accused of "soft bigotry" if they no longer have to pretend that somehow 8 hours of school 5 days a week can cure the problems these children face. We are tired of politely smiling while you parrot platitudes even your colleagues don’t quite understand.

In the meantime, we have to endure another round of posturing by a group of people (Klein et. al) who ask us to believe the most ridiculous things. If they were handed the Gates money for healthcare, I suppose they would tell us that the cure for Malaria is merit pay for nurses and parental choice of hospital. Let's just hope they hire a good bookkeeper to keep track of the expenses on the grant. Word on the street is they don't teach data entry at Princeton.

Schools alone, even with the best teachers, will not be able to raise every student to what we all recognize is a very low academic standard. That is unfortunate, but true. The school may or may not be broken, but the world in which these children live is broken. Their world begins with the first crack on the sidewalk fifty feet from the school. By the time the child gets home, he or she is fully immersed in a shattered world – from a broken sink to a broken marriage, from a broken arm to a broken heart to a broken child. Perhaps we don’t want to try to fix that, or maybe we can’t, but we can’t continue to pretend it isn’t true and doesn’t affect what happens in the classroom.

In "The Silent Epidemic," the Gates Foundation reported that 1 in 4 dropouts left school pregnant or to raise a child. Unless someone can explain how those girls became pregnant due to the teachers' unions, lack of school choice /vouchers, or any of the other favorite targets of the Klein et. al. crowd, we might want to start to work on a more reality-based plan for educating our children.

If that sounds too much like the 1970s for you and you think I am trying to hold on to a set of values from the past, well... just call me an old-fashioned conservative.

thanks for the feedback. We knew we were losing some information on the new sites, but we felt the benefits of these blogs.... The information on this blog is really very usefull...

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Recent Comments

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