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School Improvement Grants Were Destined to Fail

It comes as no surprise that the School Improvement Grants totaling billions of dollars haven't done anything significant to help the nation's 5,000 lowest-performing schools ("The School Improvement Grants that didn't improve schools," Los Angeles Times, Jan. 27).  That's because the program focused exclusively on what takes place in school.

The trouble is that so much of any school's success is directly dependent on what takes place outside its control.  I haven't seen the list of the schools involved, but I'll bet every one of them is located in the inner cities or rural areas of the country where poverty is endemic.  Students from there bring huge deficits in socializatioin, motivation and intellectual development to school through no fault of their own.  That's not an excuse; it's an explanation.  Critics will be quick to point out the success of some charter and religious schools in educating these students.  But they remain aberrations. 

I believe that all children are educable.  The challenge is to intervene early in their lives to help them become all they can be. But at the same time, it's time to get real about what even the best teachers can accomplish.  Dedication and professionalism are not enough to compensate for out-of-school factors.  I wonder what the 419-page report by the U.S. Department of Education would have concluded if the billions of dollars were spent in the students' homes and neighborhoods.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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