Every time I see a “poverty and education” story I think of the famous line from the New Testament in which Jesus says, “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want.”
So, with education. Want a convenient scapegoat for our problems? Poverty. It’s there, it’s handy.
Want a convenient scapegoat for our problems? Poverty. It’s there, it’s handy.
I sat through an hour meeting of our small school district’s budget committee last week, most of it devoted to bemoaning our fate as a “poor district” (over 60 percent of our kids qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, the standard definition of “poor” for schools) in these recessionary times. State aid has been nearly flat and the Governor punched through a two percent local property tax cap. Woe is us. There goes sports. Not mentioned was the fact that we spend over $22,000 per student!
Diane Ravitch has been hitting the poverty gong for some time, most recently in Cleveland, where, she says, “the level of urban decay is alarming.” I was just in Cleveland and, while I can appreciate the sentiment, I fail to understand how she gets to the next sentence: “Yet its municipal leaders have decided that their chief problem is bad teachers.”
I visited a couple of successful Cleveland public schools during my visit—successful in educating poor children—and while principals in each of those schools said they could use more money, neither said that money—or their students’ lack of it—was their major challenge. Getting good
My friend Staley Keith was telling me about his childhood in North Carolina – “Jesse country,” he said, “and I don’t mean Jackson.” Staley meant the North Carolina of Jesse Helms, the outspoken segregationist*** who would serve five terms in the United States Senate. “Us black kids walked to our black school every morning and had to go by the white school. They shouted racial obscenities and threw rocks at us.” No fun, recalled Staley. But one morning he woke up to the news that North Carolina schools had to be integrated. And Staley recalls his first thought, “We gotta go to school with these m-----r f------rs.”
To a large extent, much of the story of American education over these last fifty years is a story of the failure to understand the complexity of our country’s relationship to race and the deep consequences of integration. As Jefferson said of slavery, "[W]e have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other."****
Unfortunately, on the ground, in classrooms all over the country, the interplay between justice and self-preservation has not had happy results for African Americans.
I once asked another friend of mine, an African American, who grew up in a small northern town, whether, given the choice, he would send his children to an all-black school that scored high on the state tests or to an integrated school with low test scores. And he said, “the integrated school.” He voted for
Last year I attempted to rank the top education stories of the year using Google (e.g. 2,200,672 results in 0.18 seconds versus 1,607,000 results in 0.12 seconds). It was fun, but it was bit too nuanced (algorithmically speaking) to work. (My top ten stories of the year, according to this measure, were: 1. Race to the Top, 2. Bullying, 3. Recession and public school, 4. Common Core Standards 5. New York Wins Race to the Top, 6. Parent Trigger, 7. Waiting for Superman, 8. Character Education, 9. PISA results 2010, 10. Arne Duncan.) So, this year, I simply Googled for “Education 2011” stories and found some good summaries of the year’s top education events—and Rick Hess’s predictions of next year’s important issues and trends. Without further ado:
This is a fascinating report from the National Center for Education Statistics that, says NCES, summarizes “important developments and trends in education using the latest available data. The report presents 50 indicators on the status and condition of education, in addition to a closer look at postsecondary education by institutional level and control. The indicators represent a consensus of professional judgment on the most significant national measures of the condition and progress of education for which accurate data are available.” Some of the important indicators, which you might call perennials, include:
Perhaps it’s in the air, like the flu bug. But I’ve noticed a rash of hacking statements of late, made by adults, that makes me wonder who among our edu-cators and -crats need a refresher course in critical thinking skills.
Here’s one from Michael Powell in the New York Times, rebutting Michael Bloomberg’s suggestion that we cut the number of teachers in half and pay the remaining ones twice the salary:
In fact, studies show class size makes a substantial difference in lower grades. Studies are more ambiguous about higher grades. Prof. Aaron M. Pallas of Teachers College at Columbia University says no academic study has explored the effects of doubling the size of a public school classroom.
Is that a string of non-sequitors or what? Powell goes on to tell stories about his sons and a friend who teaches in Brooklyn Technical High School. But the subject of “studies” that do and don’t show something — anything! — is dropped.
Here’s one from Tom Ash, legislative director for the Buckeye [Ohio] Association of School Administrators, speaking about international test results and what makes some countries more successful:
It’s not just the number of facts you can regurgitate, it’s whether you have developed the ability to learn.”
Why does vomiting facts suggest an inability to learn? What if we merely wrote the facts? Slowly spoke them? What is it about facts that so bothers educators?
Finally, from Bridging Differences blogger Diane Ravitch, apropos,
- Stretching the School Dollar
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- Ohio Gadfly Daily
- Board's Eye View
- Choice Words
About the Editor
Peter Meyer is an adjunct fellow with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Since 1991, Meyer has focused his attentions on education reform in the United States, an interest joined while writing a profile of education reformer E.D. Hirsch for Life. Meyer subsequently helped found a charter school, served on his local Board of Education (twice) and, for the last eight years, has been an editor at Education Next.
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