Incomplete: How Middle Class Schools Aren???t Making the Grade
This report from Third Way, a self-proclaimed “moderate” policy think tank, has garnered much attention this week, following its Wall Street Journal profile on Monday. But should it have? By linking NAEP data to schools’ percentages of students on free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL), the report comes to three conclusions: most American students attend middle-class schools; middle-class schools spend less per student and have a greater student-teacher ratio than wealthy and lower-income schools; and middle-class schools are underperforming. Thing is, the report doesn’t actually look at middle-class schools; but, rather, at those that are economically diverse: The definition used here for “middle class” is a school with between 26 and 75 percent of its students on FRPL. The analysts don’t have a clue how many students actually belong to the “middle class.” (All we can learn from school-level data is the percentage of poor (and non-poor) kids, as defined by FRPL eligibility.) Further, the report’s focus on “low” school spending ($10,350 per pupil) and “high” student-teacher ratio (17.5:1) as ailments of our middle-class schools is also problematic, as it implies a need to bump school spending and drop class sizes in these schools—reforms that have already been tried and found wanting. A rigorous report examining the efficacy of middle-class schools is surely in order (if someone could figure out a way to access family income data for individual students); this piece from Third Way is not it.
|Click to listen to commentary on Third Way's report from the Education Gadfly Show podcast.
Tess Stovall and Deirdre Dolan, “Incomplete: How Middle Class Schools Aren’t Making the Grade,” (Washington, D.C.: The Third Way, September 2011).
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