Education Inequality: Can We Agree on A Workable S
> 11/27/2006 10:51:43 AM

The overlapping issues of racial and economic gaps in performance, the emergence of private charter schools, and the relative success of the No Child Left Behind Act (all subjects frequently addressed on TOL Education) come together in an extensive report in the latest New York Times Magazine.

There is no question that the success of NCLB and related efforts to bring underperforming students up to national standards will require a significantly larger committment from all corners of government and education - the only variables are the size of the investment and the best way to implement it.. When the act was first approved, its promise was to effectively equalize the education levels of poor and minority students by 2014. Today, what first sounded like a hopeful ideology is looking more and more like a pipe dream. Nationwide statistics clearly show that test scores in the vast majority of schools have not improved - and those that have are not advancing nearly fast enough to reach the plan's stated goals. That's not to entirely dismiss the potential for growth. Certain isolated statistics,  like fourth grade math scores, have shown tepid gains, and select schools registered almost miraculous improvements in performance over the last five years. But larger success almost certainly requires a large-scale overhaul effort unafraid to alter the very well-established roots of our public school system. The problem is, essentially, of our own making, and a continuation of current policy will certainly fail, no matter how much money makes its way into the system.

Some of the most interesting formal research on the subject focuses on the home environment, where true disparities begin. Child psychologists from the University of Kansas released a 1995 report focusing strictly on language usage in the home. They found that, the more economically privledged the family under study, the more words parents used in conversation with their children. Moving from the low end to the high end of the economic spectrum, this total more than doubled. The obvious implication is that kids exposed to a wider variety of words will have better developed language and communication skills which will then allow them to absorb information more quickly and efficiently. Another of this study's revelations was the fact that middle class and wealthy parents were far more likely to use encouraging words with their children. One can very easily deduce that encouraging children to learn by using positive language and rewarding them for good behavior will ultimately leave them much better prepared for the social and intellectual challenges constituting every school day, and the IQ scores recorded in this study correlated very closely with the level of language used by parents to address and converse with their children.

Money alone does not make a successful child, and parents who are more actively sensitive to the needs of their kids tend to raise more capable students. Famed anthropologist Annette Lareau performed her own series of related studies in the 1990's, finding that, when adults treat their children as equals and assume a larger role in determining their schedules, the kids are better adjusted and ultimately more successful. Of coures, demanding schedules allow for much less oversight on the part of working parents. So will reducing poverty result in higher scores among public school students? Some schools appear to be making significant progress, but think tanks and advocacy groups like the Education Trust sometimes overemphasize isolated statistics that make improvements seem greater than they actually are.

As a response to these issues, many alternative charter schools have opened over the last few years. Though their overall results are decidely mixed, with some actually reporting collective scores that are lower than the national average, a number have been very successful, and their formulas are relatively simple: devote greater amounts of time to instruction as well as help outside of class. Kids who are behind simply need more attention and committment in order to catch up. This approach will inevitably require more money and more devoted faculty members, but it appears to be one of the only working solutions. These schools often test more frequently to better determine which approaches are working, and they also  tend to emphasize behavior on a larger scale than most public schools. If these children are not learning respect and proper manners at home, they reason, then school should serve as a training lab.

The counrty's most widely acknowledged charter school family is KIPP, or the Knowledge Is Power Program, a coalition founded by two public school teachers from Houston which has expanded to include several locations in Texas and the New York City area. Enrollment in their schools is almost exclusively made up of minority students. Working from the simple mottos of "Work Hard" and "Be Nice," these schools require their students to spend 60% more time in class, and the rewards of their approach are considerable: the test scores of KIPP students in the Bronx, for instance, easily dwarf the area's collective averages. Still, when such schools are optional, most parents choose not make the initial efforts required for their children to attend.

Of course, even if the KIPP schools continue to display signs of increased progress, their model will make its way around the country very slowly if at all. Right now, they serve to confirm the belief that any large-scale reformation of our school system will require considerably greater amounts of money and manpower.  The teachers at low-income schools should be just as qualified as those at more privledged schools, and they must receive significant incentives to work in more challenging environments. Voluntary charter schools remain a fringe element of American Education, but those that have achieved in their individual missions can hopefully be models for forward movement in schools across the country. Nearly everyone even peripherally involved in education acknowledges that our current approach is insufficient, and lowering standards in order to meet NCLB requirements, as many school districts have, is not going to work. Poor minority students simply need more time and attention in order to perform at acceptable levels. Until we find some level of agreement on how to bring these changes about, underperformance will continue to be the norm. In order to meet the American promise of equal opportunity, we must address these problems as quickly and responsibly as possible and prepare for the inevitable sacrifices required.


The way to equalize funding is to equalize funding. While this sounds like a tautology, the fact is that ficticious contructs like Districts, Regional Districts, Superintendents and the scads of un-necessary payroll padding do not educate one child.Give every child an equal, fully funded ($6-8000) scholarship funded 100% by the state, not the "district."This gets rid of fake "local control" and replaces it with 100% local control (the family).Convert every public school to a 501(c)3 independent charter, and allow the scholarship to be applied to any school.Every other 'reform' is merely a distration. It is time to have education serve kids and families, and not a protected, bloated, and generally corrupt education industry.
Posted by: Bruno 11/30/2006 12:10:09 PM

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