from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Rothstein (NOT Rove!) on educational equity 

What children achieve academically is the product not only of what they learn in school, but of a wide variety of factors, including home and neighborhood influences, and social and economic conditions. My book attempts to help explain the concrete ways in which these influences affect learning.

In yesterday’s posting, The Campaign for Educational Equity, I mentioned that I would be posting this morning about Richard Rothstein. He is based at the Economic Policy Institute, is a visiting lecturer at Teachers College, and spent four years as national education columnist for the New York Times. He now writes for The American Prospect

The quote above is from the current issues The Evaluation Exchange, is a publication of the Harvard Family Research Project, from a piece entitled A conversation with Richard Rothstein.

Rothstein is discussing how closing the achievement gap cannot be addressed only by school reform, an argument which is the subject of his new book, Class and Schools, in response to the basis for his argument.

Here is some more of that first response:

One of the most important ways in which social-class differences affect how children learn, for example, is parenting style. Much research has demonstrated that parents from different social classes have different conversational styles, ways of relating, and intellectual engagement with children. . . . toddlers whose parents had professional occupations heard an average of 2,000 words per hour, while children with working-class parents heard an average of 1,300 words; and children with parents on welfare heard an average of 600 words. These differences are meaningful because the extent to which parents converse with and in the presence of their children impacts children's vocabularies and literacy levels.

When asked what he considered essential for closing the achievement gap, Rothstein’s response began with preschool:

Our priority should be providing high quality early childhood programs for children of all social classes. Preschool for all 4-year-olds is a start, but not sufficient, because gaps show up by age 3. Children's cognitive abilities begin to differentiate early in life, based in part on the amount of intellectual stimulation they receive in the home and in child care.

His second priority is health, responding that even though we know there is a health difference between classes, we often do not fully recognize the impact this has on academic achievement. He first discusses vision:
Low-income children come to school with twice the rate of vision problems as middle-class children—many children can't read simply because they can't see.

He then mentions poor children have three times as many untreated dental cavities as middle class children, noting

children who are in discomfort—whether from a toothache or for some other reason—are going to pay attention less well, on average, than children who are not in discomfort. Children will not learn if they are absent or distracted by health problems.

These are real issues that few schools or school systems have attempted to address. But his next point is one that most people do not realize: that minority children actually learn MORE in school than do middle class children. This section is worth an extensive selection, about which I will then comment:

Our only reliable national test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, shows Black students' reading scores rising more from fourth to eighth grade than Whites' scores. The big achievement gap is due partly to disadvantaged children starting out in school already far behind. Also, they get less educational support in summers and after school.

This observation has been confirmed by tests given to children in the spring and again the following autumn. These tests show that during summer, disadvantaged children's scores fall, while middle-class children forget less of what they have learned. This differential “summer setback” occurs partly because middle-class children's learning is reinforced in the summer months—they read more, travel, and learn new social and emotional skills in camp and organized athletics. It is reasonable to think that differences in out-of-school opportunities also exacerbate the achievement gap.

So another effective approach to narrowing the achievement gap would be to offer after school and summer programs that provide academic support as well as cultural, athletic, and organizational experiences for disadvantaged children. Only about one in five low-income children presently participate in after school programs.

The summer problem is symptomatic of the larger problem of educational reinforcement that is not available to children from lower Socio-Economic Status than it is to children who are at least middle class. Rothstein has already discussed the class differences in conversational style and educational engagement. The summer problem is especially acute. ONe problem with our current testing mechanism is that in most states it is a test at the end of the school year. This understates how much minority children (for there is unfortunately still a strong correlation between race and SES in this country) learn during the school year, and gives too much credit to the school for the achievement of the children of families that are middle class and above. Even assuming that our current approach to testing measured the learning of individual students (which by and large it does not, it is comparisons of different cohorts at the same point in their schooling), that would not accurately measure the effect of schooling upon the learning of the children. What we really need is to measure what the students know about a domain at the start of the school year then again at the end of that school year. Please note, I am not arguing for more tests, merely noting that this different approach would give a more accurate measure on which to base educational policy decisions.

The evidence for the summer loss of learning for lower SES / minority is incontrovertible. I read one of the seminal studies when it was in pre-release form, and as much as I thought I knew about the issues that effect the learning of students, I was stunned. This is NOT an issue about which even most policy makers are knowledgeable, which means the decision that are being made are done with incomplete information, and hence DO NOT address some of the most important factors influencing children’s learning. The implications of this are that one of the most cost-effective ways of closing the learning gap would be to increase participation for lower SES students in summer programs that enrich academics. And yet there is in many cases limited availability of such opportunities. The District in which I teach offers an extensive summer school program -- for students who have failed a course and need to retake it in order to move on!! We have one or two enrichment courses for those students who are already doing well that accelerates their learning, thus exacerbating the achievement gap: -- in a district that is of 70% African American and only about 15% White, the repeat classes have very few white students and the accelerated classes have very few minority students

Rothstein is not making an argument that educators should not try harder, but he is pointing out that such effort will be insufficient: school can only be part of the solution. As he notes:

Currently, our national education policy expects something we cannot possibly achieve if schools alone are seen as responsible for student achievement. Our national goal is that all social-class differences in education outcomes will disappear by the year 2014. However, when 2014 arrives and gaps have not disappeared, we will judge that schools have failed. Policies will follow from that judgment. But most of these policies will not work, because we will have made an incorrect diagnosis of the problem and therefore formulated an incorrect or incomplete treatment as a solution.

I want readers to reflect for a moment about the foregoing paragraph. NCLB requires all students to be proficient in reading, math, and science (for which the tests are not yet required) by 2014, in grades 3-8. The current issue is whether they are making enough Annual Yearly Progress. Let my simplify (and slightly distort) how this works: if in 2004 60% of my students were “proficient” I will have ten years to gain an additional 60%, Or I must improve by 6% per year, or the school does not meet AYP goals, Several consecutive years of not meeting such goals and the school will suffer some economic consequences. beside the fact that you are comparing one cohort to another (last year’s kids to this year’s), that is only one issue. Each disaggregated group (by race, special education kids as a group, conceivably English language learners) must be showing AYP or the school as a whole is not: if one group in one grade does not make AYP, the entire school does not. Given the consequences, states are already playing games that hide the failure to meaningfully close the achievement gap, a closure which was one of the principle justifications for Democrats like George Miller and Ted Kennedy to support this atrocity in the first place. The closer we get to 2014 the higher the percentage of schools not meeting AYP - this is NOT Lake Wobegon where all of the children will always be above average.

Rothstein does not directly address this aspect of NCLB. He points out our current national policy, and helps us understand why it is insufficient to address the issue of educational inequity.

I will let you complete the article on your own. Rothstein talks some more about how simple medical problems have a sever impact on the learning of low-income children. He talks about the need of not only providing services to address these, but how it becomes important to coordinate these with the educational system. Let me give an example not directly cited by Rothstein, but about which I know. A city sets up a terrific city-wide magnet program to enrich the schooling of low-income children. But the only way for that child to get to and from school is by school bus. Thus if the child needs to see a dentist to fill a cavity, that child either must miss the entire day of school for what could be a 30-45 minute appointment, or the parent has to miss a day of work to transport the child (that is, if the parent has a car!). I teach at a terrific high school that draws students from about 1/2 of a fairly large county that border’s DC. We see this problem consistently. One solution is to provide health and dental clinics at school based sites. This could address the problem of the commuting student. it could also provide a less expensive place for the rest of the family to receive medical and dental care as well. This would mean rethinking the way we deliver services other than education in order to maximize the effort and resources we do put into education.

Rothstein argues for more research on initiatives that could improve schooling. As he notes
We are so focused on schools being the sole determinants of child outcomes that we spend very little time investigating the ways other institutions and social forces interact

Far too much of our social policy in this country is based on ideology and not on research. Even some of the research is distorted because it is funded by those seeking a particular outcome. We are far to ready to build massive programs of social intervention -- including in education - that have not been thoroughly tested and examined. NCLB is symptomatic of this, but it is far from the only example one could cite within education.

Rothstein is a very perceptive man. While I greatly enjoy the work his successor, Mike Winerip, has done at The New York Times, I do miss reading him on a regular basis. I will read his book, and I would hope those of you interested in truly addressing the educational inequities in this country would as well.

And to put this diary in proper context, if have not already done so, please go back and read my diary from yesterday about the effort at Teachers College to address the issue of educational inequity.
I think that you have a couple of great points here and I want to add another, which is especially an issue here in North Carolina.

We are on the block schedule which sets up 4 complete classes a semester of 90 minutes each (at least at the high school level where I teach, there are some changes at the elementary and middle grades). Over 85% of the state is on this schedule.
Yet, I can't tell that it's doing our lowest achieving students a whit of good.

You mentioned the issue of retaining the material and I can definately notice that in my History classes, especially with the 9th graders who have gone through the past 3 years with little, if any, Social Studies (the class is not emphasized since it does not have an End of Grade test). I know the kids have been exposed to information like Jamestown, the Romans, and the Declaration of Independence but they have no clue about them.

And people wonder why our high school social studies scores are so low....
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