Sunday, February 6, 2011

Inequity all around. . .so schools can do miracles alone?

The education debate is mired in a Utopian view of education that is paired with a stubborn refusal to admit that students live in a world outside of schools. The students most often marginalized once they enter schools face a triple assault that corporate and political leaders refuse to acknowledge, much less address.

Consider the evidence of students' lives before they enter schools (and as they live when not in schools), what occurs in schools, and what faces them once they leave—especially if the child is poor, especially if the child is of color, especially if the child has a home language other than English:

• The U.S. has one of the highest childhood poverty rates in the world, approximately 21-22% (see 2005 report and 2007 report).

• Once they enter schools, students most likely to struggle because of the conditions of their lives are also most likely to sit in large classrooms with inexperienced teachers who are un- and under-qualified (see Peske and Haycock).

• While the body of evidence shows that 80-90% of student achievement is linked to out-of-school factors (see study from UK, commentary by Rothstein, and report from Berliner), when the students are subjected to narrow and misleading tests (PISA) and ranked against the world, political leaders, corporate leaders, and the media falsely claim the schools, teachers, and students are failure—ignoring that the tests reveal the corrosive power of poverty, not failed schools or children.

• But the inequity doesn't stop here. A new study shows that the same students living under the weight of inequity in their lives and often finding the same inequity in their educations are faced with tremendous inequity once they graduate and enter the workforce.

Simplistic faith in Utopian expectations for schools fails us all since the idealism blinds those in power and the public to the need to address inequity in all aspects of society—not just our schools.