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Good schools for all kids: Yes we can?

It can happen here.  Indeed, it has happened here.

After federal spending on education and anti-poverty efforts ramped up in the 1960s, there came a point where urban schools were spending as much per pupil as suburban schools.  Racial disparities in achievement rates were cut in half, and were on track to disappear.   For a brief and unique moment in the mid-70s, black and Latino kids were attending college at rates comparable to whites.

Then came Reagan, who cut the education budget in half, and “conservatives introduced a new theory of reform focused on outcomes rather than inputs.”  That’s the theory behind what passes for school reform today.

This is from Linda Darling-Hammond’s contribution to the Nation’s special issue on A New Vision for School Reform.  She contrasts the United States with nations across Europe and Asia that she says are succeeding in providing high quality education to all their students.

The U.S. is “among the nations where socioeconomic background most affects student outcomes,” because we have greater income inequality “and because the United States spends much more educating affluent children than poor children.”  And in many states, segregation and inequality of funding is increasing.

The Obama-Duncan program doesn’t address (and probably exacerbates) funding inequalities, and what it does address won’t help.

Their framework “envisions competition and sanctions as the primary drivers of reform rather than capacity-building and strategic investments,” Darling-Hammond writes. “No nation has become high-achieving by sanctioning schools based on test-score targets and closing those that serve the neediest students without providing adequate resources and quality teaching.”

Elsewhere in the issue, Diane Ravitch writes about “Why I Changed My Mind” on No Child Left Behind and on the sloganeering around “choice” and “accountability” in education.

After the 2008 campaign, she writes, “I expected that Obama would throw out NCLB and start over.”  Instead, “his admininistration has embraced some of the worst features of the George W. Bush era.”

“None of the policies that involve testing and accountability – vouchers and charters, merit pay and closing schools – will give us the quantum improvement that we want for public education.  They may even make things worse.

“We need a long-term plan that strengthens public education and rebuilds the education profession,” including better-educated teachers, principals who are master teachers, rich curriculums, and attention to the conditions in which children live.

Susan Eaton compares magnet schools (with their mission of racial integration), with charters, which tend to “exacerbate segregation” and associated inequities.  (Black students in charters are twice as likely as their counterparts in traditional schools to attend segregated schools.)  That charters don’t upset the racial stratification of public education “may be exactly what makes them, at first glance, appear politically neater than magnet schools.”

David Kirp looks at community schools, which at their best can provide the kinds of things we know help kids learn: longer instructional time, more adults in the classroom, cultural and recreational programming, more parental involvement, and support services to remove obstacles to learning.  But so far Obama’s education department has been “better on rhetoric than dollars for community schools.”

Guest editor Pedro Noguera points out that no progress is likely until policy makers figure out “why NCLB failed to do more to improve schools in high-poverty communities” and “[reject] simplistic approaches.”

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Category: school closings, school funding, school reform, schools

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