Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Long Missive: 2 More Educational Articles

I went to the welcoming event last night for NYC Teaching Fellows. It was kind of a bore, since they didn't really tell us anything we hadn't already read or seen on the web site. But, my group of English fellows got a homework assignment to read an article by Katie Haycock called, "Helping All Students Achieve: Closing the Achievement Gap."

Some of the more wildly alarming statistics from this article, which came out in 2001, include the fact that in 1999, by the end of high school "only 1 in 50 Latinos and 1 in 100 African American 17-year-olds can read and gain information from specialized text—such as the science section in the newspaper (compared to about 1 in 12 whites)." It goes the same for math; "about 1 in 30 Latinos and 1 in 100 African Americans can comfortably do multi-step problem solving and elementary algebra, compared to about 1 in 10 white students."

This article, which came out the same year that No Child Left Behind was passed in the House, argues that teachers need to be specialized and teach subjects they know well, students need extra help outside of school, every student needs a high-level curriculum, and standards are key. These are echoed in the basic tenets of the NYC Teaching Fellows program.

The article also points out the outside factors, but really it focuses on the schools. "When we speak with adults, no matter where we are in the country, they make the same comments. 'They're too poor.' 'Their parents don't care.' 'They come to school without an adequate breakfast.' 'They don't have enough books in the home.' 'Indeed, there aren't enough parents in the home.' Their reasons, in other words, are always about the children and their families ... It's not that issues like poverty and parental education don't matter. Clearly they do. But we take the students who have less to begin with and then systematically give them less in school. In fact, we give these students less of everything that we believe makes a difference."

And then there's this one from Robert Gordon at Slate, "How to Fix the No Child Left Behind Act."

This article, 6 years after NCLB has angered teachers who have to "teach to the test" and done little to close the achievement gap, and 6 years after the above-mentioned article, highlights the same issues:

"Although rarely spoken about, what unites many critics is the sense that it just isn't fair to ask so much of schools. You see this view on the right, in the Weekly Standard's new cover article trashing NCLB. Andrew Ferguson concludes that achievement gaps are grounded in the neighborhood and the home, in 'facts, every one of them, beyond the reach of any education reformer.' And you see it on the left, in the work of the Economic Policy Institute's Richard Rothstein, who argues that social class causes inequities that schools cannot overcome."

What I agree with is what Gordon at Slate puts so well about my personal experience in public education and that of a lot of people I know. "As anybody who has reviewed an Advanced Placement exam or visited an International Baccalaureate school knows, serious testing and complex thinking are perfectly compatible."

The Haycock article mentions that of the students that actually graduate from high school, "only about half of them complete even a mid-level college-preparatory curriculum (four years of English and three years each of math, science, and social studies). If we also include two years of a foreign language and a semester of computer science, the numbers drop to about 12 percent. The numbers are worse for African Americans, Latinos, and low-income students."

This kind of curriculum was compulsory for anyone that I knew in high school. And why wouldn't it be? What classes are the students taking instead of math and English?

All of this to say that I am not surprised by the fact that NCLB has not used standards to close the achievement gap in any significant way. What I am surprised about is that we have the same old excuses floating around in the political sphere. When do we as a country do the adult thing, recognize that there are circumstances outside of our control, and try to impact the things we can change?

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