Wednesday, August 09, 2006

School Isn't All That

Today's New York Times editorial confirms what most honest observers can figure out all by themselves. That is, that schools are not the major culprit when it comes to a child's learning and development process.

What's most interesting in this essay however is the assertion that summer school break is crucial to the continuity of learning development.

The link will take you to the full article but here's a peek at the arguments.

On Education: It Takes More Than Schools to Close Achievement Gap by DIANA JEAN SCHEMO

The No Child Left Behind law, enacted in 2002, took a stand on this issue. The law, one instance in which President Bush and Congressional Democrats worked together, rests on the premise that schools make the crucial difference. It holds a school alone responsible if the students — whatever social, economic, physical or intellectual handicaps they bring to their classrooms — fail to make sufficient progress every year.

Yet a growing body of research suggests that while schools can make a difference for individual students, the fabric of children’s lives outside of school can either nurture, or choke, what progress poor children do make academically.

At Johns Hopkins University, two sociologists, Doris Entwisle and Karl Alexander, collected a trove of data on Baltimore schoolchildren who began first grade in 1982. They found that contrary to expectations, children in poverty did largely make a year of progress for each year in school.

But poor children started out behind their peers, and the problems compounded when school ended for the summer. Then, middle-class children would read books, attend camp and return to school in September more advanced than when they left. But poorer children tended to stagnate. “The long summer break is especially hard for disadvantaged children,” Professor Alexander said. “Some school is good, and more is better.”

“Family really is important, and it’s very hard for schools to offset or compensate fully for family disadvantage,” he said.

In Chicago, a court order to empty public housing projects, which dispersed families and children into the suburbs, led to a rise in children’s academic achievement.

“The evidence is pretty clear that the better their housing, the better kids do on tests,” said Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, a nonpartisan group.

In his 2004 book, “Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap,” Richard Rothstein, a former writer of this column, argues that reforms aimed at education alone are doomed to come up short, unless they are tied to changes in economic and social policies to lessen the gaps children face outside the classroom.

A lack of affordable housing makes poorer children more transient, and so more prone to switch schools midyear, losing progress. Higher rates of lead poisoning, asthma and inadequate pediatric care also fuel low achievement, along with something as basic as the lack of eyeglasses. Even the way middle- and lower-class parents read to their children is different, he writes, making learning more fun and creative for wealthier children.

“I would never say public schools can’t do better,” Mr. Rothstein said. “I’d say they can’t do much better,” unless lawmakers address the social ills caused by poverty.

FOR many children in America, public schools are not lacking. A 2001 international reading test put Americans ninth out of students in 35 nations. But only students in Sweden, the Netherlands and England had scores more than marginally higher than the United States average.

More important, the average score of the 58 percent of American students attending schools that were not predominantly poor surpassed that of Sweden, the top-scoring nation.


Tags: poverty, achievement gap, culture, education

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