Wednesday, November 10, 2010

what sorts of schools exist in banana republics?

WaPo | Highly stratified, just like the society. The very wealthy send their children to private schools of privilege, just as is becoming the norm here. The poor go to schools where they are daily reminded of their inferiority. How many ways do we have to remind our students of their academic inferiority? Could this be an unconscious or sub-rosa part of the high stakes we now attach to test scores? Is this perhaps part of the reason schools, teachers and communities are stigmatized when schools are condemned as failures and dropout factories? Our schools are inevitably mirrors of the society in which they function.

I must add here, lest I be accused of adopting a fatalistic stance, that I believe schools have a powerful role to play in cushioning the blows of poverty, of lifting the aspirations of our students beyond their circumstances.

But everywhere in school reform these days we hear of the need for "urgency," as if the reason that previous generations of educators failed to eliminate the achievement gap was a lackadaisical attitude, or persistent low expectations. Not so. Unfortunately, although schools can make a difference, poverty and a genuine lack of opportunity usually trumps our efforts.

The intense discomfort the "school reformers" have with our low-performing schools may reflect our unwillingness to recognize that yes, we have a growing underclass in the United States. Yes, we have a burgeoning strata of society that no longer can even grasp the bottom rung of the economic ladder.

We can blame the schools for this, but the schools did not create this situation, and getting everyone ready for college and careers will not fix it. Only when we get our economy back onto firm ground and restore some balance, so the wealthy are paying their fair share of taxes, and the middle class can survive and prosper, and the poor can truly access the ladder to success, only then will we see hope return to our students and see the gaps in achievement really begin to close.