Join the conversation

...about what is working in our public schools.

Education is a Common Good: There Should Be No Losers

Tarsi Dunlop's picture

While we live in a market-driven economy, where winning and wealth accumulation are desired outcomes, education advocates on all sides of the political aisle currently assert that public schools are failing our children, especially minorities and low-income students.  Education is a common good; it is the stepping-stone through which students can make something better of their futures. Therefore, we should not be setting up a system to create winners and losers.

Given the reality that we should be educating all children, it may surprise the uninformed observer that the market-based approach is alive and well in the education field – driving a set of reforms that is slowly eroding our public school system and creating an even wider and more troubling achievement gap; ensuring that more affluent students have access to better schools and more resources, while low-income students receive a second-class education. Last week the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education (BAA), an initiative at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), released Market-Oriented Reformers’ Rhetoric Trumps Reality. The report looked at three key urban districts – DC, Chicago and New York City – that have implemented market-oriented reforms including vouchers, charter schools and pay-for-performance, but failed to deliver on the significant student outcomes they promised would result from such efforts. Key findings include:

  • Test scores increased less, and achievement gaps grew more, in “reform” cities than in other urban districts
  • Test-based accountability prompted churn that thinned the ranks of experienced teachers, but not necessarily bad teachers
  • School closures did not send students to better schools or save school districts money

To get specific: In Chicago Public Schools, white and Asian students made minor gains on NAEP in reading between 2003 and 2009, but Hispanic students gained little and blacks gained nothing, so the achievement gap widened between whites and minorities at the fourth and eighth grade levels. In DC, schools chancellor Michelle Rhee boasted that all subgroups improved reading and math test scores between 2007 and 2010, with low-income and minority high school students showing double-digit gains. However, NAEP shows minimal–to-no improvement for these students, and some losses; what’s more, white and Hispanic students’ scores fell by 3 points, and black students’ scores stayed the same, so only the influx of new wealthier students with higher scores could account for the small overall gain.

Instead of a market-based approach (which, as this report shows, is not effective), many in the education community are advocating for the Broader, Bolder Approach (BBA). And it deserves further elaboration on just why it is broader and bolder. After all, the market-based ideologues claim to be bold and innovative. But in actuality, somehow it seems bolder to argue that all students can learn regardless of background, in safe supportive environments, with high-quality teachers and school staff that maintain a collaborative relationship with management, have access to professional learning opportunities, and receive adequate salaries and professional respect. It is a bold thing to say that we can have all those occurring simultaneously – and what’s more, it is bold to say that we have a moral and economic obligation to do right by every child. In test speak, each child deserves to rank competitively on international assessments. In economic terms, each child deserves to have the opportunity – the opportunity – to be successful and financially stable in the 21st-century. In the moral sense, what right do we as a society have – in this country – to write children off for circumstances beyond their control, and create a system that perpetuates inequity and produces winners and losers?

BBA argues that this vision of serving each child, the stakeholders in our schools, and our communities does not come from market-based reforms. Real sustainable change requires building a foundation and establishing deep trusting relationships that foster collaboration on every level. Teachers are our most valuable resource, but they cannot do it alone when out-of-school factors contribute so significantly to in-school success. The approach improves school performance through investing in teacher-student relationships and professional development, leveraging community partners for extra staff coaching, resources and hands-on-learning experiences. This approach puts college counselors in low-income high schools, expands full-day voluntary prekindergarten, and works in conjunction with the strongest teacher-preparation programs to put the highest quality teachers in low-income classrooms.

And this approach is, by both design and necessity, collaborative – a more promising approach to education reform than one that is market-driven. Last week at a Century Foundation event, a distinguished panel of education professionals joined Foundation Fellow Greg Anrig, author of the recent book Beyond the Education Wars: Evidence that Collaboration Builds Effective Schools. The book presents research that examines the connections between organizational practices and student outcomes, and it looks at district case studies that veered away from the ideological driven models that have failed to produce results. While other industries, particularly health care, reveal the benefits of the collaborative approach when it comes to providing quality and cost-effective care, this style of management has not been integrated in the field of education. Collaboration allows schools and districts to address the needs of all students and best utilize community resources to effectively counter the devastating effects of poverty on student learning.

For example, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), a demographically and socioeconomically diverse district in the DC suburbs does not have charter schools and does not use test scores to evaluate teachers. It is a shining example of how smart investments such as channeling resources towards targeted professional development, smaller classrooms and intensive literacy; developing a creative and holistic curriculum; and employing high-quality kindergarten, health clinics and afterschool enrichment can help close the opportunity gap for all children.  MCPS simultaneously values collaboration and engages a wide variety of stakeholders to ensure better outcomes for kids.

Imagine if we talked with the same conviction about stories like Montgomery County, Maryland or other districts like Union City, New Jersey, Cincinnati, Ohio or Springfield, Massachusetts - examples where professionals collaborated at the local level to raise the achievement scores and performance of all students – as market-oriented reformers do about their success stories. These are stories that suggest we can all be winners, narratives that needs to be shared, scaled up and invested in – that’s innovative.

I don't know that the market

I don't know that the market driven approach and competition is as bad as you make it out to be. There are also many positives as well. Some children are strongly motivated by competition, why not leverage that in gaining their attention?



Thanks for the post! I agree:

Thanks for the post!

I agree: stories about successful school districts are "narratives that need to be shared"!

Can districts afford to hire a marketing team?

Also, the "Broader, Bolder Approach" does seem ideal. I gravitated towards these points:
-Puts college counselors in low-income high school" (word. Bring in the college students too! And have some business facilitate the whole thing. That is market driven...)
-works in conjunction with the strongest teacher-preparation programs to put the highest quality teachers in low-income classrooms
-all day volunteer prekindergarten

You're right! There should be

You're right! There should be no losers in the education system. But still...there are, even in this day of age. It seems like a lot of children are being left behind because of people who are trying to treat schools like some kind of business.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.

More information about formatting options