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Selective Use of Data Avoids Real Issues in Improving Public Education for All Children

Cheryl S. Williams's picture

It seems the one thing we can all agree on when discussing how to improve public schooling for all our children is that we need data to guide our approach to personalizing teaching and learning in the classroom, so that we can ensure student success and support teacher effectiveness.  Yet we persist in ignoring data that points to root causes that hamper the most talented school leaders in their work with children. 

At a recent meeting on Capitol Hill, researcher Sean Reardon from the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE) shared data showing the only developed country in the world with a larger percentage of children living in poverty than the United States is Mexico.  So the US is #2 in the developed world in children living in poverty (22 percent of our children live in poverty).  Dr. Reardon also shared a graph that documented the gap in achievement in US students based on standardized test scores from the early 1970’s to the present.  The achievement gap between white students and African American students has closed dramatically over the decades documented.  However, alarmingly, the achievement gap between middle and upper middle class students and children living in poverty has widened even more dramatically.  Further, the data indicates that most of the gap between high and low income students is present in preschool and doesn’t get much worse (or much better) as students progress through the system. 

What is also shown in the data: The countries with the lowest percentage of children living in poverty – Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden – are also the countries with the highest achievement scores on international tests of student performance.  So, it would seem to me that it doesn’t require a statistician to conclude, as another presenter at the same meeting, Peter Edelman (Professor of Law at Georgetown Law Center and Director of the Center on Poverty, Inequality, and Public Policy), asserted that to improve academic achievement for students in the US, we need a full scale attack on poverty.  

What complicates a solution oriented approach to a full scale attack on poverty is the reality that public schooling is the “ultimate states right issue," according to David Sciarra, Executive Director of the Education Law Center in Newark, NJ, another panel presenter.  With a wide disparity in states’ effectiveness in addressing the issue of equitability in access to a quality public education, the federal government needs to develop a coherent policy to address the problem.

In my view, instead of wasting valuable time and resources in a power struggle over national, state, or local governance and control around guaranteeing the quality public education all our children deserve, we should come together as a community of citizens who acknowledge a common value of the importance of equity and excellence in public schools, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because if we don’t, we’ll all pay the price.  In the immortal words of Rodney King, revisited on the recent anniversary of the Los Angeles riots, “Can’t we all just get along?”  Our nation’s future and our children’s future depend on us figuring it out and getting it right.

Image from Microsoft Office


To me, the obvious reason for

To me, the obvious reason for these poverty numbers is that since No Child Left Behind or even before, middle and upper middle class parents have been pulling their kids out of public schools and sending them to private schools or home schooling. Thus, they no longer have a stake in the current state of public education. Thus, public education has become the education for the "have nots" and no one within local, state, or federal government really cares about what happens.

An oversimplification is that

An oversimplification is that our public education system is left to the impoverished and totally non-concerned citizens and legislators.

We must look to the educating of the non-perprepared and evaluate as the article states why these students are not prepared for the classrooms. The second area of this problem is how to assure the competency of all eucators in the classrooms.

And we may be assured that this is the demon to slay.

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