Friday, August 12, 2011
Poverty, Family, And Community Are The Primary Causes Of Why We Have The Racial/Income Academic Achievement Gap - Not The Schools.
I am sick and tired of all these so-called Education reformers who have never taught in the classroom for any length of time (Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee) or have never set foot in the classroom as a teacher (Whitney Tilson and Eli Broad) ) and have decided that the best way to narrow the racial/income academic achievement gap is to put a "quality teacher" in the classroom. In fact Education reformer writer, Steve Brill, wrote a book that said that "quality teachers" can completely erase the racial/income academic achievement gap! What a fantasy. Yes, the very same Steve Brill who unfairly demonized teachers who were sent to the "rubber room" in the New Yorker back in 2008. Then there is Mayor Bloomberg who blames teachers for his and his Chancellor's failure to narrow the racial/income academic achievement gap.
The reality is that that the racial/income academic achievement gap is primarily a function of the student's socioeconomic environment and not the schools. Even University studies that Education reformers love to cite (Kane, Stalger, and Hanuchek) have shown that while "quality teachers" are the most important factor for academic improvement in schools, the major factors are the poverty, family, and community. Stanford's Eric Hanuchek stated in his study that "quality teachers" contributed 15% to a student's academic achievement while the socioeconomic factors totaled 60%! Yet, the Education reformers often cited claim "there are no excuses for the racial/income academic achievement gap", as if teachers are the blame, ignores the truth of the matter.
How can schools overcome dysfunctional families, lack of parenting skills, poverty, lack of fathers, and community problems? Sure, the schools can provide free breakfast and lunches for hungry children but how about dinner and hunger on non-school days? Moreover, how are the schools able to protect the health of children, except to ensure the children get immunized before the school year. What can schools do to improve parenting skills and eliminate the lack of role models, especially fathers in the community where drug dealers, gang leaders, violence, and disrespect for authority are what the children are exposed to as role models. While programs like "Head Start" help the youngest children, the advantages of the "Head Start" program disappears by the 4th grade as the student's world increasingly is influenced by the socioeconomic factors of their community. In my years of teaching and talking to deans at the High School, the most disruptive and academically challenged students were fatherless, came from poverty, and were involved in gang activities in the community. If we are to narrow the racial/income academic achievement gap, here is what most be done first and foremost.
First, bring fathers back into the family. Too many men father children and never have a role in their lives. Even the Mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter, called this the major problem on why teenagers are misbehaving and not taking school seriously. When you have no father in the life of a child, there goes the best male role model that could modify student behavior.
Second, ensure that both parents financially contribute to the family. Too many families are single parent with the other (mainly the male) not contributing to the family income. The more a family makes the greater the academic achievement of the children in that family. Furthermore, two parent households not only make it more financially stable but shows the child how the two parents work together to safeguard the family from the most dangerous aspects of the community.
Third, community problems such as gang activity, criminality, and disrespect for authority must be eliminated. Just look at England, gone are the days that "boys will be boys" because they are poor is now being replaced with zero tolerance prosecution and this needs to be followed up with parent responsibility of their child's poor decisions and destruction of property. Without family responsibility, children will be influenced by the street gangs of the community. Maybe Mayor Bloomberg should do what the Governor of Lagos, Nigeria is doing, criminalizing fathers who abandon their children.
None of these suggestions are easy but this is what I believe are necessary to narrow the racial/income achievement gap not just "quality teachers" as the Education reformers claim.
I would like to add that many other studies show that "small class sizes" are more important then "quality teachers" in improving student academic performance and my classroom experience believes that is true. Furthermore, Education reformers like Joel Klein and Mayor Bloomberg defined "quality teachers" very differently than most by claiming young, inexperienced, and cheap teachers as "quality teachers". Sounds like an oxymoron to me. Moreover, the Mayor Bloomberrg Bill to end "last in, first out" (LIFO) was riddled with ways to get rid of senior teachers, permanently not to keep "quality teachers". Finally, Mayor Bloomberg's threat to layoff 4,200 teachers or 80% of all City layoffs demonstrated his disrespect for the teaching profession and used this threat to get rid of senior teachers regardless of their ability.
If you really want to narrow the racial/income achievement gap then fix the family and the community that these low achieving students are exposed to.
The New York Times book review section blasted Steve Brill's book and can be found here.