Examining Some Assumptions

A thoughtful reader writes:

Following the references in the Ryan book [5 miles Away, Worlds Apart” (2010, Oxford)] I discovered an education book I hadn’t known about: Richard Rothstein’s “Class and Schools” (2004, Economic Policy Institute/Columbia Teacher’s College). The subtitle is “Using Social Economic and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap.”

Rothstein starts with the 1968 Coleman Report and works forward
reviewing study after study trying to figure out what works –
according to the data. Its got the most data I’ve seen on class
effects in education. Its rather slim: 150 pp, with 50 pp of notes.
The world could use an expanded book like this.


Rothstein attributes most of the achievement gap to inequality (and
claims that we’re stuck with this gap unless we fix inequality). While
we can’t entirely fix things his prescriptions for doing the best we
can are to ameliorate the effects of inequality to the best of our
ability. These include things like after-school programs and summer
programs like wealthier kids have access to – where learning occurs,
important stuff, not always of the SOL-score improving type.

Both Ryan and Rothstein make clear how state’s lower the SOL
test-score bar to improve pass rates and hide how poorly they are
serving at-risk populations. While TJ, for instance, may look like its
SOL pass rates aren’t “too far” behind Freeman’s, Freeman’s kids had
exponentially better “advanced” scores, and are learning lots of new
stuff, while TJ’s kids are focused exclusively of hitting low-bar test
cut offs.

Rothstein addresses hot-button issues like IQ in a graceful and
pragmatic way, and doesn’t flinch from addressing cultural educational
practices. It will at least make you think.

The review of Rothstein by Kenneth Strike in the American Journal of Education (sorry I can’t link to the full version; the copyright holder is more interested in revenue than broad availability) starts out as a further attack on standards.  I characterize that school of thought as “It’s too embarrassing to measure outputs; let’s focus on inputs.”  But then he says:

Rothstein’s observations on these matters seem to me to be correct, but they suggest a line of argument that is not fully carried out. We do not, for instance, know whether these problems with standards-based reform are fatal flaws or fixable glitches. We do not know whether we should abandon standards-based school reform or merely hold reasonable aspirations for what it can achieve.

Interesting stuff.