Schools, poverty, AYP and lean education

There’s something of a convergence this week around the effects of socioeconomic disparities on student learning — at least here in TLN world. In a new essay at Teacher Magazine titled ‘Lean Education,’ TLN member Kim McClung writes about the impossibility of one-size-fits-all school funding and support, when schools have widely different levels of student diversity. To quote the ASCD SmartBrief newsletter’s summary of the aricle:

Schools can’t be run using the sorts of standardized, automated processes that manufacturers rely on to cut costs, writes National Board-certified English teacher Kim McClung. Using manufacturing as an analogy, the “raw materials” in schools are the students’ backgrounds, which vary so greatly that teaching methodologies must be tailored to ensure all students reach their best potential, which in turn requires an appropriate commitment of resources.

Meanwhile, at the ASCD Community Blog, they’re promoting an article by Richard Rothstein in the new issue of Educational Leadership, “Who’s Problem Is Poverty” (April 2007), in which Rothstein argues (quoting the article’s teaser) that: “It’s no cop-out to acknowledge the effects of socioeconomic disparities on student learning. Rather, it’s a vital step to closing the achievement gap.”

Rothstein is the author of the widely discussed 2004 book Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic, and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap, which was ably reviewed by TLN member/blogger Bill Ferriter. Bill’s reviewwas written several years ago but, alas, seems quite fresh. Here’s an excerpt:

“Closing the Gap” is an effort that has defined American education with little success. The seemingly failed expectation is that through focused effort and determination, our public school teachers will narrow the disparities in the achievement levels of children from different socioeconomic classes.

The continued persistence of this achievement gap frustrates school leaders and policymakers, leading to a never-ending stream of calls for reform. Demands for curricular rigor, improved teaching qualifications, reductions in class sizes and an increased focus on school leadership have all been implemented with little lasting impact.

Perhaps then, Richard Rothstein argues in his book Class and Schools, it is not only the public school system that needs reform. Perhaps the broader social policies in America that allow the mental, physical and economic needs of our poorest citizens to go unaddressed are failing our children. “No society,” he writes, “can realistically expect schools alone to abolish inequality. If students come to school in unequal circumstances, they will largely, though not entirely, leave school with unequal skills and abilities.”

We’d like to think that commentaries like Kim’s essay and the new Rothstein article are two signs that America is finally ready to have a conversation about our shared responsibility for the inequities of education. We’d like to think that — but we’re not sure it’s true.