Report Adds Fuel to Belief in ‘Demographic’ Destiny

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To the Editor:

Your special report Quality Counts 2007 (Jan. 4, 2007) rightly presses its readers to look at education as a continuum, from pre-K through college. But the annual report also appears to have made the mistake of focusing on what we, as educators, cannot change, instead of what we can do to ensure all students succeed.

The report’s “Chance-for-Success Index” is based on many indicators that cannot be directly affected by educators or education policymakers in the near term. The resulting message to states is clear: If you have large numbers of poor or undereducated adults, just forget it. In sending this message, you diminish the critical role of educators and public schools in preparing young people to become contributing citizens despite the obstacles they face outside of school.

For example, the K-12 achievement indicators discount the success states have shown in raising the achievement of struggling students, while allowing states that demonstrate less effort in this area to claim victory based on the achievement of more-affluent students.

Furthermore, the higher-education measure—the percentage of a state’s adult population that has a postsecondary degree—is often as much a product of in-migration as it is of homegrown college graduates. Wouldn’t it have been better to examine how well states’ colleges and universities are doing in enrolling and graduating all groups of students?

Instead of highlighting the role of educators in helping students overcome the barriers of poverty and racism, you’ve added to the sense that “demographics are destiny” and that defeat for some students—and educators—is all but inevitable.

Yes, it would easier to educate some students if they had better lives beyond their schools. But the fact is that a shamefully high percentage of our students bear burdens that they shouldn’t have to. Our best teachers know they are these students’ best, and sometimes only, chance for a decent future. We only wish that Quality Counts had sent these teachers a message of support, rather than discouragement.

Kati Haycock
Founder and President
The Education Trust
Washington, D.C.

Vol. 26, Issue 26, Page 29

Published in Print: March 7, 2007, as Report Adds Fuel to Belief in ‘Demographic’ Destiny
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