Opinion
Equity & Diversity Commentary

Children & Families

September 27, 2000 2 min read

Beyond the Classroom: As schools search for ways to reduce the achievement gap between white, middle-class children and those from socioeconomically disadvantaged or minority groups, a new paper argues that it might be more cost-effective to improve the conditions children live in than to focus just on finding educational solutions.

In “Finance Fungibility,” Richard Rothstein, a research associate at the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute, notes that student achievement is influenced by such factors as families, peers, neighborhoods, and culture.

Targeting $24 billion—the amount that he estimates will be added to public school spending over the next five years—to areas such as children’s health, housing, nutrition, and family income might produce academic gains equal to those generated by the greater education spending, he suggests.

“If a $24 billion national expenditure effected a permanent income increase for the lowest-income families, would resultant achievement gains compare favorably with those expected from a similar expenditure on teacher education or class-size reduction?” he writes.

While noting that further study is needed to test those theories, he concludes: “Clearly, if the achievement gap is to be narrowed further, and perhaps be closed, investments in both schools and social institutions are needed.”

Mr. Rothstein’s paper is part of a larger report called “Improving Educational Achievement,” which was prepared by two Washington-based organizations: the Finance Project and the Center on Education Policy.

Commentaries on Mr. Rothstein’s paper are also included in the report.

In one, Robert E. Slavin, a co-director of the Center for Research on Education of Students Placed at Risk, based at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, says Mr. Rothstein’s argument “depends on a number of wild statistical assumptions.” Mr. Slavin, a founder of the Success for All school- improvement program, adds that the author suggests “unproven nonschool interventions.”

But David W. Grissmer, a scientist at the Santa Monica, Calif.-based RAND Corp., says that Mr. Rothstein “rightly concludes that the focus of educational research and policymaking has been too narrowly focused on school investments in the quest to improve achievement and educational outcomes.”

Copies of the report are available for $15 from the Finance Project, 1000 Vermont Ave N.W., Suite 600, Washington, DC 20005; (202) 628- 4200.

—Linda Jacobson

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