Opinion
Federal Opinion

Big Props for a “Broader, Bolder Approach to Education”

By Eduwonkette — June 10, 2008 3 min read

The potential effectiveness of NCLB has been seriously undermined, however, by its acceptance of the popular assumptions that bad schools are the major reason for low achievement, and that an academic program revolving around standards, testing, teacher training, and accountability can, in and of itself, offset the full impact of low socioeconomic status on achievement.
-The Broader, Bolder Approach to Education Task Force Report

This morning, more than 60 heavy hitters kicked off a campaign calling for a “broader, bolder approach to education policy.” (You may have already seen the print ads in the Washington Post and NY Times.) Co-chaired by Sunny Ladd, a Duke University economist, Pedro Noguera, a sociologist at NYU, and Tom Payzant, the former Boston schools superintendent and U.S. assistant secretary of education, the task force calls for a more expansive view of education policy that views schools as one component of a comprehensive youth development strategy. Here are their four recommendations:

1. Continued school improvement efforts. To close achievement gaps, we need smaller classes in early grades for disadvantaged children; to attract high-quality teachers in hard-to-staff schools; improve teacher and school leadership training; make college preparatory curriculum accessible to all; and pay special attention to recent immigrants.

2. Developmentally appropriate and high-quality early childhood, pre-school and kindergarten care and education. These programs must not only help low-income children students academically, but provide support in developing appropriate social, economic and behavioral skills.

3. Routine pediatric, dental, hearing and vision care for all infants, toddlers and schoolchildren. In particular, full-service school clinics can fill the health gaps created by the absence of primary care physicians in low-income areas, and poor parents’ inability to miss work for children’s routine health services.

4. Improving the quality of students’ out-of-school time. Low-income students learn rapidly in school, but often lose ground after school and during summers. Policymakers should increase investments in areas such as longer school days, after-school and summer programs, and school-to-work programs with demonstrated track records.

eduwonk suggests that the acknowledgment that schools can’t do it alone is just another tired opinion, “The explicit rejection that perhaps schools are even a substantial part of the educational problem is unsettling.” Recall that many of these signers have spent years studying school effects - the effect of going to one school versus another, all else equal - on test scores. This is a conclusion derived from years of confronting that distribution of school effects over and over again.

Particularly notable in this regard is the leadership of Sunny Ladd, who spent the last 10 years investigating the effects of accountability on North Carolina schools. She’s an economist - hardly someone against the use of incentives - but she’s seen the meager effects of accountability alone on the reduction of achievement gaps. And many early supporters of NCLB-style arrangements are represented here as well - Susan Neuman, Bob Schwartz (the President of Achieve from 1997-02), and Milt Goldberg (of the A Nation at Risk commission).

No one is saying that schools aren’t important. No one is saying that we should abandon efforts to improve schools. And no one is saying that we should “let schools off the hook.” What they are saying is that the effects of schools are not large enough to wipe out the gaps that are created by students’ out-of-school environments.

You can - and I hope you will - become a co-signer on the statement here.

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