Kenneth Strike weighs in on the education reformers' cynical diversion of blaming schools alone for what schools alone can never correct:
To the Editor:
Re “Why the Achievement Gap Persists” (editorial, Dec. 8):
There are no doubt repairable weaknesses in the No Child Left Behind law. Nevertheless, it has an irreparable flaw.
It is rooted in the myth that school-only solutions can cure educational inequality.
In 1983, a presidential report, “A Nation at Risk,” launched the standards movement. This book encouraged two illusions that still undo efforts at school reform.
The first is that the problems of American education are systemwide and require solutions that touch all schools.
In fact, the ills of American schools are largely an urban problem resulting from the fact that many urban schools are overwhelmed with the children of poor and minority parents, who are concentrated in urban areas.
The second is that schools have the power to overcome inequalities in achievement apart from other reforms that address the circumstances of disadvantaged children’s lives.
There is no credible research to substantiate either assumption.
We cannot successfully reform education if we decouple educational productivity from broader issues of inequality. President Bush has described such views as the soft discrimination of low expectations.
In fact, No Child Left Behind helps perpetuate the hard discrimination of allowing many children to grow up in circumstances that make the job of schools almost impossible.
We need to emphasize better health care for urban children, stabilize their housing, provide preschool and finance the many additional improvements that will enable schools to do their jobs. Only then will reforms like No Child Left Behind have a real chance.
Kenneth A. Strike
Thendara, N.Y., Dec. 8, 2006
The writer is a professor of cultural foundations of education and philosophy at Syracuse University.