"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Ravitch TKO's Finn in first round

Chester Finn's response to Diane Ravitch (http://www.edexcellence.net/gadfly/index.cfm?issue=614#a6624) assumes that American schools have failed. Not so. Evidence for failure, according to Finn, includes "The weak and generally stagnant academic performance of most American school kids, our scandalous achievement gaps, the country’s sagging performance vis-à-vis other countries …".

Test score performance of American children is not all that "stagnant." NAEP math scores for 9 and 13 year olds have improving steadily since 1973 and reading scores for 9 year olds have been improving since 1971. Other groups show no decline (Finn would call this "stagnant," others might call this holding steady).

Achievement gaps and our less than spectacular scores on international tests are the result of poverty: Middle-class American children attending well-financed schools outscore nearly all other countries. Our overall scores are unspectacular because we have such a high percentage of children living in poverty, which has devastating effects on school performance.

Finn also proclaims that teachers and principals are not prepared, that curricula are "shoddy," and text books are "fat and junky," all without evidence. He also complains about "large expenditures with meager returns," an argument Finn has been using for years and that Gerald Bracey consistently refuted.

If the premises of Finn's argument are incorrect, his subsequent arguments do not hold. If poverty is the problem, we must look for solutions that protect children against the effects of poverty.

Ravitch wins this one: TKO in the first round.

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