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

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Guess Who Said It...

From an e-mail list...

This is almost worthy of a STOP THE PRESSES: I actually AGREE with Diane Ravitch about something!  In her appearance on The Daily Show recently, she said, “I don’t think America is overrun by bad teachers.  I think America is overrun by too much poverty, too much poverty among children.”  We can quibble over the meaning of “overrun” – there are WAY too many bad teachers, which Ravitch refuses to acknowledge – but she’s right that childhood poverty is a crisis in this country, which is, in general, a moral outrage, but it also has a profound impact on the ability of children to learn.  What got me thinking about this was watching a 60 Minutes segment that aired on March 6th (www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/03/06/60minutes/main20038927.shtml) entitled “Homeless children: the hard times generation,” which profiled numerous families and kids in Florida who’d lost their homes and were living in cars or motels.  It broke my heart.

Here’s a summary of the statistics from the National Center for Children in Poverty (www.nccp.org/topics/childpoverty.html):
Nearly 15 million children in the United States – 21% of all children – live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level – $22,050 a year for a family of four. Research shows that, on average, families need an income of about twice that level to cover basic expenses. Using this standard, 42% of children live in low-income families.
Most of these children have parents who work, but low wages and unstable employment leave their families struggling to make ends meet. Poverty can impede children’s ability to learn and contribute to social, emotional, and behavioral problems. Poverty also can contribute to poor health and mental health. Risks are greatest for children who experience poverty when they are young and/or experience deep and persistent poverty.
Our childhood poverty rate of 21% is more than twice the rate of any other developed country (www.heartsandminds.org/articles/childpov.htm) and it’s 5% or less, for example, in Finland.  Gee, is it any wonder that their kids are doing better than ours academically?

If I could push one button and either drop our childhood poverty rate by 75% -- it CAN be done; the UK did it -- or get rid of 75% of the crappy teachers in this country, I’d choose the former in a heartbeat.
There are a lot of folks on this email list who care passionately about fixing our schools – but who, in the same breath, want to cut all government spending and social programs that help poor children.  I urge you to reflect on the irony here… 

Surprisingly, the above is written by DFER co-founder and KIPP fanatic, Whitney Tilson. This is beyond puzzling: Tilson and DFER consistently suggest that poverty doesn't matter (or it's relatively insignificant), that quality teaching can overcome the impact of poverty, and that we should really just increase the number of charter schools (preferably KIPP or KIPP-like schools) and evaluate teachers based on student test scores.

By no means do I believe that Tilson has turned over a new leaf: he'll likely keep advocating for the same stuff he currently does, but maybe he'll pull a "Ravitch" and reverse some of his deeply held beliefs sometime in the future. Is that delusional? Perhaps. But one can always hope, and I'd certainly support hedge fund managers that are willing to throw their tremendous financial capital behind a comprehensive anti-poverty program.

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