Role of socioeconomics in the creation of achievement gaps

Sept. 20, 2009

Richard Rothstein, author of “Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White-Achievement Gap,” responding to his critics in a report, “Schools and the Achievement Gap: A Symposium,” published by the Poverty and Race Research Action Council, September-October, 2004.

090920Rothstein“… In the long run, effective public policy cannot proceed from a myth. Denying the obvious importance of socioeconomic conditions in perpetuating inequality may, in the short run, build support for school improvement efforts, but these quickly degenerate into an excessive attack on schools, as in present federal policy with its exaggerated emphasis on testing, basic skills and accountability, and its nonchalance about the need for better and more equitable school funding.

“We also set schools up for failure when we discuss closing the achievement gap with schools alone. Even if school improvement were our exclusive concern, would we achieve it by establishing goals (closing the gap) that can’t be achieved and that make no distinction between progress and failure?…

“We’ve not, after all, been so successful to date in improving schools to the point where they come anywhere close to generating equal outcomes for children from different social classes. And reforms like universal health care, full employment policy, more progressive taxation, adequate housing (consider the Section 8 program) are not wild pie-in-the-sky ideas but policies that are very much part of a practical agenda, and very much needed….

‘If, by some chance, advocates of social and economic reform can win greater power in our political institutions, we can hope that they will not be hindered by arguments of liberals that only schools can make a difference.”