Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Arguing from Outliers and Re-Segregation


So what are Klein and Sharpton saying here? Their argument is essentially: 1) Some schools with high concentrations of minority and poor students are getting exceptional results, 2) If some schools with high concentrations of minority and poor students are getting good results, poverty must not affect academic achievement - at least not in ways that can't be overcome by good schools, and 3) If some schools can get exceptional results in spite of the challenges their students face, all schools should be able to.

I won’t belabor how flawed this logic is - because at the end of the day, it is just crazy talk. We don’t expect the other 99.9% of swimmers to be able to do what Michael Phelps can, and a swim coach that set out to reach that goal for his swimmers would be sorely disappointed. And we don’t infer that disabilities like Phelps’ ADHD can be overcome by all because one man did so. Few would disagree with the previous two sentences. But it seems that when we step into the education policy arena, we too often check our brains at the door.

I keep thinking that if Klein and Sharpton's argument is correct, there's nothing standing in the way of officially re-segregating schools. All you'd need to do is show that some segregated schools were exceptional, and then there would be no basis for desegregation. I can all too easily imagine Amy Wilkins asking the teachers in segregated schools "Why were you in that high-needs classroom?" and explaining that if we could just get better teachers into the black schools, everything would be ok. In a "no excuses" world, is segregation an excuse for low achievement? If, theoretically, we could get the best teachers to work in black schools and then they'd be better than white schools, does that mean segregation is ok? What about if we recruit a bunch of spunky Ivy League kids to teach?

On one level, it is deeply unfair of me to say this -- these people aren't really for re-segregation! At the same time, we have largely re-segregated our schools, and continue to do so at a growing pace, and our neo-reformers are pretty ok with that, so is it really an unfair comparison?

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