Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Helping Poor Students Learn: It is Troublesome! Try it and See!

Jason asks in email for my opinion of Kevin Carey's The Supposed Trouble With Helping Poor Students Learn. It is perfectly clear that it is possible to improve education for poor children, or, for that matter, rich ones. For example, consider this chart of last year's NECAP performance in Providence high schools:

Nonetheless, the process is difficult, expensive, has a low margin for error, and probably can never truly meet the goal of "closing the achievement gap," as there is always another more expansive definition of that gap waiting in the wings.

Beyond that, in a profoundly unequal yet highly competitive society, it is difficult to protect reforms that primarily affect the disempowered poor from administrators serving the most powerful interests in our society, like Tom Brady, Deborah Gist and Arne Duncan. Looking at the above chart, all of the schools achieving above the city average except Classical -- the one which has a significant minority of affluent students -- has either been closed, had its successful reforms substantially dismantled, is facing impending re-organization, or has a substantial threat of the above hanging over its head. The people served by these programs are simply insufficiently powerful to protect them politically.

Too many of these "reforms" are less about data and improving the lives of children than shifting power relationships between adults.

And beyond that, the whole setting up strawmen about which side is more extreme is just tiresome. I know what I see.


abellia said...

What the heck does that graph show? It seems to be missing some labels.

Tom Hoffman said...

Sorry, those are NECAP proficiency rates. Whole context here.

abellia said...

I'm not sure I get your point.

You say that "it is perfectly clear that it is possible to improve education for poor children, or for that matter, rich ones. For example, consider this chart..."

The chart doesn't show any kind of change, does it?

On another note, is it really difficult to be proficient in math? Seems so. What do you have to know to be proficient in math?

Tom Hoffman said...

Hi Abellia,

Yes, that's not longitudinal or anything, but there are many, many posts on this blog from the past year that lay out the increases in performance in recent years at Feinstein, Hope, and several other Providence high schools. Just search for "NECAP" and you'll find a bunch if you're curious.

In particular, the math is addressed here: