Matty asked me what I thought of this*, and boy did I have an answer. I may be dedicating years of my life to a frustrating and futile endeavor, but I love that what I’m about to do for a living makes me want to write in CAPS.
Brief synopsis of the argument, in case you don’t read the original post:
– Homework doesn’t seem to raise achievement.
– Most debates in education ignore the real cause of wide gaps in achievement (socioeconomic inequality).
– “Simple socioeconomic inequality is such an overwhelming factor that everything else combined is barely a blip on the radar.”
I started writing my response all quiet and rational, and by the end I was pounding on my desk. Here it is, basically:
1. True, the specific curriculum or instructional strategies don’t matter (much)—most alternatives credible enough to have gotten serious consideration are effective when taught well. What does matter, and tremendously, is the quality of the teaching.
2. True, vast socioeconomic inequality fuels gaps in achievement/attainment.
3. It’s wrong** to imply that schools can’t make a difference. Not only do we have plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest they can (individual schools and teachers that help poor kids do amazing things), but it’s awfully defeatist to suggest giving up on education policy entirely when the current state of things is so shitty. Schools serving already-privileged kids have more resources, better facilities, more experienced and higher quality teachers, more electives and extracurricular options, longer school days, and cultures focused more on passion for learning and preparation for life after high school than on preventing delinquency and making it to graduation. I think it’s quite ignorant (bullshit, if you like) to suggest that schools simply can’t make a difference in the face of vast socioeconomic disparities when the schools themselves are so, so, SO very far from equal themselves. Yes, there is much to overcome when you’re trying to educate kids who start with disadvantages—the policies have got to change in response and give them MORE instead of less. When that happens, and the differences in achievement still remain? Then I’ll buy that schools are “barely a blip on the radar.”
I may be waiting a while.
*Must include the caveat that normally I love Kevin Drum, but education is not his area of expertise.
**wrong, wrong, WRONG!