Neither Broad Nor Bold

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A narrow-minded approach to school reform



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SUMMER 2012 / VOL. 12, NO. 3

Helen Ladd, Presidential Address to the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management in Washington, D.C., November 4, 2011.

Checked by Paul E. Peterson

Children raised in families with higher incomes score higher on math and reading tests. That is no less true in the Age of Obama than it was in the Age of Pericles or, for that matter, in the Age of Mao. But is parental income the cause of a child’s success? Or is the connection between income and achievement largely a symptom of something else: genetic heritage, parental skill, or a supportive educational setting?

The Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, a coalition of education professors and interest-group leaders, including the heads of the country’s two largest teachers unions, have concluded that family income itself determines whether or not a child learns. In the first paragraph of its mission statement, the coalition claims that it has identified “a powerful association between social and economic disadvantage and low student achievement.”

“Weakening that link,” the Broader, Bolder group goes on to say, “is the fundamental challenge facing America’s education policy makers.” For this group, poverty and income inequality, not inadequate schools, are the fundamental problem in American education that needs to be fixed. Other possible approaches to improving student achievement—school accountability, school choice, reform of the teaching profession—are misguided, counterproductive, and even dangerous. The energy now being wasted on attempts to enhance the country’s education system should be redirected toward a campaign to either redistribute income or expand the network of social services.

The Broader, Bolder platform has won the wholehearted support of the country’s teachers unions. But it’s much to the credit of the current U.S. secretary of education, Arne Duncan, that he has carefully kept his distance, insisting instead on accountability, choice, and teacher policy reforms that the Broader, Bolder group finds dispensable.

Inasmuch as the Broader, Bolder movement can be expected to gather steam in an election year, especially given the success of Occupy Wall Street and the “1 percent” campaign, it is worth giving attention to the scholarly foundation on which its claims rest. That is best done by looking closely at the presidential address given before the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management by one of the coalition’s cochairs, Helen Ladd, a Duke University professor, which she summarized in a December 2011 op-ed piece published in the New York Times.

The Platform

The central thesis of the Ladd presidential address is certainly sweeping and bold: The income of a child’s family determines his or her educational achievement. Those who come from low-income families learn little because they are poor. Those who come from prosperous families learn a lot because they are rich. Her solution to the nation’s education woes is almost biblical. According to St. Matthew, Jesus advised the rich man to “Sell what you possess and give to the poor.” Not quite as willing as St. Matthew to rely on the charitable instinct, Ladd modifies the biblical injunction by asking for government intervention to make sure the good deed happens. But she is no less confident than Matthew that wonderful things will happen when the transfer of wealth takes place. Once income redistribution occurs, student achievement will reach a new, higher, and more egalitarian level. Meanwhile, any attempt to fix the schools that ignores this imperative is as doomed to failure as the camel that struggles to pass through the eye of a needle.

Of course, Ladd does not put it quite that bluntly. But her meaning is clear enough from what she does say: education reform policies “are not likely to contribute much in the future—to raising overall student achievement or to reducing [gaps in] achievement.”

The “logical policy response,” she continues, “would be to pursue policies to reduce the incidence of poverty…. That might be done, for example, through macro-economic policies designed to reduce unemployment, cash assistance programs for poor families, tax credits for low wage workers, or or an all-out assault ‘war on poverty.’”

Ladd is particularly enthusiastic about her approach “given the current high unemployment rates and also the dramatic increase in income inequality in this country since the 1970s.”

She continues, “Many considerations…make a compelling case for the country to take strong steps to reduce income inequality.”

Though income redistribution is the preferred option, Ladd decides it is not politically feasible. “Such a policy thrust is not in the cards, at least in the near term…unless the current protests in New York City and elsewhere…[put] income inequality back on the policy agenda.” In the meantime, the best course of action is for the government to fund a host of new services for the poor.

Why do the better-off have higher-performing children?

Key to Ladd’s case is a graph that shows a correlation between family income and student achievement in 14 industrialized nations. To no one’s surprise, that graph shows that in every country students who come from higher-income families score higher on math and reading tests. But is the connection causal? Do some students do better than others because their parents earn more money? Or are the parents who make a better living also the ones who do a better job of raising their children?

In work published in 1997, Susan Mayer, former dean of the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy Studies, tried to answer this question by carrying out a variety of tests, each of them an attempt to see exactly how much changes in income directly affect student achievement. In one test, she looked at those on welfare who lived in states where welfare benefits were higher. She found little if any benefit for those children living in one-parent families. Overall, she found that the direct relationship between income and education outcomes varies between negligible and small.

In a 2011 Brookings Institution report, Julia Isaacs and Katherine Magnuson explored this topic by looking specifically at the impact of family income on child readiness for school, a primary concern of the Broader, Bolder coalition. The authors rely on recently collected data from a U.S. Department of Education survey of a representative sample of U.S. families that tracked children from birth to the year they entered school. They look at the impact of a host of family characteristics on school readiness and student achievement in the first year of school. When they calculate the simple correlation between income and math achievement, Helen Ladd’s approach, they find that a $4,000 increment (a 50 percent increase in the $8,000 average income reported by the families in this study) in the income of the poor family will lift student achievement by 20 percent of a standard deviation (close to a year’s worth of learning in the middle years of schooling), a substantial impact that seems to support the Broader, Bolder claims. But when the authors adjust for other factors—race, mother’s and father’s education, single or two-parent family, smoking during pregnancy, and so forth—the distinctive impact of family income on math achievement drops to just 6.4 percent of a standard deviation. It is better than  twice as important for achievement that children living in a low-income family have a mother with a high school diploma (as compared to one without the diploma) than that the family has 50 percent more income.

Is it absolute income or relative income that counts?

Ladd claims that Finland, Canada, and the Netherlands have higher student performance because they have fewer children living in poverty. To arrive at this conclusion, she excludes the value of medical programs and other government services, the very items that later become part of her policy agenda. This is no small matter, as the U.S. poverty rate in 2003 was just 8.1 percent if those items are included, 23 percent less than the officially reported 10.5 percent poverty rate for that year (which fails to take into account food stamps, Medicaid, school lunch programs, earned income credits, and other cash transfers). In addition, Ladd defines poverty in relative, not absolute, terms. Anyone is poor if he has an income more than 1 standard deviation below the average. With that definition, she decides that only 4 percent of the children in Finland live in poverty compared to 20 percent of the children in the United States, despite the fact that average income in the U.S. is a third higher than it is in Finland.

Of course, one could also conclude that Finland’s rising test-score performance is due to the growing income gap in that country. In 2008, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reported that “the gap between rich and poor has widened more in Finland than in any other wealthy industrialized country over the past decade.” When one picks out stray facts from a country one likes, anything goes.

Using the sociologist’s relative definition of poverty, and not the absolute definition used by ordinary people, fits the Broader, Bolder agenda. The point is not to provide opportunities for the poor but to equalize wealth across society as a whole. Never mind if everyone, rich or poor, ends up with less.

Do changes between 1940 and 2000 explain the larger achievement gap?

Drawing on a study by Stanford education professor Sean Reardon, Ladd says that the gap in reading achievement between students from families in the lowest and highest income deciles is larger for those born in 2001 than for those born in the early 1940s. She suspects it is because those living in poor families today have “poor health, limited access to home environments with rich language and experiences, low birth weight, limited access to high-quality pre-school opportunities, less participation in many activities in the summer and after school that middle class families take for granted, and more movement in and out of schools because of the way that the housing market operates.”

But her trend data hardly support that conclusion. Those born to poor families in 2000 had much better access to medical and preschool facilities than those born in 1940. Medicaid, food stamps, Head Start, summer programs, housing subsidies, and the other components of Johnson’s War on Poverty did not become available until 1965. Why didn’t those broad, bold strokes reduce the achievement gap?

What has changed for the worse during the intervening period is not access to food and medical services for the poor but the increment in the percentage of children living in single-parent households. In 1969, 85 percent of children under the age of 18 were living with two married parents; by 2010, that percentage had declined to 65 percent. According to sociologist Sara McLanahan, income levels in single-parent households are one-half those in two-parent households. The median income level of a single-parent family is just over $27,000 (in 1992 dollars), compared to more than $61,000 for a two-parent family. Meanwhile, the risk of dropping out of high school doubles. The risk increases from 11 percent to 28 percent if a white student comes from a single-parent instead of a two-parent family. For blacks, the increment is from 17 percent to 30 percent, and for Hispanics, the risk rises from 25 percent to 49 percent. In other words, a parent who has to both earn money and raise a child has to perform at a heroic level to succeed.

A better case can be made that the growing achievement gap is more the result of changing family structure than of inadequate medical services or preschool education. If the Broader, Bolder group really wanted to address the social problems that complicate the education of children, they would explore ways in which public policy could help sustain two-parent families, a subject well explored in a recent book by Mitch Pearlstein (Shortchanging Student Achievement: The Educational, Economic, and Social Costs of Family Fragmentation) but one that goes virtually unmentioned in the Ladd report.

Why do states differ?

Ladd tells us that states that have a high poverty rate—for example, Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, and Louisiana—have lower math and reading scores than states with low poverty rates, such as New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Utah, and Maryland. While Ladd comes close to saying that high state poverty rates produce low achievement, the opposite connection is more plausible. The New England states and Utah have the lowest child-poverty rates because the commitment to education in those states has deep historical and cultural roots, and the families in those states are more likely to remain intact. Meanwhile, the southern parts of the United States all but closed the school doors to African Americans and only opened them a small crack for all but well-to-do white students throughout most of the 19th century, and even well into the 20th. It’s easier to make the case that the wide range in educational opportunity and achievement among the states in the not-too-distant past is the cause—not the consequence—of the variation in state poverty rates today.

Even in contemporary America, the places that have strong education systems tend to attract business, industry, and a skilled workforce. Where high-quality schools are abundant, incomes are generally high and poverty low. If a state is well endowed with human capital, its citizens are prosperous and its students will be learning at school. Does anyone believe that the federal government could reverse Connecticut’s and Alabama’s places on the student achievement scale if it took the money from the Constitution State and gave it to the Heart of Dixie?

Of course, we are not making the claim that the quality of a state’s schools is the only thing that affects poverty levels. Economic life is too complex to be reduced to any single factor. No matter what the Broader, Bolder group says, any inference that might be drawn from a simple correlation between achievement and poverty is problematic.

Perhaps recognizing the weaknesses in her case, Ladd tries to bolster it by correlating changes in achievement with changes in the child poverty rate within states. She finds that in recent years a 1 percentage point increase in the poverty rate reduces achievement by about .03 standard deviations. But she does little to control for other factors that may be changing at the same time. If single-parent households in a state are increasing, they could be adversely affecting student achievement and child poverty rates simultaneously. And if the state economy is sliding, talented, eager workers might be moving elsewhere and leaving behind the less ambitious, who are likely to be those with low-achieving children. In other words, any simultaneous shift in poverty rates and achievement is likely to be the result of a third factor that affects both simultaneously. Even the most devoted Broader, Bolder fan can hardly claim that a child’s test scores bounce up and down with the number of bills in Daddy’s pocket.

Why do people deny the poverty reality and claim that schools can teach poor students?

Ladd is so confident of her data that she attacks as deniers those who question a strong correlation between income and achievement. “Can anyone credibly believe that the mediocre overall performance of American students on international tests is unrelated to the fact that one-fifth of American children live in poverty?” she asks in her New York Times essay. Well, yes, they can. Even if we compare with all students in other countries the math performance of only those U.S. students from families where one parent has a college degree, the U.S. ranks 19th among the nations of the world who took the 2006 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) test; just 10 percent of students from college-educated families performed at the advanced level. More than 20 percent of all Koreans and Finns do that well, as do 15 percent of all Canadians. Surely, those telling facts about the state of American math education cannot be attributed simply to child poverty.

Attacking the Reforms

But if poverty is the Broader, Bolder whip, the horses to be flogged are those pulling the school reform chariot: not to get them to run faster but to punish them for their efforts. School reformers, she says, have been recklessly trying to improve education “by better use of information and incentives.”

She objects to the “no excuses” approach to education, which expects strong performance from students regardless of family background, saying that the few schools that are able to accomplish the task are unusual places filled with kids from families with especially devoted parents. She criticizes George W. Bush for worrying about the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” That kind of talk goes “a long way toward explaining why No Child Left Behind has not worked,” she says, overlooking the fact that gains in math and reading since its passage have amounted to 8 percent of a standard deviation, with even larger gains among minority students (see “Grinding the Antitesting Ax,” check the facts, Spring 2012).

Ladd condemns the use of test-score information for the purpose of evaluating and compensating teachers. “Extensive research shows that…valid and reliable measures of teacher effectiveness,” have yet to be generated, she says, blithely putting on ignore important work by Thomas Kane, Eric Hanushek, and Raj Chetty and his colleagues, which shows that students learn in any given year somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of a standard deviation more if they have an especially effective teacher rather than a very ineffective one.

Ignoring the potential impact that would accompany the recruitment and retention of more-effective teachers, Ladd condemns merit-pay policies based on student test performance on the grounds that such policies “provide…incentives for [school officials] to narrow the curriculum to the tested subjects of math and reading, and to direct teacher attention to basic skills away from student reasoning skills.” Even worse, it leads to “unfair and arbitrary treatment of teachers.” Once schools “place heavy weight on student test scores” they are “likely to do more harm than good.” One can hear the applause ringing out in union halls across the country.

Charter schools are rejected because that they constitute merely a “governance change” that “ignores the educational challenges facing disadvantaged children.” She worries that such schools are “draining funds from the traditional public schools,” even though there is not a single state that takes money away from public schools unless a child leaves them for a school the parent prefers. Ladd apparently thinks public schools should receive money whether or not they have students.

What Is to Be Done?

Eschewing all school reforms, and conceding that the rich cannot be robbed quite yet, what does Ladd actually want to do? When we turn to her practical agenda, we can see just how important the teachers unions are to the Broader, Bolder coalition: most of the key reforms Ladd proposes have nothing to do with ending poverty in any direct way, but instead are directed toward employing more professionals for tasks outside the regular K–12 classroom:

Establish preschool programs. Though she admits the evidence on the effectiveness of Head Start and other large-scale preschool programs is disappointing, she calls for their expansion. Yet the poor already have better access to government-funded preschool programs than other families do. If this were the solution to the achievement gap, we would already be well on our way.

Expand school-based health clinics and social services. Ladd wants to hire a vast new number of “school nurses, social welfare counselors and teachers” who would “meet on a regular basis to discuss and address the challenges of individual children,” as if that were not already part and parcel of the special education program into which 15 percent of school-age students already are placed. If that program has not borne fruit, why would its expansion do anything other than provide more adult employment?

Establish quality afterschool and summer programs. Rather than fix the regular day school, Ladd would have the United States pour its energy into programs that would extend the days and hours that children are in school. Although she admits that “research shows…that marginally expanding in-school time without improving how that time is used does not improve learning” she is confident that “high intensity summer programs” can do the job, as if any such program could be brought to scale.

Provide high-quality schools for disadvantaged students. “Children in schools serving large proportions of disadvantaged students “ must “have access to high quality teachers, principals, supports for students, and other resources, and…schools” must “be held accountable for the quality of their internal processes and practices.” Ladd plans to hold these schools accountable while at the same time ending the “obsession with test-based outcome measures” by making sure that every school has a certified teacher, shifting good teachers to schools teaching disadvantaged students (without telling us how to identify those teachers), and looking at the total climate of a school, not just its test scores, when deciding whether it is effective.

Eliminate No Child Left Behind. “In its place the federal government should implement strategies designed to help state and local governments address in a more constructive and positive manner the educational needs of low SES children.” Just exactly how schools themselves are to do this is left unsaid.

In sum, the Broader, Bolder platform is narrow, niggling, naïve, and negligible. Contrary to Ladd’s claims, the unique effects of family income on student achievement are only modest, less than the effects of many of the education reforms Ladd regards as inadequate or worse. Most of the proposals to lift student achievement offered by Ladd and her Broader, Bolder colleagues ignore the many hours children spend at school, proposing instead a potpourri of noneducational services; those services that do have an educational component are to be offered either to preschoolers or to students during their summer vacation or after school. Such initiatives will increase the number of unionized workers in the public sector, but they have never been shown to have more than modest effects on student achievement. They promise little hope of stemming the rising number of single-parent families, a major contributor to both child poverty and low levels of student performance. If reducing poverty and lifting student achievement are the goals, dollars would be better allocated by cutting the taxes on earned income paid by two-parent, working families with children.

Paul E. Peterson is director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.




Comment on this article
  • Jane says:

    In reading about BBA, I felt transported back to the Great Society and subsequently the Coleman Report ’66.

    The findings disseminated in the Coleman Report are woven into the fabric of educational systems already and continue to have crippling effects on teachers as well as children.

    Just when it appears that teacher efficacy will take hold, a Helen Ladd pops onto the scene.

  • bruce says:

    Fine – some valid points here. But when expending so many words, can’t one paragraph be devoted to alternative suggestions? Does the author have any ideas of his own? I can’t even tell from this if he thinks we should keep doing the same thing we’ve been doing or just give up.

  • Rob Bligh says:

    Data is not the plural of anecdote and anecdotes are not basis for rational public policy. Of course there are children living in poverty who can – and do – succeed academically, but if you bet that way you end up broke. America has been ordering public schools to “fix” the developmental damage done to children forced to live in inadequate households for 46 years (ESEA). If that were going to work, it would have worked by now. It has not.

  • Danny T. says:

    Dr. Peterson, your essay misrepresents grossly the BBA position and Dr. Ladd’s work, includint her NY Times op-ed, and paper, Education and Poverty: Confronting the Evidence (which you cite). Never do they infer a causal relationship between poverty and student achievement. Nowhere on the BBA site or in the op-ed is there a mention of causation, as far as I can see. Rather, the terms used are “correlation” (appears three times in the op-ed) and “association,” which, I’m sure you know is not synonymous with causation. Association is a connection or relation of ideas or a correlation of elements of perception, reasoning, or the like (see http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/association).

    BBA and Dr. Ladd suggest, rather, that the factors associated with experiencing poverty–poor health and nutrition, the lack of language-rich environments including high quality child care and preschools, and exposure to violence–influence student outcomes. This is consistent with a large body of good research. And it stands to reason that a child with a poor mental or physical health is likely to struggle. Seems to be common sense. So why not work to change this, as well as improve school climate, curriculum, teacher quality, leadership, etc.?

    You also apply set of standards for BBA, the standard of causation, but fail to adhere to the same standards. Can you prove a causal relationship with the alternative reforms and approaches you champion to improving student achievement: school accountability reforms, school choice, etc.?

    BBA and Dr. Ladd never suggest that school accountability, school choice, and other reforms are entirely “misguided, counterproductive, and even dangerous.” Those are your words. What Dr. Ladd finds “nefarious” is the denial that the conditions associated with poverty negatively influence student outcomes. Here is what Dr. Ladd actually says, “A final rationale for denying the correlation is more nefarious. As we are now seeing, requiring all schools to meet the same high standards for all students, regardless of family background, will inevitably lead either to large numbers of failing schools or to a dramatic lowering of state standards. Both serve to discredit the public education system and lend support to arguments that the system is failing and needs fundamental change, like privatization.”

    I encourage people to read Dr. Ladd’s op-ed and visit the BBA website.

    Class Matters. Why Won’t We Admit It?
    By HELEN F. LADD and EDWARD B. FISKE
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/12/opinion/the-unaddressed-link-between-poverty-and-education.html?_r=1

    BBA website
    http://www.boldapproach.org/index.php?id=01

    Finally, quote from Dr. Ladd’s paper, Education and Poverty: Confronting the Evidence (see http://sanford.duke.edu/research/papers/SAN11-01.pdf), and others works. But the quotes are somewhat out of context. For example, you write, “Of course, Ladd does not put it quite that bluntly. But her meaning is clear enough from what she does say: education reform policies “are not likely to contribute much in the future—to raising overall student achievement or to reducing [gaps in] achievement.” You pull this quote from the abstract. Folks should read the paper, understand the context, and decide for themselves.

  • Danny T. says:

    Dr. Peterson, your essay misrepresents grossly the BBA position and Dr. Ladd’s work, including her NY Times op-ed, and paper, Education and Poverty: Confronting the Evidence (which you cite). Never do they infer a causal relationship between poverty and student achievement. Nowhere on the BBA site or in the op-ed is there a mention of causation, as far as I can see. Rather, the terms used are “correlation” (appears three times in the op-ed) and “association,” which, I’m sure you know is not synonymous with causation. Association is a connection or relation of ideas or a correlation of elements of perception, reasoning, or the like (see http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/association).

    BBA and Dr. Ladd suggest, rather, that the factors associated with experiencing poverty–poor health and nutrition, the lack of language-rich environments including high quality child care and preschools, and exposure to violence–influence student outcomes. This is consistent with a large body of good research. And it stands to reason that a child with a poor mental or physical health is likely to struggle. Seems to be common sense. So why not work to change this, as well as improve school climate, curriculum, teacher quality, leadership, etc.?

    You also apply set of standards for BBA, the standard of causation, but fail to adhere to the same standards. Can you prove a causal relationship with the alternative reforms and approaches you champion to improving student achievement: school accountability reforms, school choice, etc.?

    BBA and Dr. Ladd never suggest that school accountability, school choice, and other reforms are entirely “misguided, counterproductive, and even dangerous.” Those are your words. What Dr. Ladd finds “nefarious” is the denial that the conditions associated with poverty negatively influence student outcomes. Here is what Dr. Ladd actually says, “A final rationale for denying the correlation is more nefarious. As we are now seeing, requiring all schools to meet the same high standards for all students, regardless of family background, will inevitably lead either to large numbers of failing schools or to a dramatic lowering of state standards. Both serve to discredit the public education system and lend support to arguments that the system is failing and needs fundamental change, like privatization.”

    I encourage people to read Dr. Ladd’s op-ed and visit the BBA website.

    Class Matters. Why Won’t We Admit It?
    By HELEN F. LADD and EDWARD B. FISKE
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/12/opinion/the-unaddressed-link-between-poverty-and-education.html?_r=1

    BBA website
    http://www.boldapproach.org/index.php?id=01

    Finally, quote from Dr. Ladd’s paper, Education and Poverty: Confronting the Evidence (see http://sanford.duke.edu/research/papers/SAN11-01.pdf), and others works. But the quotes are somewhat out of context. For example, you write, “Of course, Ladd does not put it quite that bluntly. But her meaning is clear enough from what she does say: education reform policies “are not likely to contribute much in the future—to raising overall student achievement or to reducing [gaps in] achievement.” You pull this quote from the abstract. Folks should read the paper, understand the context, and decide for themselves.

  • jeffrey miller says:

    Congratulations Paul, for attempting to paint your opposition into a rhetorical corner. Sadly, you’re going to have to up your game.

    “When one picks out stray facts from a country one likes, anything goes.” Indeed. You cite Mayer’s study to show there is no relationship between income and student achievement. She examined families with differing welfare incomes and found no real difference. Did it occur to you that being on welfare is itself kind of important? Even once did that cross your mind? I’m guessing you are too busy turning Ladd into some kind of mock-heroine of unions and dismissing with a random grab bag of data in the same manner as global warming deniers everyone with a liberal prescription for schools.

    Simple income redistribution as you describe it is not going to do the trick. Not because income inequity is not real and growing but because you take a reductive estimation of your opponents and in such a characterization, I would agree that a simplistic approach will not move the achievement levels much. What you fail to understand or acknowledge (and I hope the Bold people do) is that the process of clearly articulating and then acting on wealth disparities will take many years and will require changing cultural attitudes about what it means to succeed in America. There is deep cynicism in underprivileged communities and that crippling worldview can only be addressed through a combination of being honest about wealth in America and offering increasingly better quality schools for all.

  • [...] a recent article at Education Next, Paul Peterson critiques the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education in general and Helen Ladd’s [...]

  • Jodi Grant - Executive Director, Afterschool Alliance says:

    The Broader Bolder Approach to Education proposes establishing quality afterschool and summer programs as a key component of education reform for good reason. There is a solid evidence base, not for expanding in-school time, but for enhancing what happens in school with before-school, afterschool and summer programs. History has demonstrated very clearly that schools alone cannot shoulder the burden of preparing all our students to succeed. That’s why afterschool and summer learning programs are so important. They have a proven track record of leveraging the best of a community’s resources — colleges, museums, businesses, arts groups, volunteers, community- and faith-based organizations, sports leagues, health care providers and others — to provide students with hands-on learning activities that complement, but do not replicate, the school day. More than two dozen studies of afterschool, spanning a decade, show that afterschool programs support student success by improving test scores, increasing attendance, reducing dropouts, promoting greater engagement in learning and reducing truancy and behavior problems in school. Read a summary of the research here: http://www.afterschoolalliance.org/documents/EvaluationsBackgrounder2012.pdf.

    Furthermore, research on summer learning loss finds that it disproportionately affects low-income students. Students who regularly attend high-quality summer learning programs have positive outcomes that can endure for years after the program, while for students without summer learning opportunities, the outlook can be grim. Rand Corporation researchers noted that summer learning loss is cumulative and over time contributes substantially to the achievement gap in reading, leading them and many others to question whether efforts to close the achievement gap during the school year alone can ever be successful.

    The Broader Bolder proposal to establish quality afterschool and summer programs is well founded in research and well worth policy maker consideration at all levels of government.

  • Amelia Peterson says:

    Nowhere in this article is there mention of how breaking down the US Pisa performance according to % of students in a school on free lunch shows a very strong association between levels of poverty in a school and their performance internationally: schools with fewer than 25% of students in poverty average out at 3rd in the table, those with 75% or more are second to last. That seems pretty strong indication that targeting poverty would go a long way to solving the US education ‘crisis’.

  • Nick Siewert says:

    This is a disappointing effort on your part Paul and normally I take your stuff pretty seriously. You seem intent on compartmentalizing the ills inherent in poverty- lack of parental education, single parent, alcoholism- to prove a rhetorical point. Even if that were possible, I’m not sure what it gets you. A stronger argument for vouchers? A greater belief in the myth of the heroic teacher? The simple fact is that children in Title 1 schools to not spend enough time in school to remediate the deficits their upbringing and circumstances have wrought. There is data on this as well but it is also plain as day to anyone working in these schools on a regular basis. I wonder what schools you have been visiting that would drive you to parse the various aspects of poverty as you have here. Come to Harlem and the Bronx for a visit. I would be more than happy to show you around and watch you disaggregate the lives of poor students there into discernable causal factors within an acceptable standard deviation.

  • [...] determine whether or not a child learns? That’s what progressive educators believe, charges Harvard Professor Paul Peterson in a recent piece for Education [...]

  • [...] determine whether or not a child learns? That’s what progressive educators believe, charges Harvard Professor Paul Peterson in a recent piece for Education [...]

  • [...] in the United States — an education. Their situations are emblematic of a fierce, ongoing debate about how best to close the yawning gap that exists between the test scores of rich and poor [...]

  • VixVenom says:

    While I’m certain I don’t have the academic “chops” to muster a valid rhetort to all those here that disagree with the author (I’m just a student), it seems obvious to me that whatever causes poverty, also causes poor academic performance. I grew up poor and performed that way in school. I performed poorly because my parents, both drop-outs, didn’t put much stock in education…they were focused on gainful employment…blue collar employment, the kind that requires no education. “Learn a trade,” is what my father said. He didn’t care if I got C’s, he wanted me to learn auto body repair from his best friend…also a drop out. I got out of that circle by joining the military, luckily. My point is, you can’t say being poor causes poor performance. It may look that way, but it doesn’t. Being poor and being a poor performer are caused by the same thing, that’s the relationship. I know, I lived it.

    By the way, if you think it’s bad now, wait until the kids entering Kindergarten now get to middle school. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. These kids are doomed…look at Detroit…it’s spreading like a cancer. Good luck.

  • [...] side.Here is a summary of Harvard’s Paul Peterson’s critique of the poverty-as-cause theory; here is the full article. (Here is a summary of the argument between Ladd and Peterson.) Here, here, [...]

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