Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Conveyor belt

NYTimes has a piece on efforts to preemptively target at-risk kids. We all know that by the time many hit kindergarten and the larger system they're already way behind. Over the summer I read Meaningful Differences , by Betty Hart and John Risley, which detailed their study of how family interaction between the ages of 1.5 and 3 impacts cognitive and language development, putting lower SES (socio-economic-status)* kids at least a good 2 years behind upper SES peers.

From the times:

The American social contract has always identified public schools as the one place where the state can and should play a role in the process of child-rearing. Outside the school’s walls (except in cases of serious abuse or neglect), society is seen to have neither a right nor a responsibility to intervene. But a new and growing movement of researchers and advocates has begun to argue that the longstanding and sharp conceptual divide between school and not-school is out of date. It ignores, they say, overwhelming evidence of the impact of family and community environments on children’s achievement. At the most basic level, it ignores the fact that poor children, on average, arrive in kindergarten far behind their middle-class peers. There is evidence that schools can do a lot to erase that divide, but the reality is that most schools do not. If we truly want to counter the effects of poverty on the achievement of children, these advocates argue, we need to start a whole lot earlier and do a whole lot more.

The piece makes it sound as if Obama's people have an ear to this stuff. An interesting point made was that there isn't any natural consituency for this area, like there is with unions, or the environment. Its basically people looking at poverty from (usually) the outside and intervening.

Speaking of unions, the piece mentioned the fact that charters are often non-union, and gave an example of one. Some proponents of school reform often point to this element of the charter movement as a good thing. I'll agree that it may often be, but as a teacher at a non-union school in a poor area, in which we are put in the position of effecting intensive interventions on a daily basis, the lack of representation, while possibly stimulating of best practices, also has many negative aspects. The wall between leadership and staff is quite rigid, and staff are generally in constant fear of rocking the boat. Performance-based employment is great if you have good leadership. But what happens when it is out of touch, negligent, or downright hostile? As for evaluation, it is a completely one-way street, with teachers having little say in the decision making process schoolwide, and none whatsoever in the performance of the administration.

Anyway, back to the piece. At the very least I think a renewed national debate about how to actually effect change in poor schools/neighborhoods will be good. NCLB was a good slap in the face, but now comes the more difficult task of taking a good look at what the roots of poverty really are, and what role government, via schools, etc. needs to play.

*edit: You know, I want to know what my SES status is. I've looked for an index but never found one. I kow there are a lot of factors, such as education and income potential. But I'd like something concrete!

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