The Teachability Index: Can Disadvantaged Students Learn?

Jay Greene and Greg Forster, The Manhattan InstituteSeptember 2004

Jay Greene and Greg Forster of the Manhattan Institute released this study last week, ostensibly an answer to the work of Richard Rothstein and others who argue that social factors make it all but impossible to close achievement gaps via education reform, and that reformers should instead focus on fixing those underlying social problems. To test that theory, the authors create a "teachability index," which uses factors of school readiness, community, race, economics, health, and family to determine how "teachable" students are, then ranks states according to their students' teachability. In addition, using state student achievement data, the authors rank the states according to how efficient their schools are, i.e., how well their students perform when compared with the achievement level predicted by their teachability and state education spending. Interestingly, Greene and Forster find that "States with low scores on the [teachability] index do not inevitably produce low-performing students, and states with high scores do not inevitably produce high-performing students." Thus, they argue, social factors and school spending do not necessarily predetermine the level at which students can achieve, and therefore increasing spending or targeting these social problems will not necessarily yield higher achievement. Critics will quibble with the factors Greene and Forster chose to include in their index and, as the authors note, it's "only a rough indicator of student teachability." One also wonders whether engaging in the "teachability" debate may be counterproductive, given that social inequality should never justify the achievement gaps that too many educators have come to accept. But, the report does provide a counter-argument to those who insist that education reform is impossible so long as social inequality persists - which is to say, in effect, that reform is impossible forever. To check it out, click here.

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