What can we learn from the recent pronouncements by Jack O'Connell, California's state superintendent of public instruction, that race, not poverty, is the cause of the most distressing achievement gaps in his state and the nation? The most important lesson is that it's becoming acceptable for educators to say in public what they've long been saying to each other--that certain racial groups, regardless of their socioeconomic situation, are lagging behind others. Of course, now that NCLB is shining a bright light on those gaps, citizens want a solution, and the pundits will provide a bevy of ideas. Columnist Bill Maxwell, for example, writing in the St. Petersburg Times, chastises Florida lawmakers (black Democrats, especially) for trying to use vouchers to help black students. The solution, Maxwell believes, is that black communities need to take more responsibility for their children and their schools. But people have been saying that for decades, and little has changed. How about this: To improve education, focus not on communities, parents, socioeconomics, or culture. Focus on schools--on setting high standards, hiring good teachers, creating classrooms with an achievement focus, etc., for all kids. Can we at least give it a try?
"Schools chief seeks end to learning gap," by Mitchell Landsberg and Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times, August 19, 2007
"Vouchers can't help if black parents won't," by Bill Maxwell, St. Petersburg Times, August 16, 2007