2007 may be known as the year when the "soft bigotry of low expectations" made a comeback. It started with Education Week's dubious "Chance-for-Success Index" (motto: demography is destiny) and is finishing with another doozy from Michael "No Excuse Left Behind" Winerip. The New York Times columnist read a recent ETS study about student academic achievement and came to the startling conclusion that families matter. This is news? Winerip's unique (and uniquely irrational) contribution is to argue, first, that student learning is largely "beyond the control" of schools, and second, that "high quality day care and paid maternity leave" could "make a difference" were it not for "government's inadequate support." Yet factors beyond schools' control, according to ETS and Winerip, include student absenteeism and how much television youngsters watch. Tell that to schools such as KIPP and Amistad, which track students down when they don't show up and crowd out TV time with tons of homework. As for Winerip's optimism about day care and maternity leave: where's the evidence that they help close achievement gaps? Show us some numbers and Gadfly might flit onto that bandwagon. In the meantime, how about trying to improve the schools?
"In Gaps at School, Weighing Family Life," by Michael Winerip, New York Times, December 9, 2007