Incomplete: How Middle Class Schools Aren???t Making the Grade

This report from Third Way,
a self-proclaimed “moderate” policy think tank, has garnered much attention
this week, following its Wall
Street Journal profile
Monday. But should it have? By linking NAEP data to schools’ percentages of
students on free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL), the report comes to three
conclusions: most American students attend middle-class schools; middle-class
schools spend less per student and have a greater student-teacher ratio than wealthy
and lower-income schools; and middle-class schools are underperforming. Thing
is, the report doesn’t actually look at middle-class schools; but, rather, at
those that are economically diverse: The definition used here for “middle
class” is a school with between 26 and 75 percent of its students on FRPL. The
analysts don’t have a clue how many students actually belong to the “middle
class.” (All we can learn from school-level data is the percentage of poor (and
non-poor) kids, as defined by FRPL eligibility.) Further, the report’s focus on
“low” school spending ($10,350 per pupil) and “high” student-teacher ratio
(17.5:1) as ailments of our middle-class schools is also problematic, as it
implies a need to bump school spending and drop class sizes in these
schools—reforms that have already been tried and found wanting. A rigorous
report examining the efficacy of middle-class schools is surely in order (if
someone could figure out a way to access family income data for individual
students); this piece from Third Way is not it.

Click to play

Click to listen to commentary on Third Way's report from the Education Gadfly Show podcast.


Tess Stovall and Deirdre Dolan, “Incomplete:
How Middle Class Schools Aren’t Making the Grade
(Washington, D.C.: The Third
Way, September 2011).

Michael Ishimoto is a Research Intern at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute