Many of you may have seen Michelle Rhee on “Meet the Press” a few weeks ago. Ms. Rhee, the former superintendent of the Washington, D.C., public schools, started her own organization called “StudentsFirst” a few years ago in an effort to reform schools around the nation by organizing communities around key laws.
This organization’s latest ad, with an athlete in it, aims to reduce the emphasis people place on poverty and its role in predicting student success on standardized tests. This subject has resulted in more name-calling than any other subject in education reform. Those who believe poverty makes kids perform worse call the other side delusional, while those who don’t believe poverty plays a role call the other side crybabies.
Rational heads need to prevail. First, Michelle’s side:
Let’s stop accusing people of using poverty as an “excuse.” No one is trying to excuse poor performance. They are simply trying, as you are, to make it better. No one is crying about it like a little child or trying to suggest that no action or reform effort can have any effect until the root cause, poverty, is eliminated. Besides, these analysts are basically right, and they’re not trying to take away any of your hard-earned money; they’re just trying to give their kids a fair chance to accomplish that same level of personal and professional success in their lives. Ignoring kids who live in poverty will shoot any school reform efforts in the foot, including those coming out of StudentsFirst.
So, just stop. Kids in affluent schools do much better than those in poor schools, on average, so the data’s not going to come out in your favor—ever. Here’s a Voxitatis school snapshot from 2010, just to back up my point with my own analysis. Sort it by “% Low Income” and see how the colors, which divide Illinois’s public high schools into deciles, mostly parallel the “ACT Composite Score” column.
Now, the other side: Let’s stop thinking people can’t see the problem just because they want to de-emphasize it. They have a point. Listen, the worst thing you can tell an actual kid who finds himself born into poverty is that there’s no way out and he’s doomed to a life of failure. That’s the hopeless message you’re sending when you cry poverty all the time and stop listening to people’s honest efforts to help. I know 80 percent of children who are born to adults who have been incarcerated end up being incarcerated, but that means 20 percent of them don’t. I bet most of those 20 percent were told or shown that it was possible to break the cycle or never believed the negativity coming from doomsday scenarios.
All the name-calling does, in my opinion, is add complacency to both sides of the debate. A grand scheme to end poverty as we know it is not practical, especially in the political climate of America in 2012. What we need are practical solutions that will have an effect on actual students, where reforms can actually get past a sitting legislature, be signed by a sitting governor (or president), and make their way down to actual classrooms.
Anyway, the reason I wrote this post, even though I normally stay out of this bickering, is that a very funny post surfaced on the “StudentsLast” blog about Michelle Rhee and the teacher-bashing she tends to favor. The motto of this blog is “If you care about education, we would like to encourage you to stop.” Hahaha. I am literally falling off my chair in laughter. I hope you enjoy it:
The reason that slogan is so funny is that StudentsFirst is always prefacing its statements with “If you care about education …” If you point your browser at their site now, you will probably get a modal veil that suggests “If you care about education, you need to see this video.” Get ready for some name-calling (or laughs, if you have a good sense of humor). I don’t think it’s intended to be funny, though.