At the NCLBlog, AFTie John retells the Blueberry Story, which makes the point that schools can’t be run like an ice cream company because school officials can’t reject bad berries. Eduwonk points out the story implicitly blames children for being bad berries who can’t be improved.
That undercurrent is the notion that since schools can’t pick their “products” the way an ice cream factory can pick its blueberries holding them accountable for their outputs is simplistic and wrongheaded. . . .This is a view that the AFT has in the past vocally rejected. Al Shanker once quipped something to the effect of when you lose a quarter of your products before they reach the end of the assembly line and another quarter don’t work right when they get there then it’s not time for tweaking, it’s time to get a new assembly line.
How can we build better berries? Richard Rothstein, former a New York Times columnist, has ideas, though maybe not realistic ideas. Schools can’t narrow the achievement gap on their own, writes Rothstein, now at the Economic Policy Institute, in a WestEd paper. He advocates raising wages for low-paying jobs, improving housing, providing health clinics at schools, high-quality child care and preschool, after school and summer programs to provide more stability and enrichment for low-income children. He argues “funding these reforms would be more effective in narrowing achievement gaps than concentrating resources solely on traditional, stand-alone school reform efforts such as smaller class size and higher teacher pay.”
I don’t think government income or housing programs can do much to make poor children’s lives more stable. Remember the Great Society? I’d invest in improving K-12 schools and then funding quality preschool (see Quebec caveats) and a longer school day and year for disadvantaged children.
Update: At Education News, Kevin Kosar writes that we can’t educate all children to proficiency because we don’t know how to change lower-class culture or parents’ nurturing skills.
A lot more children from not-so-good homes would be competent students if they attended safe, orderly schools focused on academic achievement and staffed by good teachers. We don’t know who or how many are irredeemably bad berries. Why give up on them before we start?