Do everything — except fixing schools

David Kirp’s soon-to-be-published book, Kids First: Five Big Ideas for Transforming Children’s Lives makes the “broader, bolder” case for reforming urban education without changing schools, writes Paul Peterson on Education Next.

According to Kirp, the best way to improve America’s urban schools is to ignore them. Instead, attention should be focused on parents, pre-schooling, reshaping neighborhoods, finding mentors for the kids, and giving kids money to go to college. In other words, do everything except fix the disastrous state of the big city school system, shaped by court decisions, federal regulations, professional bureaucrats, collective bargaining agreements, and a progressive philosophy that expects little in instruction from teachers.

It’s nice to see the importance of good parents recognized, writes Peterson,  even though Kirp “puts his chips on professionals telling mothers what to do rather than suggesting ways to keep parents married and families intact.”

Nurturing preschools, mentors and college savings plans are desirable. But good schools matter too.

About Joanne


  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    I’m from the government and I’m here to tell you how to raise your kids.

    I’d be interested in the next step; What happens when a parent, fully instructed, fails to follow instructions? Will Child Abductive Services be far behind?

    Remember the discussion on fragile kids? Will the parents in question be required to use common sense or the most finicky of government programs?

  2. The lowest third, it seems to me, is beyond our collective power to educate to a high level.

    The top third will thrive no matter how weak the schools are.

    The middle third can be lifted up by schools with strong discipline and strong academics.

  3. Ben, it’s worse than that. The lowest x% are neither educable nor trainable and should never enter the educational system. They will always need custodial care and funding for this group should have that focus, including such personal-care training they can do. The next x% are not educable but are trainable and need special placement for such to prepare them for employment, recognizing that they will need supervision. The next x% are educable to perhaps 8th-grade level and are capable of full independence. Above that are those capable of HS grad work, which should include vocational options. College-ready follows, then the gifted and the highly gifted. All (excepting the first group) should be challenged to the limits of their ability and motivation. The current one-size-fits-all approach serves most of these groups poorly.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    According to PEW, the out of wedlock birthrate is now 40%. How could any teacher make up for this loss of family strcuture in a 6-7 hour a day timespan?

  5. In some communities, the illegitimacy rate is over 90%. I believe the overall rate among blacks is 70%, the lowest SES decile of whites is at 40% and the next decile of whites is at 25%. When the black rate hit 25%, almost 40 years ago, Daniel Moynihan was vilified for raising an alarm. Sadly, he was right.

    The unfortunate corollary to the illegitimacy rate is the age of the mother; young teenage is common and it correlates with a lack of education and skills. It’s nowhere near unusual to see under-20s with several kids from several different sperm donors (can’t call them fathers) and urban areas now have 3-4 generations of that pattern. How can anyone think that this is a good way to raise kids? Of course, there are problems. You can’t adopt a kitten from an animal shelter without investigation and a license.

    I grew up in a small town where it was common for kids to begin dating by 7th grade, often dating only one person all through school and marrying after graduation. That was hard enough.

  6. Mom of 4,

    Thank you for your refinement of my proposition. I agree. After 14 years of teaching, I feel the scales are finally falling from my eyes. In ed school we’re taught that a good teacher can make all kids succeed. This is profoundly false. There are deep structural issues in the populace that must be accounted for –and that cannot be changed significantly by a corps of dedicated teachers. It’s good for my mental health to recognize this.


  1. Bill of Rights For Kids…

    In response to Lisa’ s comment, I also agree with how wrong it is to have students pledging allegiance to any other country other then the United States. If American students were to move to another country, start waving the American flag and pledging …