Fifteen years ago, more or less, I was asked to speak to a graduate class for teachers seeking an administrative credential. A teacher talked about all the kids growing up in poverty and in dysfunctional families and said San Jose Unified’s slogan, “All children can learn,” was unrealistic. The teacher asked me what percentage of students the public expected the schools to educate.
I said, “Ninety percent?” The teachers laughed. Derisively. I wish I’d made them come up with a number.
Education reformers are accusing Diane Ravitch of defeatism when it comes to educating poor children, notes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper. But it’s time to clarify what reformers think they can achieve, he writes. If we can’t bring 100 percent of students to proficiency — and we can’t — what can education reform achieve?
This fall, about 1 million poor children will enroll in U.S. kindergartens, he writes. Most are the children of poorly educated single mothers. Should school accountability systems expect all these children to be prepared to attend four-year colleges? Is it enough for them to do no worse than their mothers?
I would bet that your own views fall somewhere in between. You acknowledge–privately at least–that it’s unrealistic to expect all kids growing up in poverty to be able to “beat the odds” and graduate from college. (That’s why we call them odds.) You recognize that for most middle-class families, the path from poverty to prosperity was a multi-generational journey.
But you also believe in the promise of social mobility, and can point to examples of schools–even mediocre ones–that have helped some kids escape the ghetto or the barrio or the reservation. To accept the status quo is to accept perpetual injustice for decades to come.
A stretch goal, writes Petrilli, would be to move the high school graduation rate in poor districts from 50 percent to 60 percent, perhaps to shift the reading proficiency rate for 12th graders with parents who dropped out of high school from 17 percent up to 25 percent, or math proficiency from 8 percent to 15 percent.
That would turn 400,000 of our million poor kids into drop-outs; only 90,000 would be proficient in math. But it’s an improvement.
There could be less ambitious goals, Petrilli writes:
Getting more of them to the “basic” level on NAEP? Preparing them for decent-paying jobs instead of the lowest-paid jobs? Driving down the teen pregnancy rate? Lowering the incarceration rate?
. . . If we are to get beyond the “100 percent proficiency” or “all students college and career ready” rhetoric, these are the conversations we need to have. And if we’re not willing to do so, don’t complain when Diane Ravitch and her armies of angry teachers complain that we are asking them to perform miracles.
President Obama wants all young Americans to have at least a year of postsecondary education. But only 71.7 percent complete high school: The rate drops to 57 percent for blacks, 58 percent for Latinos.
Update: Dropout Nation prefers irrational exuberance to low expectations.