Teaching Tiny Tim

Class Matters in education, wrote Helen Ladd and Edward Fiske in a New York Times op-ed that claimed “No Child Left Behind required all schools to bring all students to high levels of achievement but took no note of the challenges that disadvantaged students face.”

Large bodies of research have shown how poor health and nutrition inhibit child development and learning and, conversely, how high-quality early childhood and preschool education programs can enhance them. We understand the importance of early exposure to rich language on future cognitive development. We know that low-income students experience greater learning loss during the summer when their more privileged peers are enjoying travel and other enriching activities.

The op-ed called for more funding for Promise Neighborhoods, which provides social and health services to low-income families.

Diane Ravitch praised Ladd’s research on education and poverty.

Even Scrooge might agree that our current efforts at school reform are ignoring the needs of the neediest children. Even Scrooge might wake up and realize that schools alone cannot equalize vast income gaps and cannot reinvent our social order.

When George W. Bush decried “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” he was asking too much of schools with low-income students, write Ladd, Fiske and Ravitch.

Nobody denies that class, poverty and parents matter, responds Peter Meyer in A Christmas Carol For Our Schools on Education Next.  No Child Left Behind “forced schools to pay attention to their poor and minority students by demanding disaggregated data.”  Schools were pressured to pay much more attention to struggling students.

As for special help for low-income children, Meyer asks:

What happened to Title I?  What happened to free-and-reduced lunch? What about the dozens of adequacy and equity lawsuits that have redistributed billions of tax dollars to low-wealth schools? . . . Outside of schools we have Medicaid, Section 8 housing, WIC (Women, Infants and Children food program), food stamps and a plethora of anti-poverty programs that should prove, if nothing else, how misguided the cure-poverty first folks are.

An “increasing number of reformers” and Catholic educators “have proven over and over again that poverty is an educational challenge for schools, not a death sentence for their students,” Meyer concludes.

“Saying we need to fix poverty before we can fix schools is like a doctor saying that he’s going to wait until you get better before he treats you,” writes Kathleen Porter-Magee in  The Poverty Matters Trap.



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  1. Oh my gosh. If Tiny Tim really DID go to school, he’d get suspended for saying, “God bless us, every one.” Also? The parents would be in danger of losing their child because he obviously hasn’t seen a physician, has no definitive diagnosis but is hobbling about on a handmade crutch.

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      Let’s not forget that Tiny Tim was out hobbling around the streets of London with limited parental supervision. He needs to be removed from his home by DYFUS immediately and placed in a state approved foster home.

      If the schools focused on their core purpose (literacy, numeracy, and instilling the habits of the disciplined) they’d ameliorated poverty. They don’t, therefore they can’t. Or, they can’t, therefore they don’t. Either way works.

  2. how misguided the cure-poverty first folks are.

    Poverty can’t be cured. Everytime the standard of living of the poor rises, the government revises the definition of poverty upwards.

  3. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    “Bilingual Education” (monolingual Spanish)
    “Compulsory Integration Busing “(more segregated school districts than ever)
    “Free School Lunches” (no such thing, plus it enabled parents to abdicate
    their responsibility to feed their own children and
    enlarged the Nanny State)
    “Child-Centered Curriculum” (Ensured that teaching the 3 R’s was last priority)
    “Values Clarification” (Replaced timeless, universal values, ie. The Golden Rule
    with 1960s era, feel-good moral relativism)
    “Teacher-as-Facilitator” (like trying to herd cats)
    “Achievement Gap” (Values gap…values and behavior determine economics,
    not the other way around)
    “Minority Achievement Gap (But Asian, African, European, Middle Eastern
    and Cuban immigrants who have been academically
    and financially successful in the U.S., even though they
    also came from poverty and a non-English speaking
    family do not count)

    “No Child Left Behind” (Standardized Testing Uber Alles. and has produced an unacceptable narrowing of the curriculum in most public schools while at the same time, costing billions that the taxpayers can’t afford and most
    insidiously, empowering the aforementioned Nanny

    I think it’s evident that these egregious “reforms” (I prefer to call them “deforms”) have had unintended consequences…bad ones. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Chainging the root causes of poverty ae as difficult as the obese dieter who goes on endless diets, but never really changes their eating habits. They ensure their own failure. Change must occur from within people, within families, within communities. It can’t be forced or induced by more dollars. Educrats need to learn what good doctors know…”First, Do No Harm”.

    • Deirdre Mundy says:

      So you want Educrats to take an oath?

      • nailsagainsttheboard says:

        No oath…leave social engineering out of education and get back to pedagogy and curriculum. Education is best left to local community control, be it public or private–not DC or even the State.

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    In an population large enough, you’re going to have a normal distribution. It’s mathematically impossible to have the average as the lowest score with everybody else above it.
    The question is what to do about the lowest, say, quintile left of the mean/median/mode.
    They will always be there. It’s a mathematical law. But those whose individual positions can be improved by…something ought to have the chance. If they refuse to take it, or are incapable, there’s not much we can do.
    I have a relation who has a project. She counsels with a woman who thinks grocery shopping at the convenience store is perfectly fine. Barely makes minimum age, doesn’t cook, buys prepared food. Let a guy move in and talk her into buying a big SUV–he didn’t sign or cosign–and hasn’t taught her HS age son to put his dishes in the dishwasher. Kid leaves them on the floor.
    If my relation relaxes her efforts for an instant, the lady relapses. So my relation is dragging one of this type through life by the collar. Not like those old toys with the friction motor. Nope. Like a toy truck with square wheels. Not sure we have the resources to drag everybody who needs dragging.

  5. Yes, you will always have students at the lowest quintile/quartile. What can change is the spread between the highest and lowest, as well as the individuals in those lowest levels. Overall, our goal is to change the range for students to be narrower, as well as to ensure that students of different sub-groups aren’t disproportionately represented in the lowest levels.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      So which do you think would be better: a situation where, on some absolute scale of knowledge, students are evenly distributed from 500 to 800, or where they are evenly distributed from 350 to 500?

  6. So did I miss something, and suddenly we’re all reveling in the successes of NCLB? Last I looked, even if you attribute all improvement in schools over the past decade to NCLB, that program looks like a failure.