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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

All children can learn -- but how much?

Not all education problems are solvable, if we just try hard enough or spend enough, argues Freddie DeBoer in a column on optimism bias. "At least a half-century of research, spending, policy experimentation, and dogged effort has utterly failed to close the gaps that so vex our political class," he writes.

Teachers feel they're blamed when student outcomes are unequal, he writes. It's assumed students who do poorly are the victims of "some sort of error or injustice." Arguing that expectations are unrealistic are dismissed as "excuse-making or as evidence of bigotry."

Some students are more academically capable than others, he writes.

No one wants to deny the potential of any kids to flourish. (You might say that most people want to ensure that no child is left behind.) But someone has . . . to say that the empire has no clothes. Someone has to defend teachers and schools by pointing out that they simply don’t control outcomes in the way they’re usually assumed to.

DeBoer proposes strengthening the social safety net so that people for whom schooling doesn't provide upward mobility can have a decent life.

Andrew Rotherham responds here. He thinks DeBoer has constructed some straw men in arguing for the futility of education reform -- but also makes points worth discussing. What expectations are reasonable?

Most people don't really believe all students have equal potential to excel, he writes. But can we expect more than the "abysmal" outcomes we see?

If we expect more, how much more? And, if so, then how much? I argue yes. Many argue no, or no unless we make enormous other reforms to American society. It's an important conversation because how you see this question will define how you see questions about deploying people, resources, focus and also how you see the politics of our sector - and increasingly partisan politics, too.

"We're talking about millions of kids in schools with less than one in five kids proficient" on tests in which "proficiency' is a very low bar, Rotherham writes.

I suggest reading both essays.

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