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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Educating the poor: What works best?

Students at KIPP South Fulton Academy in Atlanta.

“No excuses” charters are more effective ways to improve prospects for disadvantaged children than trying to create schools that integrate poor, middle-class and affluent students, concludes Amy L. Wax, a Penn law professor, writing in National Affairs.

The most thought-provoking part of the essay deals with the desire to change the habits and behaviors of the poor, writes Checker Finn.

Both models “assume that, to succeed in school and in life, poor children need to be taught bourgeois, middle-class values—and socialized away from their culture of birth,” writes Wax.

Ultimately, Wax says, “proponents of income integration must deal with the cognitive dissonance created by the model’s foundational premise, which is that disadvantaged students’ habits and attitudes are deficient and will be improved by immersion in a superior environment, [versus] discomfort with the idea of class-based cultural differences.” Proponents of the no-excuses model, by contrast, don’t have to deal with cognitive dissonance, as they’re transparent with the assumption that their students need to embrace a new set of values, norms, and aspirations. Which doesn’t necessarily make their task any easier, for they must grapple openly with those—both on the progressive left and in minority communities—who are openly hostile to cultural judgmentalism and imperialism.

The emergence of the white underclass could improve education, writes Ian Rowe, who stresses the importance of family structure. “It could empower all of us to recognize that racial bias alone cannot explain the conditions many of us have committed our lives to reversing.”

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