Scads of Responses on PovRacers vs. School Refs

My comments feature is disabled for now, but in the meantime I wanted to share some of the responses to the PovRacers post (below) that have been coming in fast and furious all day today. (Feel free to send any additional comments to me at AlexanderRusso@aol.com and I'll post them here.)

As you'll see, some like Mike Klonsky take offense in the extreme, while others including Deborah Meier reflect more evenly on how I framed the issue of how poverty and race fit into (and compete with) the school reform debate.



Great post on PovRacers.

I'd frame it slightly differently. We should also lump in "conservatives" like James Coleman and John Ogbu in that they believe the Achievement Gap is so powerful that school reform alone is unlikely to succeed without changing "culture." Rothstein shares that view, except he substitutes economic change instead of "cultural" change. Rothstein specifically writes that he does not oppose school reform, just that alone it will not fully close the Achievement Gap.

You make a good point that few in Grad School Ed World know much of Haycock and Finn. However, you might also include that the leading SchoolRefs are really George Bush, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, et al., and the vast majority of the American public. While Kozol/Rothstein have good market share in universities, SchoolRefs win hands down in broad public opinion.

Finally, there is a small "third group" of rebels -- the No Excuses crowd. We agree with Coleman/Rothstein/Thernstrom that the Achievement Gap is incredibly difficult to close. And while we may disagree with one another about the precise CAUSES of the gap, we agree that the best "solution" is a group of very high-performing schools which generate enormous student effort can indeed pull it off. This group is rapidly gaining market share, particularly as Teach For America, the New Schools Venture Fund, and schools like Amistad, Roxbury Prep, and Kipp expand.

- Goldstein Gone Wild


I'm intrigued with the notion that more folks have heard of Richard
Rothstein, Gary Orfield etc than Finn, Ravitch, Haycock! You are
probably right about Kozol--who doesn['t claim to be a "school
reformer" of any stripe. It seems to me the refs have far more
resources to spread their arguments and that virtually all of
us--including teachers--live in a world dominated by the claim that if
only teachers and parents worked more conscientiously and better
schools could close the gaps. We even have a law that says so--with
some teeth--passed overwhelmingly by Democrats and Republicans alike.

As one who thinks schools can become very powerful communities and can
have transformative impacts, I still believe that expecting schools to
narrow all the gaps creasted by a gapful world is illusory at best,n
distracting at worst. I didn't become a teacher and spend 40 years
proving that we can create schools that work better for all children
because I thought schools alone could change the world! And nothing
in my own behavior as a mother and grandmother leads me to believe that
the "haves" don't and won't do all in their power to pass on their
advantages to their young. You cannot pass on what you don't have!
Schools can do a heck of a lot better--"unfortunately" they can do
better for the rich and the poor, leaving real gaps probably not much
diminished without other changes in social and economic policy.

Why see these as opposing forces, rather than as potentially
collaborative ones. The povs I know are often exhaustingly hardworking
school reformers who simply think it's a distraction--and untrue-- to
pretend that America's lower wage economy, loss of benefits, loss of
industry, outsourcing, trade deficits etc etc would be resolved if only
we had higher test scores or even truly better educated workers. I
sometimes hope that better educated citizens would force us to face the
real dilemmas facing us in a global economy more honestly. It's one
reason I have spent my energy focusing on what it takes to produces
more powerful thinkers who see themselves as legitimate members of the
body politc, and pay attention to the larger world. I somehow can't
get over the idea that someday democracy will help us figure things out

Let's not create another set of "camps".

Deborah Meier, author, school teacher, principal, school reformer
maybe--now at NYU


You must've been reading my mind with the post about the causes of poor minority student achievement. Last night I watched The Black Forum (TVONE) and Jonathon Kozol was one of the panelist. The discussion was disconcerting to say the least. The conversation was more about blame and less about how to deal with the issue. I think Kozol made a good point that suburban schools outspend many urban schools per pupil and that contributes to the gap. I also think that there are good arguments on both sides of the coin with respect to diversity in the classroom. Having been educated in an all black school for high school and a predominantly black school for college, there was a bit of culture shock once thrust into a world where I truly understood why blacks and others are referred to as minorities. So while scores may not change that drastically, students who have been educated around within the dominant culture are better equipped to deal with problems in college and in the workplace that could ultimately be the downfall for those whose experiences are more limited. Anyway, for the sake of Chicago, which is the area that we're most concerned about, diversity in the schools is close to impossible and is probably not the most pressing issue to deal with at this time. I do think that the entry is topical in the sense that it helps us to try to make sense out of a nebulous problem that many people simply don;t know the answer to.

-- Chicago High School Principal


I do not believe we have met, but I so appreciate your writing and for some time have meant to say "Thank you". So thank you! You are a tremendous resource.

I have served as the state superintendent of schools in AZ and authored some ed reform legislation during my tenure in AZ's house of reps. Your comments today are painful and accurate .I have often lamented the inability of those of us who do support accountability provisions and choice to cast our goals in terms of equity of access.

I have had the privilege to debate Bracy, Ornstein and Monty Neill on various occasions, and doing so always reminds me how far we have to move in terms of a shared perception of what happens in American public school systems. We clearly have a viciously inequitable funding infrastructure, and will have for as long as local property taxes support local schools which are assigned to students. That is a given, and one which most decision leaders in any party don't want to discuss.

But ignoring it makes the trio above, for example, continually correct in terms of access to the greatest resources.

By the same token, the point you make about achievement in the presence of inequity is essential and correct. Children are being taught to exceptional success over and over again in the most under funded of schools. It happens more often now, hopefully, and again hopefully, the "sunlight" brought by the demand of disclosure ( credit NCLB for the current muscle behind it, but more so the work of the states over the past ten years) have created a greater pressure for this success on behalf of students.

At any rate, thanks for the ongoing thought provoking news and comment, and we will hopefully meet one of these days.

Lisa Keegan


Education gadfly Alex Russo really blew it this time. In his blog, "Two Warring Camps in Education: PovRacers vs. SchoolRefs", and in a column titled "Schools Can Excel Without Diversity" Russo claims that the main contradiction in school reform these days is between "those who think underylying problems of poverty and race need to be addressed before significant improvements can be made in education, and those who believe that schools can get much better at helping children learn within the current reality."

Russo surprises and saddens me when he sides with the latter, including the likes of neo-con think-tankers like Chester Finn and the "brilliant" Diane Ravitch (see my previous blog, "Diane Ravitch Barking Up the Wrong Tree" ), while launching a personal and vitriolic assault against against long-time advocates for social justice and racial equality like Jon Kozol, Gary Orfield, Rich Rothstein and Alex Kotlowitz.

Russo seems to be particularly shaken by the huge turnout for Kozol, who packed the University of Chicago's vast Rockefeller Chapel earlier this month, as well as with the success of Kozol's latest bestseller, Shame of a Nation. Kozol electrified the audience with his updated critique of the American educational system of "apartheid" schooling. He drew his loudest applause when he encouraged the hundreds of young teachers in the audience to concentrate their efforts in urban schools teaching the neediest kids.

But Russo believes that those who see America's two-tiered, racially segregated and unequal system of schooling as an impediment to the creation of quality schools, or "PovRacers," are not worthy of being called real school reformers, or "SchoolRefs," and that they "lack conviction" in what they are doing. In Russo's view, only those who downplay the centrality of diversity and equity are really about school reform.

Russo falsly claims that the "PovRacers" don't believe African-American kids can learn without white kids in the room, and that they want to "delay" the push for academic success. What BS! It is precisely the "PovRacers" who have shown the most commitment and who have been most successful in educating poor and minority kids as well as in creating some of the best new, small, urban schools in America.

Is Russo's argument just a reheated version of the long discredited separate-but-equal doctrine that we wrongly thought would die 50 years after Brown vs. the Board of Ed? I believe it is.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"At a moment when childhood poverty is shamefully wide-spread, when many families are under constant stress, when schools are often limited by lack of funds or resources, criticism of the public schools often ignores an essential truth: we cannot believe that we can improve public schools alone. They alone can neither cause nor cure the problems we face. In this context, we must address with prayerful determination the issues of race and class, which threaten both public education and democracy in America.”
--National Council of Churches Policy Statement on NCLB

3:23 PM  

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