Public Values

Poverty and class size drive down educational achievement

Conservative education reforms are distractions to move debate away from poverty, which requires progressive solutions.

Poverty is overwhelming and nearly only cause of achievement gap is compelling - Doug Doug Little

It's The Poverty Stupid
Most progressives understand that the fundamental factor behind the achievement gap is SES or social class. Naturally the group that shows up overwhelmingly at the bottom end of the achievement gap are the poor in every nation on Earth. Conservatives cannot allow this argument to stand. The mitigation of poverty involves everything they cannot abide, higher taxes, a larger state, and narrower class divisions. As a result, they will do almost anything to stop the education poverty link from becoming the hegemonic argument when trying to understand 'achievement gap'.

Conservatives like to attack existing pedagogy, they like to blame unions, they are never satisfied with the level of testing and ultimately, they want to privatize the education system. Charter schools are nothing but the stalking horses for vouchers and the public funding of private schools. All of these reforms are simply distractions and smoke to move the debate away from poverty which naturally requires progressive solutions, and onto the above conservative analysis and solutions.

They have a problem. The evidence that poverty is the overwhelming and almost only cause of the achievement gap is compelling. The conclusion of almost all social science research in the last 40 years is that poverty is the root cause of the achievement gap not just in Ontario or in Canada but everywhere on Earth.

When someone mentions the poverty/achievement gap, conservative literally put their fingers in their ears and yell "we can't hear you."

Class size has lots of ammunition to continue the fight

The conservative forces in our society and particularly in the USA have turned their guns on teachers in the classroom in part because they are not prepared to mitigate poverty in any meaningful way and because they are less and less willing to provide the resources that would make a real difference in the classroom. When an education activist says 'class size' as an issue these days, they are liable to be met with 'been there done that' or 'too expensive' or 'only works in primary.' There are hopeful signs however.

Florida voters, in the middle of a vicious swing to the right that brought out the vote for Tea Party extremist Marco Rubio for governor, turned back ballot initiatives that would have had the effect of allowing larger class sizes.

There is also a coming together of research that confirms that class size is a big help in improving results at all levels and that even small improvements can make a difference.

The conservative right wing finds it very frustrating that parents and teachers are united behind class size reduction. We need to keep the pressure on this issue. It would be too tempting for the Ontario or other Canadian governments to relax on this front. The Ontario Liberals clearly think the task is finished with its primary class size reductions.

Of course, most progressives believe that factors outside of the classroom are the primary reasons for incredible achievement gaps, this goes back before even the Coleman Report. Almost all serious researchers believe 60-75 percent of the gap is poverty-SES related, compounding low birth weight, nutrition, eye glasses, dental health, housing and frequent moving, the general chaos in trying to survive in poor communities under duress. Still there is an in-school factor and teachers need to make sure we are doing our level best to upgrade and improve the profession.

A really good teacher still can make a difference but not teachers driven by test scores and external accountability idiocy. We need to look seriously at the work of Linda Darling-Hammond and the Finland model of teacher development.

Doug Little publishes the The Little Education Report (below), where these articles first appeared.

Links and sources
  How to fix our schools,
  The Little Education Report

Posted: November 17, 2010


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