I am the lone standard-bearer this week. Apologies for the length!
Kahlenberg discusses how school segregation is making inroads again, not only in cases of race and ethnicity but class. In many cases, this involves both geography and ethnicity in combination with socioeconomic class. He points out that “classmates are a resource, too – in fact, a more crucial one than books, pencils and laptops.” Race was not a defining factor, but better preparation and higher aspirations were.
In some ways, being around more affluent/more prepared classmates could be seen as a form of experiential learning. Increased exposure to words and ideas from fellow classmates is perhaps more important than what a student learns from a teacher.
Several factors have aided in school improvement across the country. Most indicators of quality schools are found in mid-and-higher-income schools than those from more impoverished areas. Achievement is highest in middle to higher income schools, which attract the best teachers so lower-income students may need to be mixed into mid-and-higher income schools to simply gain access to better teaching. Parental involvement in classroom and extracurricular activities also plays a role in improving student achievement. Again, socioeconomic status predicts parental involvement.
The No Child Left Behind Act has also reinforced the notion of segregation by placing the emphasis on test scores. While it claimed that failing schools would be overhauled and improved, little action has taken place. Meanwhile, families pondering a move can use the much-publicized test scores as a reason to not move into a school’s attendance area, thus reinforcing a school’s negative reputation.
In short, Kahlenberg sees not one educational system in America but several – systems catering to different segments of the population, incomparable with each other.
Margolis describes East River High school as a place where the tools existed but without any indication of how to use them. In one situation where a class was actually offered, the teacher had trained himself at home. This directly contrasts one aspect of what Kahlenberg cited: the best teachers are allowed to teach in their own area of expertise.
Kahlenberg describes how students learn best from being within the context of their peers. Though he does this in reference to lower income students learning from students with higher aspirations, the same holds true for the computer science students in Margolis’s article: the ones with the most interest were recruited by friends.
The failure can be blamed in part on a lack of critical thinking and context that shows how actual computer science programming can make a real-world impact. The East River curriculum, what little there was, focused on skills rather than critical thinking concepts. In contrast, note how the video production classes that allowed the students to not only manipulate the data but create scripts and storyboards allowed the students to expand their horizons and think critically while learning skills.
Again harkening back to Kahlenberg’s expectation of a good teacher or curriculum, the best schools offered rich, demanding curricula. East River was in no way prepared to offer any curriculum beyond the most basic. Because of both student and teacher scheduling, East River could only focus on attempting to meet the state- and federally-mandated testing standards, not the more specific electives like computer classes. Moreover, even the most dedicated teachers expected very little from their students, relegating them to less demanding work with very little guidance. When East River DID offer more guidance through extracurricular math classes, the students displayed both interest and perseverance.
In both Kahlenberg’s and Margolis’s articles, they imply that the problem of equity is one that cannot be solved by anything less than a comprehensive change to the way we place students together. Students need to be around people (classmates or staff) who encourage them to attain higher goals, regardless of background.
Moreover, entire families bear the burden of lower expectations. It’s not just vocational vs. college prep courses in school; think of the fact that lower income families are less likely to take advantage of private school voucher programs, perhaps because they are less likely to trust any part of the “system” that has failed them thus far.