With guest, Louder Than a Bomb poet Nate Marshall

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Standard Deviations

Arizona State prof, David Berliner gets all bell-curvy on us in today's Answer Sheet. But his conclusions are unmistakable and inarguable. If you want to be successful in school and in life, don't be both poor and go to school with other poor kids. The combined effect is devastating. But if you come from a wealthy family and attend a school with other wealthy kids, your life chances are enhanced greatly. While good teachers and schools can and do play a vital role, the compound affect of poverty, segregated schools and housing, on average, have a much more powerful affect on student learning than anything that may happen inside the classroom.  I'm sure the "no excuses" crowd will go ballistic over this.

It is not pleasant to contemplate, but when poor children go to public schools that serve the poor, and wealthy children go to public schools that serve the wealthy, then the huge gaps in achievement that we see bring us closer to establishing an apartheid public school system. We create through our housing, school attendance, and school districting policies a system designed to encourage castes—a system promoting a greater likelihood of a privileged class and an under class.
Of course there are schools (mainly small) and groups of students who continue to beat the odds. In most cases they become the focus of media attention and benefit from the kindness of wealthy patrons, power philanthropists, and an effective PR campaign. But on the whole, Berliner's equations hold up. It's not about "excuses." It's about an increasingly two-tiered system of education.


  1. If you read the Answer Sheet's comments section you will hear all the typical responses to apartheid schooling. Such as "there's no proof of a causal relationship" between poverty and student achievement or between segregation and student learning outcomes. Then there's the old one from the old days--"we can't wait for segregation in housing to end..." What I do is turn the tables on them. I point out a mixed income neighborhood or community, rare though they be or a school with a diverse population and say: "If they can do it, why not replicate it? Or have Gates fund it. No excuses.

  2. Gates interviewed by Aarons at Edweek:"The fact is the majority of children in the country are attending schools that don't work for them." Is he saying same thing as Berliner? Maybe not.


Agree? Disagree? Let me hear from you.