Alex Kotlowitz asks this important question in the New York Times on Sunday.

The question is important for several reasons.

First, because the self-proclaimed reformers assert that great teachers can and do overcome poverty. You might say that this slogan is their anti-poverty program. Wendy Kopp, Bill Gates, and Arne Duncan have all said on many occasions that if there is a “great” teacher in every classroom, that will take care of poverty. Or, in a variation, fix the schools first, then fix poverty.

They never explain how a great teacher overcomes homelessness, hunger, poor health, and other conditions associated with poverty. Lyndon B. Johnson said in 1965 that you can’t put two people in a race at the same starting line and assume it’s a fair race if one of them is shackled. LBJ knew then what the reformers today never learned.*

Second, it’s heartening to see this article in the New York Times because the Times has been hostile to teachers and their unions on the editorial page. The Times is no friend of public education. Its editorial writer thinks that teachers need carrots and sticks to raise test scores, indifferent to the consistent failure of such policies.

How nice to see Alex Kotlowitz in the pages of the Times.

*At Howard University, President Lyndon B. Johnson said, “Imagine a hundred-yard dash in which one of the two runners has his legs shackled together. He has progressed ten yards, while the unshackled runner has gone fifty yards. At that point the judges decide that the race is unfair. How do they rectify the situation? Do they merely remove the shackles and allow the race to proceed? Then they could say that “equal opportunity” now prevailed. But one of the runners would still be forty yards ahead of the other. Would it not be the better part of justice to allow the previously shackled runner to make up the forty-yard gap, or to start the race all over again? That would be affirmative action toward equality.”
Commencement Address at Howard University (June 4, 1965)