Richard Rothstein spoke to the AASA and told them that “reformers” like Joel Klein were wrong in claiming that high expectations and better teachers would close the achievement gap.
Here is a summary of his presentation:
Rothstein: Segregation Practices Block Achievement Gains
by Sasha Pudelski
Richard Rothstein gave a powerful lecture Thursday at the Federal Relations Luncheon where he urged AASA members to recognize the historical underpinnings of the academic achievement gap.
Rothstein, a senior fellow at the UC Berkeley School of Law, discussed how local, state and federal policies since the Great Depression have contributed to the intentional racial and socio-economic segregation of schools and communities. He urged superintendents to be proud of the academic gains that have been made over the past decade with regards to NAEP scores, graduation rates and other academic measures and to recognize the limitations of schools districts in doing more to improve low-income student achievement levels.
Rothstein’s latest social policy project, which he spoke of extensively during the lunch, is to educate policymakers, school leaders and others about how calculated policy changes aimed at maintaining segregated communities and schools since segregation in the 1930s continue to prohibit disadvantaged populations of students from reaching the same levels of achievement as their middle-class white counterparts.
“We have state-sponsored segregation and we will never narrow the achievement gap unless this goes away,” said Rothstein. But as a society, he argued, we have become convinced inaccurately that segregation is an accident of demographics rather than a long-standing deliberate attempt by our leaders to maintain separate communities and school districts.
Rothstein told the audience that school leaders need to stop apologizing for the achievement gap when they’re doing so much to improve it. He touched on a recent longitudinal analysis he authored that found while the most disadvantaged students in the country are improving on TIMSS, PISA and other benchmarking measures, disadvantaged students in places like Finland and Canada are actually doing worse on these measures over time.
He criticized those in the reform movement who believe that evidence of one school that succeeds in educating concentrated groups of disadvantaged students is evidence that it is possible everywhere. He slammed school reformers like Joel Klein, former chancellor of the New York City schools, who argue that if school leaders had higher expectations and higher-quality teachers, they could ensure every poor, hungry, mobile student was achieving in an equivalent manner to his stable, rich, healthy peer.
Rothstein concluded by insisting that if the United States ever hopes to make radical gains in eradicating the achievement gap, the answer is not in the school reform agenda, but in concrete changes to federal, state and local policy that force disadvantaged students to be integrated into middle-class or high-wealth school districts.
“When disadvantaged students are grouped together in schools, their challenges are compounded and build upon each other. … Unless we integrate disadvantaged students into middle class schools, we will never narrow the achievement gap beyond what we’ve done today,” Rothstein said.
(Sasha Pudelski is a government affairs manager with AASA.)