Archives for category: Poverty

Arthur Camins wrote a beautiful review of SLAYING GOLIATH at The Daily Kos. 

In light of Camins’ experience as an educator and his passion for justice, I am most grateful for his close and sympathetic reading of this book. Until recently, he was Director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education at Stevens Institute of Technology.

He writes, in this excerpt:

Ravitch’s first chapters, Disruption is Not Reform! and the Odious Status Quo, set the context for a thorough repudiation of the state of education in the United States: Endemic historic inequality made worse by decades of focused effort to disrupt a bedrock of American democracy, public education; Support for standardization linked to punishment of students, teachers, and schools by test scores; and, A determined effort to shift essential financial support from democratically governed public education to a competing private sector that includes privately governed charter schools and vouchers for private schools. The perpetrators call themselves reformers. Ravitch calls them disrupters. In her telling, that is a descriptive accusation, not a complement.

“No one likes the status quo,” she writes. “Disrupters claim to oppose the status quo, but they are the status quo.  After all, they control the levers of power in federal and state governments. They write the laws and mandates. They define the status quo. They own it.”  They are a somewhat disparate collective of market ideologues, self-regarding billionaires, technology titans, hedge fund managers, and entrepreneurs out to make (or steal) a fortune at the public trough.  What unites them in an unwavering faith (ideas not supported by evidence) in the power of competition to drive human behavior.  

Slaying Goliath upends the myths of declining achievement and the lies that teachers unions and incompetent teachers are responsible for poor children’s failure to rise to their potential (or do well on standardized tests.  Instead, Ravitch centers blame where it belongs, on our systemic failure to address the systemic- and personally debilitating effects of poverty.

I hope you will open the link and read the review in its entirety.

The book’s official publication date is TODAY! January 21!

Valerie Strauss, veteran education writer at the Washington Post, interviewed me about my new book SLAYING GOLIATH. 

Her questions get to the heart of the book. I hope you will read the exchange.

Lyndsey Layton of the Washington Post interviewed Bill Gates in 2014 and told the full story of the origin of the Common Core “State” Standards.

In case the Washington Post is behind a paywall, the full text of the Layton article is here.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and other friends of the CCSS insisted that the standards were developed by governors, state superintendents, education experts, and teachers. No, they were developed by David Coleman, formerly of McKinsey, now CEO of the College Board, and a committee whose members included no working teachers but a full complement of testing experts from ACT and SAT. Google David Coleman and “architect” and you will see that he is widely credited with shepherding the CCSS to completion.

It would not have happened without the enthusiastic support and funding of Bill Gates.

Layton writes:

On a summer day in 2008, Gene Wilhoit, director of a national group of state school chiefs, and David Coleman, an emerging evangelist for the standards movement, spent hours in Bill Gates’s sleek headquarters near Seattle, trying to persuade him and his wife, Melinda, to turn their idea into reality.

Coleman and Wilhoit told the Gateses that academic standards varied so wildly between states that high school diplomas had lost all meaning, that as many as 40 percent of college freshmen needed remedial classes and that U.S. students were falling behind their foreign competitors.

The pair also argued that a fragmented education system stifled innovation because textbook publishers and software developers were catering to a large number of small markets instead of exploring breakthrough products. That seemed to resonate with the man who led the creation of the world’s dominant computer operating system.

“Can you do this?” Wilhoit recalled being asked. “Is there any proof that states are serious about this, because they haven’t been in the past?”

Wilhoit responded that he and Coleman could make no guarantees but that “we were going to give it the best shot we could.”

After the meeting, weeks passed with no word. Then Wilhoit got a call: Gates was in.

What followed was one of the swiftest and most remarkable shifts in education policy in U.S. history.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation didn’t just bankroll the development of what became known as the Common Core State Standards. With more than $200 million, the foundation also built political support across the country, persuading state governments to make systemic and costly changes.

Bill Gates was de facto organizer, providing the money and structure for states to work together on common standards in a way that avoided the usual collision between states’ rights and national interests that had undercut every previous effort, dating from the Eisenhower administration.

The Gates Foundation spread money across the political spectrum, to entities including the big teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, and business organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — groups that have clashed in the past but became vocal backers of the standards.

Money flowed to policy groups on the right and left, funding research by scholars of varying political persuasions who promoted the idea of common standards. Liberals at the Center for American Progress and conservatives affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council who routinely disagree on nearly every issue accepted Gates money and found common ground on the Common Core.

One 2009 study, conducted by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute with a $959,116 Gates grant, described the proposed standards as being “very, very strong” and “clearly superior” to many existing state standards.

Gates money went to state and local groups, as well, to help influence policymakers and civic leaders. And the idea found a major booster in President Obama, whose new administration was populated by former Gates Foundation staffers and associates. The administration designed a special contest using economic stimulus funds to reward states that accepted the standards.

The result was astounding: Within just two years of the 2008 Seattle meeting, 45 states and the District of Columbia had fully adopted the Common Core State Standards.

Even Massachusetts, the state with the highest academic performance in the nation, replaced its excellent standards with CCSS and won a federal grant for doing so.

Some states adopted Common Core before it was publicly released. The state chief in Texas, Robert Scott, refused to adopt the CCSS sight unseen, but he was a rarity.

Without Gates’ money, there would be no Common Core.

Opposition came from Tea Party groups, then from independent teacher groups like the BadAss Teachers Association.

The promise of the Common Core was that it would lift student test scores across the board and at the same time, would close achievement gaps.

The Common Core was rolled out in 2010 and adopted widely in 2011 and 2012.

Districts and states spent billions of dollars on new textbooks, new tests, new software and hardware, new professional development, all aligned to the CCSS.

This was money that the districts and states did not spend to reduce class sizes or to raise teachers’ salaries.

Test scores on NAEP and on international tests have been stagnant since the rollout of the Common Core.

Teacher morale down. New entries into teaching down. Test scores flat. Achievement gaps larger.

Edu-entrepreneurs enriched. Testing industry happy. Tech industry satisfied.

Disruption achieved.

If you want to read more about the origins of the Common Core, read Mercedes Schneider’s Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools? and Nicholas Tampio’s https://www.amazon.com/Common-Core-Nicholas-Tampio-ebook/dp/B079S2627M/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?keywords=nicholas+campion+common+core&qid=1575909356&s=books&sr=1-1-fkmr0Common Core: National Education Standards and the Threat to Our Democracy.

Bottom line: What the Gates’ billions spent on Common Core proved was that the basic problem in American education is not the lack of common standards and common tests, but the growing numbers of children who live in poverty,  who come to school (or miss school) ill-nourished and lacking regular medical care and a decent standard of living.

He spent more than $4 billion on failed experiments in education over the past 20 years. Wouldn’t it be great if he invested in children, families, and communities and improved their standard of living?

 

 

 

The New York Times recently wrote an article claiming that many black and Hispanic families were disappointed that Democratic presidential candidates were abandoning the charter school crusade beloved by the leaders of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, and currently by Betsy DeVos.

Steven Singer disagrees. He responds bluntly that charter schools exploit children of color. 

He writes:

Go to most impoverished black neighborhoods and you’re bound to find three things in abundance.

Liquor stores, payday lenders and charter schools.

It is no accident.

In the inner city, the underemployed compete for a shortage of minimum wage jobs, healthcare is minimal, public transportation inadequate and the schools are underfunded and short staffed.

But that doesn’t mean money isn’t being made.

In capitalist America, we make sure to turn a profit off of everything – including our peculiar institutions of racial inequality.

Businesses are on every corner, but they aren’t set up for the convenience of those living there.

Ethnic isolation – whether caused by poverty, legal coercion, safety in numbers or white flight – often puts the segregated at a disadvantage. It creates a quarantined economy set up for profiteers and carpetbaggers to get rich off the misery of the poor.

The system is set up to wring as much blood as it can from people forced to live as stones.

Families struggle to survive in a community where they are exploited by grasping landlords and greedy grocers. And the system is kept in check by law enforcement officers who are either disposed to turn the other way or so overzealous as to shoot first and ask questions later.

As W.E.B. DuBois described it nearly a century ago, “Murder sat on our doorstep, police were our government, and philanthropy dropped in with periodic advice.”

The economy is glutted with enterprises offering cheap promises of relief but which actually reinforce the status quo.

Predominantly black, low-income neighborhoods are eight times more likely to have carry-out liquor stores than white or racially integrated neighborhoods, according to researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

Yet in higher income black neighborhoods in the same cities, you don’t find these same liquor stores.

They are established in the poorest neighborhoods to offer cheap, temporary respite from the trauma of living in poverty. Yet they increase the likelihood of alcoholism, addiction and violence.

The same goes for payday lenders.

These are basically legal loan sharks who offer ready cash at exorbitant interest rates.  Typically these payday loans are meant to last the length between paychecks – approximately two weeks. However, they come with extremely high interest rates. For instance, the average $375 loan ends up costing $520 (139%) in interest.

These businesses aren’t located in the suburbs or wealthy parts of town. You find them typically in the inner cities and poor black neighborhoods. They promise temporary help with one-time purchases and unexpected expenses, but in truth most are used to pay for necessities like rent or food.

They end up trapping users in a debt spiral where they have to take out payday loans to pay off previous payday loans. This is mostly because these loans are made based on the lender’s ability to collect, not the borrower’s ability to repay while meeting other financial obligations.

And these are just two of the most common features of this predatory economy – capitalist enterprises designed to enrich businesses for exploiting consumers beyond their ability to cope.

Others include high priced but limited stock grocery markets, fast food restaurants, gun stores, inner city rental properties and charter schools.

That last one may seem out of place.

Most descriptions of urban neighborhoods neglect to mention charter schools, but in the last few decades they have become an increasingly common part of the landscape. And this is no wonder. They fit the same pattern of exploitation as the other establishments mentioned above.

Think about it: (1) charter schools disproportionately locate in poor black communities, (2) offer the promise of relief from inequality but end up recreating or worsening the same unjust circumstances and (3) they are often owned by rich white folks from outside the neighborhood who profit off the venture.

 

In the era of Bush-Obama education policy, it became conventional wisdom to blame schools for the effects of poverty. Civil rights lawyer Wendy Lecker explains that the test-and-punish regime continues by blaming schools and punishing them for chronic absenteeism. 

She writes:

NCLB measured school quality based on standardized test scores and relied on sanctions such as school turnaround, takeover and privatization. After almost two decades under NCLB, and the acknowledgment that the metric was inaccurate and the prescriptions were ineffective, the federal government decided to try a tweaked version of its failed test-and-punish regime.

The ESSA system employs multiple “indicators” of school quality. Each indicator provides schools and districts with points that together dictate what types of sanctions are imposed. The dashboard showing the schools’ and districts’ points for each indicator are also published online.

Nowhere on this dashboard is the state graded for whether or not it adequately funds Connecticut public schools, even though nationwide evidence proves a causal connection between school spending and student achievement.

One indicator under Connecticut’s ESSA plan is chronic absenteeism. The rationale Connecticut provides for including this indicator is the research and data demonstrating an association of chronic absenteeism to student academic achievement and high school graduation. What the ESSA plan does not detail are the causes of absenteeism.

A new study from Wayne State University tracks the incidence of chronic absenteeism across U.S. cities. The researchers found that nationwide, certain factors are significantly correlated with chronic absenteeism, namely: long-term population change, asthma rates, poverty and unemployment rates, residential vacancy rates, violent crime rates, average monthly temperature, and racial segregation.

Thus, although under Connecticut’s accountability system, chronic absenteeism is an indicator of school quality, and can contribute to a school or school district being subjected to increasingly draconian sanctions, none of the factors listed above that are significantly correlated with chronic absenteeism has anything to do with school.

Common sense in federal education policy would be nice for a change.

Social scientists have repeatedly documented the close correlation between child poverty and academic achievement. You don’t have to be a social scientist to look at any graph that displays both test scores and family income: the kids from the richest families are at the top, and the kids from the poorest family are at the bottom. It is not surprising, because those with the least income have the least access to food security, medical care, decent housing, and all the other basics of living that affluent families take for granted.

In this blog post, Marc Tucker reviewed the data on child poverty and its relationship to education outcomes. He cites a feature in the Economist magazine about poverty in the United States. He includes a graph showing the dramatic increase in child poverty from 2000-2016. Tucker goes back even further, to 1960, to note that income inequality was not as great then as it is now. Those at the top had “more,” of course, but were not billionaires inhabiting a totally different universe than those at the bottom or those in the middle. Something is terribly wrong with hundreds of people are billionaires, some of them with assets of more than $100 billion, at the same time that more and more families and children live in poverty.

Both the standard measure of poverty and the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which takes benefits and cost of living into account, show that about one in six children in the U.S. is poor. (The current official poverty level is $25,750 for a family of four.) While there are poor families all over the country, the averages are misleading, because the poor are usually concentrated in clusters.

When educators think about poverty among their students, the measure that comes first to mind is the percentage of public school students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, which is available to children in households with incomes at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level. In the 2000-01 school year, 38.3 percent of public school students were eligible.  That figure climbed to 48.1 percent in the 2010-11 school year, 51.8 percent in the 2014-15 school year and 52.1 percent in the 2015-16 school year. But these figures, like those for poverty overall, are often far higher where poverty is concentrated and its effects far worse and much longer lasting there.

Percent of US students who qualify for free and reduced price lunch keeps growing 

The Economist points out that, when Jack Kennedy was President and Lyndon Johnson became President, it was different. Then, the poorest among us were the elderly. Now, with the growth in Medicare and Social Security, the elderly are doing much better and the young much worse.  The experience of the elderly, however, is instructive. Policy changed the outcomes for them dramatically. There is no reason why that should not be equally true for the young. What is most interesting about The Economist’s article on child poverty is not the statistics, which are well known. It is their comments on the policy options for dealing with the problem of child poverty in the U.S.

The simplest solution is cash transfers. The Economist refers to the work of Stanford professor David Grusky, who calculates that California could end child poverty in that state by spending only $2.8 billion a year, one quarter of what it spends annually on its prisons. Conservatives often oppose cash transfers to poor people on the grounds that they stifle initiative. But we could probably all agree that transfers for young children will not destroy their initiative. Many first-world countries in Asia, North America and Europe award means-tested and non-means-tested allotments to families with young children, especially countries where the domestic fertility rate is falling below the birth rate. The Economist quotes Jane Waldfogel, a Columbia economist, saying that a relatively small universal child credit could cut the U.S. child poverty rate in half all by itself.

But, says The Economist, the problem cannot be dealt with solely with a transfer program, because poverty in the U.S. is so concentrated. Researchers have shown that young children who are doing very poorly in schools serving students in concentrated poverty do much better if they can go to schools serving families in wealthier communities. Those other communities don’t necessarily have more money per student, but they provide much more support to the student in the form of higher expectations, a wider range of experiences and more rigorous schooling. While this strategy is not fully scalable, it could certainly be ramped up.

In this vein, we note that Howard County, Maryland, recently redistricted its schools to allow many more children whose schools were made up of large numbers of students in concentrated poverty to go to schools with wealthier children and spread the number of children in poverty more equitably across that district. They did this because their own research showed that earlier efforts to do this same thing worked to lift performance in students who come from impoverished backgrounds. 

Many of the schools that are economically segregated are also racially segregated. The Economist points to data showing that moving students from racially segregated schools to unsegregated schools can, over five years, improve student incomes by 30 percent and greatly reduce the likelihood of incarceration. But, just as poverty is rising among school children, our schools are becoming more, not less, segregated.

In the early days of desegregation, inner-city predominantly African-American school districts were merged with predominantly white ones into a single district. But, in recent years, white, relatively well-to-do areas within large urban districts have been applying to their state legislatures for the right to form their own school districts, or, failing that, their own cities or towns (which would enable them to get their own school district), thereby contributing to the isolation and concentration of low-income, often minority, families in communities where hope for a better future is dying.

The Economist article ends with a reminder of Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s warnings, back in the Nixon administration, about trouble in the African American family. Around a quarter of African Americans then were born out of wedlock. That proportion is now 70 percent for African Americans, 50 percent for Hispanic children and 30 percent for whites. The proportion for poor whites living in poverty is, of course, much higher. Research shows that households with single parents are more likely to live in poverty and the children in those families are more likely to experience lower academic achievement than households with two parents. When critics insist that American teachers need to be held accountable for the poor performance of American school children, the teachers shoot back that they are being held accountable for the failure of American parents and taxpayers to take care of their children. 

When some of us point out that there has been no improvement in the performance of all high school students or of protected subgroups of students in the United States on NAEP measures of reading and mathematics in 30 years, they tell us we should consider ourselves lucky that we have teachers who have been able to hold student performance steady while the American people have been sending them students who get poorer and more isolated every year.

I think they have a point.  Don’t you?

 

The Boston Globe published this opinion piece questioning the validity of concepts like grit and resilience. 

Author Alissa Quart interviews Christine White, a woman who grew up in extreme poverty yet managed to build a successful career helping people who struggled as she did. But not by coaching them to have more “grit” and “resilience.”

Christine White, writes Quart, has written

a number of posts on on her nonprofit’s blog questioning this resilience refrain. She believes that when “we are obsessing about resilience it obscures the fundamental issues that people have, like a lack of privilege or a history of trauma.” When “resilience” is applied to at-risk kids, says White, it implies “the solutions reside within an individual and not their context: ‘resilience’ skews conversations away from equity.” The assumption is that having “character” will help traumatized people flourish — and if they don’t flourish, there is an implied lack of character.

“Ninety percent of resilience conversations would be better if the focus was, instead, on racial and economic inequities,” she wrote in correspondence with me.

But “resilience” and “grittiness” have become ubiquitous honorifics — likely to come out of the mouths of not only teachers but also therapists, urban planners, businessmen, and policymakers, all praising individual pluck.

Thanks to Angela Duckworth’s bestseller of the same name, “grit” is now a part of American school life: In New Hampshire, for instance, some grammar school students are taught “grit skills” by teachers who follow a “grit curriculum.” One grit lesson includes interviewing a neighbor, for example, who has shown grit and creating that person’s “perseverance walk,” outlining how they achieved their goals.

The terms have even spawned an industry of books, apps, and gurus:

There is a now even a grit and resilience industry.

“Resilience is knowing that you are the only one that has the power and responsibility to pick yourself up,” says Mary Holloway, a “resilience coach” and the creator of the “Boom Bounce Wow Resilience Method.” There are also dozens of self-help books promising to make you more resilient or more gritty, including one that promises to create resilience with the subtitle “How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness.” One of the biggest resilience bestsellers is “Option B” by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.

Apps have also gotten into the resilience and positive psychology game, with names such as ResilientMe and Happify. And there is even a “resilience planner” bearing the legend “Stay Resilient 2019,” which is currently sold out…

There’s also a growing — though much smaller — academic backlash to the term “resilience.” Critics note the focus on “resilience” can ignore the structural gaps of our economy, for example. Should we really be building personal capacities to triumph over, say, the “adversity” that is the current scarcity of public funding for education?

Call grit and resilience what they are: a substitute for the structural and financial changes that give people genuine opportunity to get ahead.

These terms are an effort to substitute “the power of positive thinking” for equity.

 

 

After Elizabeth Warren released her bold K-12 education plan, with massive funding increases for poor students (Title1) and for students with disabilities, the charter lobby reacted with outrage because she also announced that she would eliminate the federal Charter Schools Program. The CSP has been not only wasteful and ineffective but has been used by Betsy DeVos as her personal slush fund, to reward corporate charter chains and charter advocacy organizations.

Carol Burris and Kevin Welner explain here why Warren’s plan would benefit all needy students, including those enrolled in charter schools. Educators should welcome her plan, whether they are in public schools or charter schools.

Please share widely, tweet and distribute.

Wendy Lecker is a civil rights lawyer who specializes in issues related to education and children.

A new Education Week national survey of school districts reveals disturbing gaps between state and federal policy and the reality in American public schools.

The vast majority of districts report major funding problems. Most list rising special education costs and rising levels of needy students as their top challenges. They also doubt they are financially prepared for the next recession.

The most serious funding problem districts report is convincing elected officials to sufficiently fund public schools. They give both state and federal officials poor marks for their ability to understand school spending, and cite state legislators as the biggest obstacle to making spending decisions that best address student needs. Rather than address need, state legislators perpetuate myths about school spending and quality.

Scholars Sally Nuamah, Jamila Michener, and Domingo Morel have found that poor communities, like school district leaders, lose faith in elected officials, and worse, in democratic institutions, when they experience policies that exacerbate rather than respond to their challenges.

Recent research highlights the failure of federal and state leaders to grasp the reality facing public schools. The most pernicious failure is the refusal to recognize the connection between poverty, funding and educational opportunity.

new study of the effect of the 2008 recession, by Kenneth Shores of Penn State University and Matthew Steinberg of George Mason University, found that the economic downturn resulted in cuts in state and local school spending. Those spending cuts were associated with contemporaneous and persistent declines in student test scores.

Moreover, “school districts serving higher concentrations of low-income and minority students experienced greater declines in achievement from school-age exposure to the recession.”

Stanford education researcher Sean Reardon observes that test scores are a reflection of a difference in access to the opportunity to learn, affected by all circumstances in a child’s life, both in and outside of school. They often do not reflect school quality. Two recent analyses, from Ohio and North Carolina, emphasize this truth. Both found the state ratings of public schools, mostly based on test scores, track almost perfectly with school poverty.

Because children do not leave their life experiences at the schoolhouse doors, schools must have the tools to mitigate the effects of poverty in order to provide students with the opportunity to learn. National studies show that increased school spending improves academic and life outcomes — particularly for poor students.

Yet almost half the states still fund schools below recession levels. And a recent Urban Institute paper reveals that federal spending on education has dropped precipitously and is expected to keep dropping, despite rising student need. Since 2010, funding for Title I, the largest federal education program supporting children in poverty, dropped by $7 billion, as did funding for IDEA, the federal program for students with disabilities.

Rather than recognize that high-poverty schools need more tools, and thus more funding, to best serve their students, federal and state leaders mandate intervention strategies that are proven failures: school turnaround, school closures, and state takeovers of school districts.

A report from the National Education Policy Center shows that the poorer and less white a school district is, the more likely a state will aggressively intervene with these failed mandates.

Federal and state policies repeat a toxic cycle of disinvestment, punishment, then further disinvestment. 

Neighborhood and school segregation compounds the inequity. Children of color are five to seven times more likely than white children to be concentrated in high-poverty neighborhoods. African American and Latinx children are also concentrated in high-poverty schools.

No wonder that school districts and poor communities have little faith in their elected officials.

Massachusetts is bucking the trend of denying the connection between investing in public schools and student outcomes. A new Massachusetts school funding bill commits to closing that state’s 1.5 billion dollar school funding gap. In supporting the bill, state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz acknowledged that “closing the achievement gap requires two times the investment for our poorest students if we are serious about doing it at scale.”

Connecticut Voices for Children reports that Connecticut’s recovery from the 2008 recession is more unequal than the national recovery, which was among the most unequal in U.S. history. Connecticut’s middle class is smaller and whiter than it was before the recession. Moreover, the census revealed that Connecticut is the only U.S. state where poverty increased in 2018. Our leaders should learn from Massachusetts. Investing in our neediest children, both inside and outside of school, will not only improve their outcomes, it may also restore faith in our elected officials.

 

Wendy Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center.

 https://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-opinion-Investing-in-our-neediest-14491762.php

 

Jan Resseger analyzes a new study by Sean Reardon of Stanford University that demonstrates what has been widely known for decades: Schools alone don’t cure poverty.

Those who insist that they do are either uninformed, selling something (TFA founder Wendy Kopp has claimed that inexperienced teachers can overcome poverty and close achievement gaps caused by poverty), or just don’t want to pay taxes to provide the resources schools need (think the Koch brothers, the Waltons, the DeVos Family, or other billionaires).

She begins:

Here is the succinct conclusion of a complex, technical, and nuanced report released on Monday by Stanford University’s Sean Reardon and a team of researchers, Is Separate Still Unequal? New Evidence on School Segregation and Racial Academic Achievement Gaps: “We use 8 years of data from all public school districts in the U.S.  We find that racial school segregation is strongly associated with the magnitude of achievement gaps in 3rd grade, and with the rate at which gaps grow from third to eighth grade. The association of racial segregation with achievement gaps is completely accounted for by racial differences in school poverty: racial segregation appears to be harmful because it concentrates minority students in high-poverty schools, which are, on average, less effective than lower poverty schools… We find that the effects of school poverty do not appear to be explained by differences in the set of measurable teacher or school characteristics available to us.”

In the report, Reardon defines academic test score gaps: “We examine racial test score gaps because they reflect racial differences in access to educational opportunities. By ‘educational opportunities,’ we mean all experiences in a child’s life, from birth onward, that provide opportunities for her to learn, including experiences in children’s homes, child care settings, neighborhoods, peer groups, and their schools. This implies that test score gaps may result from unequal opportunities either in or out of school; they are not necessarily the result of differences in school quality, resources, or experience. Moreover, in saying that test score gaps reflect differences in opportunities, we also mean that they are not the result of innate group differences in cognitive skills or other genetic endowments… (D)ifferences in average scores should be understood as reflecting opportunity gaps….”

“In sum, our analyses provide evidence that racial school segregation is closely linked to racial inequality in academic performance.  This implies that segregation creates unequal educational opportunities.  Although our analyses do not identify the specific mechanisms through which segregation leads to inequality, they make it clear that the mechanism is linked to differences in schools’ poverty rates, not differences in schools’ racial composition.”

In their review of the academic literature, Reardon and his colleagues emphasize the importance of studies which have demonstrated the importance of public policy that would invest more in schools serving poor children and in making state funding formulas more equitable.  But they conclude finally: “(W)e have no example of a school district where minority students disproportionately attend high poverty schools that does not have a large racial achievement gap. If it were possible to create equal educational opportunity under conditions of segregation and economic inequality, some community—among the thousands of districts in the country—would have done so… If we are serious about reducing racial inequality in educational opportunity, then, we must address racial segregation among schools.”

I am pleased to see Reardon so clearly describe the realities his research exposes, but I am frankly concerned that—in a society his own 2011 research demonstrates is rapidly resegregating economically as families with means move farther and farther into the exurbs—it will be politically difficult to address the concerns his research uncovers.

What is certain is that this new research confirms what many have believed is a catastrophic mistake in two-decades  of “accountability-based school reform.”  This is the test-and-punish regime imposed at the federal level by the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, followed by programs like Race to the Top and policies adopted across the states to punish teachers who were supposed to work harder and smarter to close achievement gaps or their schools would be punished.