Education, Economics and Why Great Teachers Aren’t Enough

What would you do to make sure your child received a quality education? Tanya McDowell, a homeless woman, enrolled her 5 year old son, in a great school even though she didn’t live in that district. She used the address of the child’s babysitter so that her child could attend Brookside Elementary School. Now she is charged with first degree larceny because falsely enrolling her son cost taxpayers in that district over $15,000.  Read more about the story here.

Here in Champaign, Illinois we have an interesting system for enrolling children in kindergarten called “Schools of Choice.” Parents indicate which five elementary schools they would like their child to attend and rank them one to five. A computer program then decides if they get their first choice or not. According to the school district, “Factors and priorities which will affect student assignments include: parent choice, building capacity, socio-economic status, availability of special programs, presence of siblings in the school, and proximity preference.” Starting in 2002 our district was under a Consent Decree to ensure that children received a quality education at all schools in the district, not just the schools in the middle class areas of town. The Consent Decree is now over but the district uses the Schools of Choice process to ensure that each child gets a quality education.

Does the fact that a child enrolls in a quality school with great teachers and great curriculum ensure academic success? As of yet, I have not seen evidence that the Schools of Choice system in Champaign has ensured that every child can have academic success. Some education policy makers and politicians seem to hope that if enough money is poured into a school then there will be academic success. Other education reformers demand quality teachers and innovative methods to ensure academic success. What other factors lead to academic success? What about Tanya McDowell’s child? What factors are keeping him from getting a great education?

Richard Rothstein, of the Economic Policy Institute, contends that well-trained teachers and great schools aren’t enough to ensure academic success.  There are other economic and social factors that keep low income students from learning and achieving a great education. Rothstein writes:

Of course, the superintendents should continue attempts to improve teacher quality. They should work on developing ways to identify better and worse teachers without relying heavily on the corrupting influence of high-stakes test scores. In addition to teacher quality, they should pay attention to school leadership, curriculum improvement, and school organization. They should consider what initiatives they can take, either themselves or in partnership with other community organizations, to improve children’s opportunities to come to school in good health and with enriched experiences in early childhood and out-of-school time.

But they will have to embed all of this work in an insistence on broader efforts of economic and social reform if they hope their school improvements to make any difference.

You can read more of Rothstein’s thoughts on education reform here.

We just had a mayoral election in Champaign and what frustrated me is that there was not an honest conversation about the economic and social roadblocks for a certain part of our community. There is a strong undercurrent of racism in our community that I don’t hear our community leaders addressing. We are home to the University of Illinois, yet our city is racially divided. We need leaders in Champaign who are willing to honestly address the social and economic dynamics that hinder children in lower income families from achieving academic success. The same is true on a national level. We need leaders who will look at the big picture when it comes to the achievement gap and create a national dialogue about the social and economic roadblocks for a great education for all children in America.


About joelnewton

I am a husband to Hillary, a father to Anna and Norah

Posted on April 28, 2011, in education and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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