The Lies that Won’t Die (Despite the Evidence)

To embrace the claims and policies of the education reform movement requires ignoring a tremendous amount of evidence to the contrary.

The education reform narrative goes something like this: Education is the one true way to overcome all of society’s ills, but our schools are failing, and thus we must take the standards-and-testing accountability reform model from 50 separate state models to one national model.

Let’s consider briefly these claims in the light of evidence.

Matt Bruenig asks, What’s more important: a college degree or being born rich?

The discussion that he offers is surprising, but Bruenig details the overwhelming evidence that social class is strongly static in the US, especially for the bottom and top fifths:

The US is not the meritocracy many claim, and social mobility is increasingly another American Myth, but possibly the most damning fact is the conclusion Bruenig reaches to answer his opening question:

So, you are 2.5x more likely to be a rich adult if you were born rich and never bothered to go to college than if you were born poor and, against all odds, went to college and graduated. The disparity in the outcomes of rich and poor kids persists, not only when you control for college attainment, but even when you compare non-degreed rich kids to degreed poor kids!

Therefore, the answer to the question in the title is that you are better off being born richregardless of whether you go to college than if you are born poor and do go to college.

In short, education alone is not the key to social reform. Period.

Next, the rest of the reform narrative proves just as baseless, considering that over the past 30 years, we have had 50 separate experiments with standards-and-testing accountability (most of those experiments have included multiple versions during those decades) that have resulted in a universal claim among all states that schools are still failing.

Just as one powerful example of how the accountability model has failed, Valerie Strauss notes:

Consider this: On the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the test that is commonly referred to as “the nation’s report card,” Massachusetts students performed so well that the state ranked No. 1 in the nation.

Sounds good, right? Then consider this:

Massachusetts ranks in the bottom tier of states in progress toward closing the achievement gap for black, Hispanic, and low-income students, and, in fact, has some of the widest gaps in the nation between white and Hispanic students.

French, Guisbond, and Jehlen have examined the most recent 20 years of reform in Massachusetts, unmasking how the second part of the reform narrative also lacks credibility:

The evidence we have gathered strongly suggests that two of the three major “reforms” launched in the wake of the 1993 law — high-stakes testing and Commonwealth charter schools — have failed to deliver on their promises.

On the other hand, the third major component of the law, providing an influx of more than $2 billion in state funding for our schools, had a powerfully positive impact on our classrooms. But we will show that, after two decades, the formula designed to augment and equalize education funding is no longer up to the task.

Using evidence, then, as a basis for rethinking reform, the report argues for the following: increase school funding; stop high-stakes testing; reform charter schools; educate the whole child and close the opportunity gap; reject top-down, business-oriented reforms; and tackle poverty.

A short version may be, Stop doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results—especially if you persist in ignoring the evidence.

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Comments

  1. All you have to do is show that a few regular Joes make it rich – just a few.. and bingo; we’re still the land of opportunity. Millions play the lottery every day. To maintain this perception, it’s helpful to not educate the populace *too* much.

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