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Sachs Lecturer Richard Rothstein Discusses Equality in Education 50 Years After Brown v. Board of Ed.


Sachs Lecturer Richard Rothstein

Sachs Lecturer Richard Rothstein Discusses Equality in Education 50 Years After Brown v. Board of Ed.


Using the same ways of teaching for different groups of children isn't going to work, no matter how good the schools are, according to this year's Julius and Rosa Sachs Distinguished Lecturer Richard Rothstein. Other influences such as health, nutrition and attendance also contribute to a school's effectiveness.

Rothstein, a research associate of the Economic Policy Institute, spoke to the editors of Inside TC about his upcoming three-lecture series.

The first lecture, on January 27th, "Schools and Social Classes." It is well known that minority and lower income children have lower school achievement, on average, than middle class children. Is it because schools and teachers are ineffective in educating children from lower socioeconomic groups? Is it because social class itself directly influences children's learning? If so, what are the pathways through which social class influences student achievement?

In this lecture, Rothstein will discuss some of these poorly understood pathways that include social class differences in language acquisition, parenting styles, disciplinary practices, health, after-school and summer activities that influence learning. "It doesn't matter how perfect a school is," said Rothstein, "if a student doesn't come in, he or she cannot achieve."

On February 17th, Rothstein will discuss "The Price of High Standards." Even if social class differences cause a disparity in the potential for students to learn, one would expect schools to overcome these differences through the most effective known practices.

In this second lecture, Rothstein will discuss why this expectation, if not illogical, is implausible. He will analyze several of the most oft-cited examples of schools that purportedly "beat the odds" by eliciting high achievement from children from lower socioeconomic classes, and show why these examples are less persuasive than they first appear. He will then discuss what kinds of school and social interventions would be needed to truly create equality in education.

The final lecture, on March 2nd, will focus on "Accountability for Narrowing the Gap." Most people want schools to provide both disadvantaged and middle class students with more than just basic math and reading skills. They expect students to walk away with a full range of more advanced academic skills and non-cognitive skills as well.

Students should be able to leave school ready for college-level work, to be prepared to exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, to exercise responsibility in their occupational, family, and community lives, to be creative problem solvers and collaborators in the workplace, to have artistic sensibility and be prepared to make fulfilling use of leisure time, along with many other skills, said Rothstein. Few of these outcomes of education can be measured by standardized tests. How can we know if schools are performing as we expect they should?

The final lecture will talk about schools and describe what an adequate accountability system, suitable for measuring whether high standards are required of all students, would look like.

From 1999 to 2002, Rothstein was the national education columnist of the New York Times. In addition to his weekly columns in the Times, Rothstein's recent publications include The Way We Were? Myths and Realities of Americas Student Achievement (Century Foundation Press, 1998), All Else Equal. Are Public and Private Schools Different? with Luis Benveniste and Martin Carnoy (RoutledgeFalmer, 2003), and Where's the Money Going? Changes in the Level and Composition of Education Spending (EPI, 1995 and 1997). He is currently at work on a book defining the cost of an adequate education.

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