What It Takes to Make a Student
By published in the New York Times magazine
On October 5, 2006 President Bush and his secretary of education, Margaret Spellings visited Friendship-Woodridge Elementary and Middle Campus, a charter public school in Washington. The president went to
To many people, the pledge to eliminate in just 12 years, the achievement gap between black and white students, and the one between poor and middle-class students was slowly taking effect. It was a startling commitment, and it made the promise in the law's title a literal one: the federal government would not allow a single American child to be educated to less than that high standard. In the first few years of this decade, two parallel debates about the achievement gap have emerged. The first is about causes; the second is about cures. The first has been taking place in academia, among economists and anthropologists and sociologists who are trying to figure out exactly where the gap comes from, why it exists and why it persists. The second is happening among and around a loose coalition of schools, all of them quite new, all established with the goal of wiping out the achievement gap altogether.
Researchers began peering deep into American homes, studying up close the interactions between parents and children. The first scholars to emerge with a specific culprit in hand were Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley, child psychologists at the
In the years since Hart and Risley published their findings, social scientists have examined other elements of the parent-child relationship, and while their methods have varied, their conclusions all point to big class differences in children's intellectual growth. Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, a professor at Teachers College, has overseen hundreds of interviews of parents and collected thousands of hours of videotape of parents and children, and she and her research team have graded each one on a variety of scales. Their conclusion: Children from more well-off homes tend to experience parental attitudes that are more sensitive, more encouraging, less intrusive and less detached -'" all of which, they found, serves to increase I.Q. and school-readiness. They analyzed the data to see if there was something else going on in middle-class homes that could account for the advantage but found that while wealth does matter, child-rearing style matters more.
The most influential schools are the ones run by KIPP, or the Knowledge Is Power Program. KIPP's founders are David Levin and Michael Feinberg. Levin moved to
The most persistent critic of KIPP's record has been Richard Rothstein, a former education columnist for The New York Times who is now a lecturer at Teachers College. He has asserted that KIPP's model cannot be replicated on a wide scale and argues that the elevated incoming scores at the
Although the failure of No Child Left Behind now seems more likely than not, it is not too late for it to succeed. We know now, in a way that we did not when the law was passed, what it would take to make it work. And if the law does, in the end, fail -'" if in 2014 only 20 or 30 or 40 percent of the country's poor and minority students are proficient, then we will need to accept that its failure was not an accident and was not inevitable, but was the outcome we chose.
This article appeared in the November 26, 2006 edition of the New York Times Magazine.