The Coming Paradigm Shift in Education Reform

Instead of ignoring the role poverty plays in hindering student achievement, the next wave of reformers might tackle it head on.

If you hang out with people in the education world long enough you'll quickly find that bringing up the connection between poverty and poor student achievement can start a heated debate. While researchers, wonks, and politicians tacitly acknowledge the effect of poverty on students, the reform conversation usually focuses on school-centered solutions—modifying teacher tenure or creating common education standards, for example. But a national working group, the “Futures of School Reform,” a three-year-old collaboration of 20 prominent education experts brought together by Harvard's School of Education, says the era of reformers discounting poverty could be coming to an close.

Members Jeffrey R. Henig, a professor of political science and education at Teachers College, Columbia University and S. Paul Reville, Massachusetts secretary of education write on the group's blog that “the future of education reform is simple: American schools won’t achieve their goal of ‘all students at proficiency’ unless they attend to nonschool factors.”

And, they say, we will in fact attend to those nonschool factors,

not because of sudden prosperity and deep public-sector pockets, nor because of a broad shift in public sentiment that activates new moral commitments to the ideal of educating other people’s children, but as an outgrowth of the same hard-nosed, pragmatic, evidence-based orientation that for the moment is supporting the unlikely claim that schools can do it alone.


Reville in particular has first-hand experience. Massachusetts has had the highest student achievement scores in the nation for years, but, despite decades of education reforms, a gap between results for low-income and more well-off students persists. The two argue that the reform crowd's desire for outcomes and evidence, their attention to the bottom line, and changes in “information technology and education-governance institutions will facilitate” this shift. Essentially, rather than attacking the symptoms of the problem, reformers will see it makes more financial and policy sense to, finally, address the root cause. For example, instead of creating draconian anti-truancy policies, focusing on public-health initiatives that “reduce community levels of diabetes, asthma, lead-paint exposure, and obesity” and boost attendance—which then results in academic gains—is a better solution.

The group’s vision of the future connects school and student achievement to child development more broadly construed—and they readily acknowledge this “will require a new conception of education.” Models like the Harlem Children's Zone and President Obama's Promise Neighborhoods initiative are already taking steps in this holistic direction. Of course, the Promise Neighborhoods are just getting going and the jury's still out on whether the Harlem Children's Zone idea works—the project's still young and there are conflicting reports. Harvard economist Roland Fryer has shown that the project's schools have closed the achievement gap on New York City's math exam. But an independent Brookings Institute study showed that HCZ schools performed no better than other charters.

The challenge for those programs has always been scaling them up to work for entire cities and school districts, and Henig and Reville don't go into too much detail about how their paradigm shift in education would actually translate into action. But that said, they're absolutely right that schools can't do it alone and it's critical that America understands how larger problems like poverty limit what schools can do.

photo (cc) via Flickr user psd

via Douglas Muth / Flickr

Sin City is doing something good for its less fortunate citizens as well as those who've broken the law this month. The city of Las Vegas, Nevada will drop any parking ticket fines for those who make a donation to a local food bank.

A parking ticket can cost up to $100 in Las Vegas but the whole thing can be forgiven by bringing in non-perishable food items of equal or greater value to the Parking Services Offices at 500 S. Main Street through December 16.

The program is designed to help the less fortunate during the holidays.

Keep Reading Show less

For more than 20 years. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has served the citizens of Maine in the U.S. Senate. For most of that time, she has enjoyed a hard-fought reputation as a moderate Republican who methodically builds bridges and consensus in an era of political polarization. To millions of political observers, she exemplified the best of post-partisan leadership, finding a "third way" through the static of ideological tribalism.

However, all of that has changed since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Voters in Maine, particularly those who lean left, have run out of patience with Collins and her seeming refusal to stand up to Trump. That frustration peaked with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Keep Reading Show less
via / Flickr and Dimitri Rodriguez / Flickr

Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign looks to be getting a huge big shot in the arm after it's faced some difficulties over the past few weeks.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading voice in the Democratic parties progressive, Democratic Socialist wing, is expected to endorse Sanders' campaign at the "Bernie's Back" rally in Queens, New York this Saturday.

Fellow member of "the Squad," Ilhan Omar, endorsed him on Wednesday.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by HAL9001 on Unsplash

The U.K. is trying to reach its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, but aviation may become the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.K. by that same year. A new study commissioned by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and conducted at the Imperial College London says that in order for the U.K. to reach its target, aviation can only see a 25% increase, and they've got a very specific recommendation on how to fix it: Curb frequent flyer programs.

Currently, air travel accounts for 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, however that number is projected to increase for several reasons. There's a growing demand for air travel, yet it's harder to decarbonize aviation. Electric cars are becoming more common. Electric planes, not so much. If things keep on going the way they are, flights in the U.K. should increase by 50%.

Nearly every airline in the world has a frequent flyer program. The programs offer perks, including free flights, if customers get a certain amount of points. According to the study, 70% of all flights from the U.K. are taken by 15% of the population, with many people taking additional (and arguably unnecessary) flights to "maintain their privileged traveler status."

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet