A diagnosis and a prescription

By Michael Holzman, Senior Research Consultant, The Schott Foundation for Public Education

There are two items in the press today (Dec. 12) that offer first a diagnosis of the ills of American public schools and then a prescription. 

John Kuhn, the superintendent of a small public school district in Texas, writing in Valerie Strauss’ Washington Post column “The Answer Sheet,” proposes that:

“ … the 50 states disaggregate equality-related data by ethnicity, gender and socioeconomic status, and let us rank the states and reward them for closing all the societal inequalities that are truly at the heart of our achievement gap … Let’s have national benchmarks for equality in incarceration, equality in college enrollment, equality in health coverage, equality in income levels, employment rates, rates of drug addiction and child abuse.”

Khun’s diagnosis is that our relatively poor educational outcomes and large gaps in achievement are rooted in socioeconomic inequity; that if attention is paid to curing that problem, the schools will be able to do the rest.

Coincidentally, The New York Times carries a story by Michael Winerip, “Military Children Stay a Step Ahead of Public School Students,” featuring the outcomes on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) of the schools run by the Department of Defense.  The prescription?  Small classes, good housing and health care, integration.

Here are the Grade 8 Reading results for the DoDEA schools and national public schools for Black and Hispanic students:

Nationally, 15 percent of Black students scored at or above proficient.  In the military schools, 25 percent of Black students scored at or above proficient.  Nationally, 18 percent of Hispanic students scored at or above proficient.  In the military schools, 32 percent of Hispanic students scored at or above proficient.  The gap between White, non-Hispanic students scoring at or above proficient nationally is 26 percentage points for Black students in public schools, but only 16 percentage points for Black students in DoDEA schools.  For Hispanic students, the difference made by the DoDEA schools reduces the gap for national results from 23 percentage points to  9 percentage points.

White, non-Hispanic children also do better in these racially integrated DoDEA schools.

The advantage of DoDEA schools is only partial:  parental income inequities and college enrollment differences are present there as in the larger society.  But the DoDEA results indicate that healthy children who are not hungry, who attend truly “common schools,” do better than those who have difficulty obtaining good health care, who may be hungry and who attend inadequately funded schools segregated by race and income.

Such is today’s news.