I'm sure that many people read the op-ed piece in the NY Times last week by David Brooks about the Harlem Children's Zone. It's an article that is worth a read, whether you agree with Brooks' opinions about education reform or not.
The piece is about Geoffery Canada and his network of charter schools, specifically Promise Academy in Harlem. A new study is claiming that Canada's schools are substantially reducing and in some cases closing the achievement gap between black and white students.
I'm sure that there is a ton of room for debate, and of course I haven't read the official study -- just Brooks' interpretation of it. However, I do want to focus on one specific part of the piece. Brooks writes,
"These results are powerful evidence in a long-running debate. Some experts, mostly surrounding the education establishment, argue that schools alone can’t produce big changes. The problems are in society, and you have to work on broader issues like economic inequality. Reformers, on the other hand, have argued that school-based approaches can produce big results. The Harlem Children’s Zone results suggest the reformers are right."
My question: is Brooks correct in his assertion that the "education establishment" argues that schools cannot have a big impact while "reformers" argue that they can? I hesitate to make such generalizations, but then again they make a lot of sense. The "establishment" -- colleges of education, public schools, and teachers unions -- had for decades a monopoly on the education of low-income students. Now, charter schools and alternative certification programs have come along and are challenging the establishment. It only makes sense that the people who feel they are being attacked -- the establishment -- would say that schools alone can't have a big impact on closing the achievement gap, since the achievement gap developed on their watch.
To me, it seems like Brooks may have hit the nail on the head in a way that really helps in the debate. He doesn't say that public schools caused the achievement gap. He doesn't say that bad teachers are to blame. But he does say that the problem can be solved by excellent schools with excellent teachers. Whereas reformers are usually portrayed as "anti-teacher," this analysis celebrates the teachers and the huge impact they can make.
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