Rich-poor achievement gap won’t budge. Is investing in teachers an answer?

Students from rich and poor families continue to have very different school experiences, both in Michigan and the nation. Researchers at Harvard and Stanford suggest focusing on teacher quality to narrow that gap.

Despite decades of efforts, the achievement gap between rich and poor students hasn’t budged in the United States for a half century, or in Michigan since at least 2000.

That’s the sobering finding of a national study released this week examining test scores dating back to the 1970s, and a Bridge analysis of Michigan student scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) since the turn of the century.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration was quick to blame the lack of progress on inadequate school funding.

“All you have to do is take one look at the inequality in educational conditions to see that the achievement gap is real,” Deputy Press Secretary Robert Leddy told Bridge in an email. “However, these challenges are not the fault of educators or students, but rather the policymakers who have taken resources away from the classroom.”

But the findings tell a different story. The consistent gap – which may amount to a difference of more than two years of learning between poor and non-poor students even before students leave elementary school– is a wet blanket on numerous efforts to give children from low-income families an equal shot at success in school, and afterward in college and the workplace.

Whatever efforts have been made here and across the nation, from increased early childhood education to additional funding and staffing for low-income schools, nothing has overcome the hobbling impact of poverty.

Interim State Superintendent Sheila Alles summed up the report’s findings succinctly: “Poverty matters.”

The influence of poverty and family – things outside the control of schools – has a huge impact on learning, Alles said in an email to Bridge.

“We actively are moving forward to identify and address the inequities that have prolonged these achievement gaps,” Alles said. “Further collaboration and resources, both professional and financial, must be invested and targeted to make Michigan a Top 10 education state.”

One recommendation offered by the study’s authors: investing in teachers.

The national report, released Sunday by researchers from Harvard and Stanford universities, examined 50 years of U.S. student test scores on four national and international tests.

“The startling part is not that there were large gaps in the 1970s, but that these gaps have not changed one wit over the half century,” said Stanford economist Eric Hanushek. “The gap we saw in 1970 is the same gap we saw in 2015.”

The story is the same in Michigan since around the turn of the century, after which the state began participating in large-scale results on the NAEP, often called “the nation’s report card,” Because there weren’t math and reading results dating to 2000, Bridge used a starting point of 2002 for reading and 2000 for math.

On that test, the reading gap between economically disadvantaged Michigan fourth graders and their wealthier classmates was 24 points in 2002; in 2017, the gap was 28 points.

Researchers equate a 10-point difference in NAEP score to the rough equivalent of a year of learning. By that measurement, low-income students are more than two years behind in learning.

The gap between poor and non-poor Michigan students was also over 20 points in eighth-grade reading and fourth- and eighth-grade math in 2017, with similar gaps existing when today’s high school seniors were born.

Wealth gap in learning isn’t shrinking

Scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress show that the learning gap between poor and non-poor students is as wide today as it was in 2000. A gap of 30 points is likely the equivalent of at least two years of learning.

 
 
 
 

Improving Michigan’s K-12 schools is seen as key to boosting the state’s economy. Michigan is in the bottom third in the nation in education, according to most measures on the NAEP, which allows cross-state comparisons. Michigan also ranks in the bottom half of states in the percent of adults with a college degree. On average, a bachelor’s degree boosts lifetime earnings by about $900,000 over a high school diploma.

Students from low-income families tend to do worse in school, and enroll and graduate from college at lower levels than their better-off classmates. Michigan has made numerous efforts to help low-income students.

In recent years, Michigan greatly expanded its taxpayer-funded pre-K program for low- and moderate-income families, called Great Start Readiness Program. The goal of GSRP is to better prepare children for school, in the wake of research showing that a learning gap between rich and poor kids exists by the time they walk into kindergarten.

About 33,000 children, or 37 percent of Michigan 4-year-olds, were in high-quality half-day or full-day preschool programs through GSRP in the 2016-17 school year. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has proposed another expansion that would make the pre-K program available to an estimated additional 5,000 children.

Michigan is spending a half billion dollars in the current budget on economically disadvantaged students by tacking $720 above the standard state per-pupil funding for each low-income student.

Many low-income schools (and some wealthier schools) offer free breakfast, because students from low-income families sometimes come to school hungry, making it even more challenging to learn.

Michigan lets students move between school districts and has a large number of public charter schools, most of which are located in low-income areas, giving poor students choices for where they attend.

Yet the learning gap between poor and non-poor students hasn’t narrowed here, just as it hasn’t nationally.

“When I began this project, I definitely thought the gap was closing, because we’d made so many efforts,” Harvard education policy professor Paul Peterson said in a media call last week. “We’ve had school desegregation, more money on pre-school efforts, more spent on disadvantaged students. Why hasn’t it gotten better?

“The simple answer,” Peterson surmised, “is that nothing has changed that is relevant.”

This does not say good things about intergenerational mobility,” said Stanford economist Hanushek.

The learning gap isn’t a surprise to Judy Pritchett, who prior to being elected a Democratic member of the Michigan State Board of Education, was a teacher and former administrator at Macomb Intermediate School District.

“We have known through research and assessment results that poverty matters in achievement,” Pritchett said. “We are hearing more and more about the effects of poverty and trauma on children and young people. I think the research is still being written about the impact on that for both cognitive and social/emotional (development).”

In her recent budget proposal, Whitmer pushed for a half billion dollar increase in education funding, including more funding for the neediest students

“Governor Whitmer’s budget … is the largest investment in the classroom in a generation,” said Leddy, of the governor’s office. “The governor recognizes that money alone does not solve this problem, which is why she has tied funding to a set of best practices, such as tripling the number of literacy coaches and increasing the number of counselors and tutors to ensure that students are prepared to achieve.”

Some states with higher student achievement spend more per student and some less; most provide more funding for poor students than non-poor students.

But the rich-poor gap exists in those states, too. Massachusetts is widely considered to have the highest-performing public schools in the nation, yet it has a wealth gap almost as large as Michigan’s (though both poor and non-poor students in Massachusetts perform better than similar students in Michigan).

Minnesota has the highest-performing public schools in the Midwest, yet that state’s fourth-grade reading gap doubled between 2002 and 2017.

“It’s hard to believe that people at the lowest level (of income) are going to rise to the highest level unless they are learning (the same amount) in school,” said Harvard’s Peterson.

David Arsen, a professor of education policy at Michigan State University, argued that the fact the rich-poor gap has remained steady is actually a positive sign the income gap between rich and poor Americans has grown in recent decades. Since income and school achievement are stubbornly linked, Arsen says it would seem logical for the learning gap to have grown along with the income gap.

“Considering the growing income and community gaps, the fact that the test score gap didn’t increase could be seen as a victory for schools,” Arsen said. In essence, he argues, the learning gap would be bigger without all the time and money spent on helping low-income students.

“I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this means all these reforms we have tried are effective,” Arsen said. “But I think we have to be careful before jumping to the conclusion that ‘schools don’t matter.’”

That’s not the position of study authors Hanushek and Peterson.

“We do not take these results as good news, because they imply that we will continue to face serious problems of a lack of intergenerational mobility,” Hanushek said. “In fact we have invested large sums of money to reduce gaps, through compensatory education funding at the federal level, through pre-school with Head Start at the federal level, and through large numbers of state programs. But they have not dented the achievement gaps.”

Their suggestion for addressing the learning gap: boosting teacher quality.

“All the interventions that have taken place over the past 50 years have skirted the question of teacher quality,” Peterson said. “There’s been nothing on a national scale to try to enhance teacher quality, to make this profession as attractive as others.”

No data analysis in the Harvard/Stanford study examined teacher quality, but other studies have. Current teachers tend to have earned their degrees from less-selective universities than a generation ago, for example.

Some states, such as Tennessee and Florida, have invested more in teacher training than has Michigan.

Interim State Superintendent Alles agrees.

“This study supports a well-known research fact that the most influencing factor in student success is the quality of the teacher,” Alles said. “We, as a state and country, need to do more to address the recruitment, and also the retention, of highly-effective teachers in schools and districts where much of the student population lives in poverty.”

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Comments

Kevin Grand
Tue, 03/19/2019 - 7:37am

Since funding is obviously NOT the problem (see link below), the better question to ask here is what other variables come into play here?

https://www.mackinac.org/michigan-school-funding-situation-better-than-m...

When it becomes culturally acceptable to not value having an education, what other outcome can be expected from those achievement numbers above?

Rick
Tue, 03/19/2019 - 8:45am

Your source will ALWAYS say what the DeVos family wants to hear. It's an opinion piece, not a study with, you know, facts, evidence, reality.

Kevin Grand
Tue, 03/19/2019 - 12:23pm

Do you want me to repost the links showing the worst performing districts receiving the disproportionately larger percentage of school funding?

And no, it's not from the Mackinac Center.

Keith
Tue, 03/19/2019 - 8:55am

I almost never, ever see or hear any verbiage about the role of parents in this conundrum, especially an intact, two parent family. If education isn't considered a high priority by the parents the kids have almost no hope. If the schools are responsible for feeding and clothing the students....

Carole
Tue, 03/19/2019 - 9:27am

Parents are extremely important. If they are not involved in their children's education, most children will not do well. Some will do well in spite of their parents involvement but that is not the norm. Teachers also have to have the skill sets to teach the very young. They have to be aware of child development or lack thereof. It is a mistake to move children from the grade level they are in if they have not reached the skill set for the grade. Communication skills are essential. If the child cannot communicate to the teacher and vice versa, the child will not learn. I once had the opportunity to visit an experimental school called the Rainbow School. It was in Roseville, Michigan. In some respects it was similar to a one room school house. While children had a permanent grade level classroom, they also had the opportunity to move to specific classrooms depending on their skill sets. As an example if the child was in the 4th grade but could read at a 6th grade level, he or she would move to the 6th grade class for reading. If the child could not read at a 4th grade level, he or she could be moved to 2nd or 3rd grade reading classes until skills were improved. The same was true for writing and mathematics. These are all basic skills that a child must have in order to be able to learn in science, biology or any other subject. What is needed is to not berate a child for not being at a specific skill level based on grade level, but instead to do what is necessary to improve that specific skill. In some respects, the one room school house of the past was much better at this than we are today.

Matt
Wed, 03/20/2019 - 9:42am

So why then have grades at all? When you have mastered subjects to a given level you are done. Whether you are 15 or 20.

Chris
Wed, 03/20/2019 - 10:33am

I think you've struck the nail on the head. Crap parenting, whether from rich or poor parents, can undo the best efforts of highly paid teachers in wonderful schools in about a nanosecond.

Chuck Jordan
Tue, 03/19/2019 - 8:10pm

The problem is poverty for families with children and it goes hand in hand with parents who are too busy or just don't care. It goes hand in hand with districts that have buildings that are falling apart and districts that are mostly minorities. And yes many of these families are headed by single parents. You may be right that funding will not make that much of a difference and it may also be true that better teachers in these poor schools will not help much when the children have to go back home where hunger, drugs, and abuse are all too frequent. So what's your solution?

duane
Thu, 03/21/2019 - 10:05pm

Fix the students! As simple as it is, look at the learning process and identify the role/responsibilities of the student in their learning. Next seek our the successful students asking them why and how do they learn, ask them what are the barriers to learning they face and how and why they overcame them, and listen. Next seek out those who are failing and ask them the same questions and listen. Third develop [include students that were interviewed] means/methods for overcoming the barriers and apply the successful means/methods, and test them out with feedback from the students using them.
Instead of adults talking to adults about what adults should do and how they should spend money, it needs to be about the students and how they learn.
The overriding factor in all learning is the student's desire to learn, we need to trying to understand what establishes that desire and how to reinforce it, because it is that desire that can overcome all barriers to be satisfied.
As for some of the barriers you mention such as hunger [in our district/community] the students get 3 meals each day including snacks [they get a sack dinner each day all provide at school by groups outside of the schools] and performance is still disappointing. The generally accepted barriers aren't insurmountable nor are they all pervasive, so don't let what is accepted become the barrier to asking and listening to the students and changing things.

Matt
Tue, 03/19/2019 - 8:30am

Rather that being causal , maybe poverty and educational complacency are two symptoms of the same and different altogether characteristic than one being pointed at? The usual correlation = causation fallacy that your reporters constantly step into.

Michigan Observer
Tue, 03/19/2019 - 9:36pm

Matt is exactly right. One of the principal difficulties in social science is confounding factors. Factors that simultaneously affect two variables and giving rise to the illusion that the two variables are related, that changes in one variable are causing changes in the other variable. It may very will be the case that variations in ability and culture are causing variations in both economic and educational success.

Barry Visel
Tue, 03/19/2019 - 9:56am

The data suggests nothing we've tried so far has moved the needle. It also suggests that nobody has yet to find an answer. So, maybe we should redirect the spending from things that haven't proven success to two alternatives (revenue neutral): 1. Enhance spending on teachers as some suggest, and 2: Provide education for parents of lower income students as parallel adult education programs so that education becomes a household goal.

Don
Tue, 03/19/2019 - 10:23am

Republican know that uneducated people will vote for them,,,,, Look what the republicans with the help of GrandMold did to Detroit!!!! Destroy the schools you destroy the community!!!!

Lysa
Tue, 03/19/2019 - 11:33am

Investing more in teachers will not help low income students, who sometimes go home to no lights to read and no tables to sit at to do homework. Low income families normally have parents that are working multiple jobs and not home to help their kids do their homework. In some cases the parents don’t understand the homework or may have difficulties reading. (check adult illiteracy in MI). These kids face real life challenges you wouldn’t believe. The best solution would be to have more individualized teaching in schools. Smaller classrooms. Less homework. ( not because it’s not needed but because low income kids have serious challenges at home and might not be able to do it)
More after school care. Where a kid can feel safe, have an additional meal and can do their school work. Or study.

The needle hasn’t moved because no one is taking into consideration the human factors of safety, hunger, homelessness (MI has one of the largest population of child homelessness), shelter.

Matt
Tue, 03/19/2019 - 12:59pm

Yep prior to 2000 Detroit was a paradise only then wrecked by Republicans and "GranMold" !

Anonymous
Tue, 03/19/2019 - 10:53am

In my Rhode Island county, a small, rural elementary school that had reduced lunch population of over 80%, scored very high on the NAPE. It was entirely due to well-trained, motivated teachers. The best teachers should be placed, and motivated, to teach in the most challenging schools. And I am a former union president!

BruceS
Tue, 03/19/2019 - 11:12am

This study is helpful to build a fact based argument for the recognizing that parents and family values play if not the most important, at the very least a very important role in a students success. There are so many factors that tell us the same story. We need to define what needs to change and find ways to rebuild the American working class. Give families hope for a future. Government police is not the solution although it certainly has it's part to play, but leaders from top to bottom need to that acknowledge the challenge use their influence to create attitudes that see and encourage everyone.

Kay
Tue, 03/19/2019 - 11:17am

After teaching in public, charter and independent schools and having served on a charter school board for 5 years, I've come to these conclusions.
1. Funding for schools with more poor students should be higher since those students have more needs. That is often not the case in MI. Some affluent school districts receive $3K more than poorer ones because they were "held harmless."
2. Class sizes should be about 20. Research shows the most gains are when the class size tops at 15.
3. Parenting classes and adult education classes would be great and beneficial. Many students (and many parents) in poorer areas do not understand the importance of education.
4. We need better and more permanent housing for the poor. Transiency is huge. Some children go to 2, 3 or more schools a year. In some areas where the class count is 35, 22 of the students are different from those at the beginning of the year. Every time a child moves, their learning is thrown off track. New students coming into classroom also diverts the attention of the teacher to the new student.
5. Increasing attendance (beginning in Kindergarten so students don't start getting behind) is extremely important.
6. Increasing pay for teachers to encourage brighter students to study education is vital. Fifty years ago women were more or less limited to becoming teachers, secretaries or nurses. Now that women can go into any field, the enticement and prestige of being an educator needs to increase dramatically.
5.

duane
Sat, 03/23/2019 - 10:14am

Kay,
You may want to consider what is being heard more than what you are trying to say.
1. When you say poor students more needs, to me that sounds like all who have gone before simply asking for money with no thought to have to address the needs. To make it more credible mention at least some examples of the added needs so people can envision how those needs can be addressed and how they might contribute to the efforts.
2. Class size of 20 seems to be the holy grail of class size and yet people like me many times had classrooms of 30 and as we got old there were class [by the nature of the students] could have been larger and still successful. It maybe more credible if the class size were related to needs, why should a senior be in a class 20 like a 1st grader when in the following year they maybe in a class of a couple hundred? By ignoring this type of considerations you lose credibility with some one like me.
3. Classes have no value if they don't have a clear set of knowledge and skill to present. How can you say the parenting classes have value if they don't even help the parents understand the learning process and how they fit into that process. The other consideration is who should attend such classes and why. Do all parents need to attend or can those being successful [list criteria] be able to test out?
4. You seem to be suggesting that the 'schools' should be the means/justification for providing/choosing how parents should and would live. That is more then just creep in the purpose of education, it overwhelms any discussion about education.
5. We now have the pre-school learning and yet you are telling us that is not enough and the old attendance problem hasn't improved, what is you next way to spend money with no change in results?
6. So all there is to justify being a teacher is money [always more money] and results are not a consideration. [My experience and that of our daughters were there were more bad teachers with full careers and earning the same as those good teachers.]
What is the purpose of your for commenting, is it to draw people to thinking about the ideas you have mentioned or is it to simply vent you emotions. If it is the former it is more important about what is being heard than what is being said. If it is the latter, then it doesn't what if anyone reads it let alone thinks about it.

Anonymous
Tue, 03/19/2019 - 11:50am

The problem is with the parents. Parents who value education stress the importance of education to their child. They assist their children with homework and are active in the school. Get low income parents to participate and value you education and then the gap will close.

AbbyS
Wed, 03/20/2019 - 11:10am

One of the problems are the parents, but they are only one factor in a very complex problem. And some parents do not have the education or time (working multiple part time jobs) to help their children with homework. But say the parent(s) is a drug addict who care more about their next fix than their children's education. Is that really reason enough to condemn the child to a lack of education that will perpetuate the problem? For our own prosperity, if not just because it is the right thing to do, we need to ensure that ALL children become well educated, no matter what their home life is.

Nancy Flanagan
Tue, 03/19/2019 - 12:52pm

Three-quarters of this piece is centered on a stone-cold, well-researched fact we've known for some time: Kids in poverty don't learn as much as kids whose families are not struggling to pay the bills. As David Arsen aptly points out, the unprecedented and dangerously growing gap between the haves and have-nots is now reflected in a similar learning gap. It's confirmation of what we know.

So why are we approaching this with small fixes (a hot breakfast for kids) and the suggestion that we train teachers to deal better with the ravages of poverty? Why aren't we addressing the root cause: poverty, households with not enough income, housing instability and food insecurity?

We also have considerable, convincing research evidence that increasing household income for the poor results in an uptick in educational outcomes.

For example: "Programs that give tax credits to parents also seem to raise test scores, according to other research in both the U.S. and Canada. The more recent earned income tax credit study found that it boosted high school and college graduation rates, particularly among the poorest kids."

“There is a positive effect of family income on test scores and on educational outcomes — and this doesn’t just fade out,” said Jacob Bastian, one of the study’s authors and an economist at the University of Chicago. Read more at:
https://chalkbeat.org/posts/us/2018/09/26/research-boost-test-score-help...

I am all for ongoing professional development for teachers. But Acting Superintendent Alles misspeaks in saying that teacher quality is the most important factor in student learning. The most important variable is household security: enough money to pay the bills, feed family members well, reduce anxiety and develop of sense of ownership in society.

Teacher training is something we can do--and it's fairly easy to measure. I don't know any teacher who wouldn't be willing to learn how to teach children in poverty better. But hot lunch and teacher training aren't solutions. They're band-aids.

Matt
Tue, 03/19/2019 - 5:32pm

A study showing that if double the income of a poor single mother her kid's grades will jump would be very interesting. Where is this?

Nancy Flanagan
Tue, 03/19/2019 - 12:52pm

Three-quarters of this piece is centered on a stone-cold, well-researched fact we've known for some time: Kids in poverty don't learn as much as kids whose families are not struggling to pay the bills. As David Arsen aptly points out, the unprecedented and dangerously growing gap between the haves and have-nots is now reflected in a similar learning gap. It's confirmation of what we know.

So why are we approaching this with small fixes (a hot breakfast for kids) and the suggestion that we train teachers to deal better with the ravages of poverty? Why aren't we addressing the root cause: poverty, households with not enough income, housing instability and food insecurity?

We also have considerable, convincing research evidence that increasing household income for the poor results in an uptick in educational outcomes.

For example: "Programs that give tax credits to parents also seem to raise test scores, according to other research in both the U.S. and Canada. The more recent earned income tax credit study found that it boosted high school and college graduation rates, particularly among the poorest kids."

“There is a positive effect of family income on test scores and on educational outcomes — and this doesn’t just fade out,” said Jacob Bastian, one of the study’s authors and an economist at the University of Chicago. Read more at:
https://chalkbeat.org/posts/us/2018/09/26/research-boost-test-score-help...

I am all for ongoing professional development for teachers. But Acting Superintendent Alles misspeaks in saying that teacher quality is the most important factor in student learning. The most important variable is household security: enough money to pay the bills, feed family members well, reduce anxiety and develop of sense of ownership in society.

Teacher training is something we can do--and it's fairly easy to measure. I don't know any teacher who wouldn't be willing to learn how to teach children in poverty better. But hot lunch and teacher training aren't solutions. They're band-aids.

Nancy Flanagan
Tue, 03/19/2019 - 12:52pm

Three-quarters of this piece is centered on a stone-cold, well-researched fact we've known for some time: Kids in poverty don't learn as much as kids whose families are not struggling to pay the bills. As David Arsen aptly points out, the unprecedented and dangerously growing gap between the haves and have-nots is now reflected in a similar learning gap. It's confirmation of what we know.

So why are we approaching this with small fixes (a hot breakfast for kids) and the suggestion that we train teachers to deal better with the ravages of poverty? Why aren't we addressing the root cause: poverty, households with not enough income, housing instability and food insecurity?

We also have considerable, convincing research evidence that increasing household income for the poor results in an uptick in educational outcomes.

For example: "Programs that give tax credits to parents also seem to raise test scores, according to other research in both the U.S. and Canada. The more recent earned income tax credit study found that it boosted high school and college graduation rates, particularly among the poorest kids."

“There is a positive effect of family income on test scores and on educational outcomes — and this doesn’t just fade out,” said Jacob Bastian, one of the study’s authors and an economist at the University of Chicago. Read more at:
https://chalkbeat.org/posts/us/2018/09/26/research-boost-test-score-help...

I am all for ongoing professional development for teachers. But Acting Superintendent Alles misspeaks in saying that teacher quality is the most important factor in student learning. The most important variable is household security: enough money to pay the bills, feed family members well, reduce anxiety and develop of sense of ownership in society.

Teacher training is something we can do--and it's fairly easy to measure. I don't know any teacher who wouldn't be willing to learn how to teach children in poverty better. But hot lunch and teacher training aren't solutions. They're band-aids.

Nancy Flanagan
Tue, 03/19/2019 - 12:52pm

Three-quarters of this piece is centered on a stone-cold, well-researched fact we've known for some time: Kids in poverty don't learn as much as kids whose families are not struggling to pay the bills. As David Arsen aptly points out, the unprecedented and dangerously growing gap between the haves and have-nots is now reflected in a similar learning gap. It's confirmation of what we know.

So why are we approaching this with small fixes (a hot breakfast for kids) and the suggestion that we train teachers to deal better with the ravages of poverty? Why aren't we addressing the root cause: poverty, households with not enough income, housing instability and food insecurity?

We also have considerable, convincing research evidence that increasing household income for the poor results in an uptick in educational outcomes.

For example: "Programs that give tax credits to parents also seem to raise test scores, according to other research in both the U.S. and Canada. The more recent earned income tax credit study found that it boosted high school and college graduation rates, particularly among the poorest kids."

“There is a positive effect of family income on test scores and on educational outcomes — and this doesn’t just fade out,” said Jacob Bastian, one of the study’s authors and an economist at the University of Chicago. Read more at:
https://chalkbeat.org/posts/us/2018/09/26/research-boost-test-score-help...

I am all for ongoing professional development for teachers. But Acting Superintendent Alles misspeaks in saying that teacher quality is the most important factor in student learning. The most important variable is household security: enough money to pay the bills, feed family members well, reduce anxiety and develop of sense of ownership in society.

Teacher training is something we can do--and it's fairly easy to measure. I don't know any teacher who wouldn't be willing to learn how to teach children in poverty better. But hot lunch and teacher training aren't solutions. They're band-aids.

Anonymous
Tue, 03/19/2019 - 1:36pm

How about decreasing the class size, and allowing our kids who need more one on one receive that instead of cramming the buildings to capacity to save money. How about adequately dealing with the students who disrupt the learning, instead of blaming the teacher for not having control. How about allowing our kids to move, and not stress and make everything about the adults. The list goes on and on, and the teachers could tell you, but nobody talks to us, they just sit up and think they know without ever stepping foot into a real classroom about what might work and tell us to execute their crazy ideas. Talk to the people in the trenches, let us have some power and put us into the think tank. We know....but until then, we will just pretend to know what we are doing and what works best because we are not allowed to do that...it's not what the POLITICIANS want.

Reed
Tue, 03/19/2019 - 1:55pm

Have you read Malcomb Gladwell on this? In his studies on the schools in the Maryland area, he found that most of the education gap happened between the last day of school in that summer and the first day of school in the fall. Summer enrichment opportunities and parental involvement were critical factors, not so much the level of funding during the school year.

Matt
Wed, 03/20/2019 - 9:38am

Another reason to get rid of the agricultural calendar that we run our schools on. What explains our insistence on retaining this?

Mark
Tue, 03/19/2019 - 2:30pm

It's called Generational Comfortable Poverty. Money is not the cure all. The solution is from within....Individual Choices, Desire for Education. In inner cities, with ~80% of children from single mother homes with the vast majority of those mothers coming from single mother homes already in poverty...it is not the school system. We don't need Billions for a child to learn the basics of reading and math in grades 1-4.

Michigan Observer
Tue, 03/19/2019 - 10:22pm

“All you have to do is take one look at the inequality in educational conditions to see that the achievement gap is real,” Deputy Press Secretary Robert Leddy told Bridge in an email. Why would you have to"look at the inequality in educational conditions to see that the achievement gap is real."? Just look at the test results.

Hanushek said. “In fact we have invested large sums of money to reduce gaps, through compensatory education funding at the federal level, through pre-school with Head Start at the federal level, and through large numbers of state programs. But they have not dented the achievement gaps.” Yet, what does the Governor and the interim State Superintendent of Schools propose? More of the same.

"No data analysis in the Harvard/Stanford study examined teacher quality, but other studies have. Current teachers tend to have earned their degrees from less-selective universities than a generation ago, for example." There is much to be said for the impact of teacher quality. It should be noted that the seventies was when opportunities began to open up for women. Previously, even very talented, bright women were restricted to teaching as a career. When that changed, a lot of high candlepower women became lawyers, doctors, executives and professors. Whether they went to selective schools or not, there was a sharp reduction in the level of talent in education.

duane
Wed, 03/20/2019 - 12:17am

Here we go again, “Poverty matters.” All the ’education’ experts can see is money, they can’t see the kids, they can’t see how they learn, they can’t see the kids role/responsibilities for learning, all they can see is ‘money’, other people’s money. Ms. Alles seems to only look for where, who, what to blame for the lack of student learning, so she blames ‘money.’
Ms. Alles typifies Michigan educators, she fails to look past the superficial to see what is helping kids in ‘wealthy’ districts to learn, she doesn’t grasp the old sage 'what you do speaks so loudly they can't hear what you are saying.' Ms. Alles would prefer to avoid learning from students successes and simply find excuses, money.
What is the difference in what students in ‘poor’ districts see and what those in ‘wealthy’ districts see? In the ‘wealthy’ districts the students every day see the value of learning, they see it in their parents or their friends parents, they see how learning helps adults control their lives, how learning is a provider of money, they see how those who have learned how to learn use the learning process everyday to achieve what they want, how learning makes them more accomplished, more confident, they see the benefits to learning in personal ways and they see their peers apply that lesson to their learning. Money in ‘wealthy’ districts doesn’t buy learning, it is a byproduct of learning
If Ms. Alles and other educators could only look past the ‘money’ they could learn from success in one and use that to help those in the other.
Why are Ms. Alles and others avoiding engaging those who have learned the sciences and use them every day in the classrooms to describe how they use their learning?

J Hendricks
Wed, 03/20/2019 - 6:51am

Underlying everything is culture. If you have a culture surrounding you with an oxygen of respect for learning, most problems (poverty included) will begin to be solved. One of the starkest examples of this is the Chinese culture, which places such an emphasis on knowledge that a “teacher” is considered the position of highest respect - higher even than doctors. When this type of attitude permeates the family home, you can see the results with their children. So if we really want to get at this problem we need to address the culture.

duane
Wed, 03/20/2019 - 1:39pm

J,
You’re right about the importance of cultural influence, but don’t over project the a culture that is having the influence. In the case of China, the culture of impact is that build around the ownership of the rice paddies. The rice paddies culture was built around working the paddies to maximize the rice produced. To meet expectations of the rice those working the paddies expected to sacrifice to invest in the paddies by rising early than others working smarter, working longer, using the land and time better than others. The culture followed the descendants in their migration around the world, you can see it in classrooms of America.
The culture may have given respect to the teachers, but it created high expectations of the children in whatever endeavor such as learning, for it is the children/students do the learning.
Read Malcom Gladwell’s ‘Outlier’ see pages 233-239

J Hendricks
Wed, 03/20/2019 - 6:18pm

Duane, All true. All part of the same culture influence. Thanks for the elaboration. My experience working with overseas Chinese in developing countries has convinced me you could give a Chinese family a piece of asphalt and they would have a flourishing garden on it in a year. Hard work, no whining success oriented.

duane
Thu, 03/21/2019 - 12:10pm

I agree about the asphalt, they would start working picking apart the asphalt as soon as they got control.

I would expand your consideration to the influential micro culture that each student has/creates around themselves, the friends/neighbors/direct contacts [1-6] they have around them. This micro culture is what is influencing them during the off hours, the time away from school. I believe this group has an out sized impact because it is that out of classroom time is when the students do their learning, their homework applying what they were introduced to in the classroom. That micro culture can be a family member [see Ben Carson's mother, it can be an association such as an after school club, it can be the kids they are walking the streets with.

I think, that no only does that China culture influence the expectations of the children/students [studying, academic achievement] they have a strong influence on who is in the micro culture.

jcoh
Wed, 03/20/2019 - 4:17pm

How about do a study of gaps between kids who get three good meals a day and to bed on time with couch surfing/food insecure children? How a child born to chaos can miraculously emerge as a productive member of society because of "higher quality teachers" is beyond me.

Bones
Fri, 03/22/2019 - 10:37am

Because addressing the fundamental cause of cyclical poverty requires questioning our entire society and economic system wherein large swaths of the populace find it perfectly acceptable that 20% of America's children live in poverty

Debra Henning
Wed, 03/20/2019 - 4:22pm

One problem with the studies reported here is their generality, as if all results for all schools for all years showed no peaks nor valleys, which seems highly unlikely. It's a good guess that some some schools in some states did, in fact, narrow the achievement gap, but such results were likely lost in the huge data analysis. As reported in a 2015 New York Times article, we know how to narrow achievement gaps, and we've done so in the past: The author of the 2015 report writes, "The wounds of segregation were still raw in the 1970s. With only rare exceptions, African-American children had nowhere near the same educational opportunities as whites. The civil rights movement, school desegregation and the War on Poverty helped bring a measure of equity to the playing field. Today, despite some setbacks along the way, racial disparities in education have narrowed significantly. By 2012, the test-score deficit of black 9-, 13- and 17-year-olds in reading and math had been reduced as much as 50 percent compared with what it was 30 to 40 years before....'We do have a track record of reducing these inequalities,' said Jane Waldfogel, a professor of social work at Columbia University."
Rather than focus on the results of such large scale studies, where schools and students get lost in the proverbial rolling mill, time might be better spent looking at how the we have already narrowed the achievement gap.

Mary A Kovari
Thu, 03/21/2019 - 4:17pm

Your article seems to focus on the issue of poverty matters and achievement gaps remain because of poverty. It implies, although not directly, that we need to fix poverty if we want to see achievement gaps narrow. I think we need to focus on SYSTEMS. The school systems in place to educate poor students look exactly like and are sometimes even weaker than those used to educate middle and upper middle class kids. You can train teachers - yes - this is necessary. But if a weak system is in place, teachers will.not.be.able to execute. It is and will continue to be about systems - which depend on leadership to establish and sustain. For all the money that has been spent, none of it has focused on school systems, especially for poor kids.

Subee
Fri, 03/22/2019 - 3:25pm

Some of the respondents here are just clueless about poverty. Until you go into their houses and see some of the ghastly living conditions, you just can't appreciate how stressful these conditions are, and the neuroscientists report that these traumatized children have physical changes in their brains. Kids are sent to school in freezing temperatures with no coats or boots. So many of them need to be removed from the parent(s) but there is no place to put them. In my experience, drugs THE major source of dysfunction in the house . The kids are growing up with crazy people in extreme chaos. Don't even bother telling me Abe Lincoln did it, so why can't they? Abe Lincoln's parents weren't drug addicts or mentally ill. The only person I can think of that "pulled herself up by the bootstraps" successfully is Ivanka.

A Hope
Sun, 03/24/2019 - 1:23pm

I’ve taught in a private school, in middle-class suburban schools, and in a rural low-income school. Interestingly, I taught the same subject with most of the same materials. And, no surprise, the private-school kids achieved consistently better results. Why? Because their parents were focused (okay, sometimes too focused) on their kids’ education; it was absolutely a priority. In the lowest-achieving school, the rural one, many parents were indifferent or even hostile to the school system. We also found that our lowest achievers in reading and writing were nearly always transient kids; they were not a product of any one district but had moved around quite a lot. So, financial/emotional struggles on the part of the parents will equal the same for their kids. What the teacher does during the school day will have a limited effect on student performance. So—tie more social services directly to schools, including food, medical services, social workers, and counseling on-site. (you know, more than one counselor for 500 kids would be a start.) It’s not primarily an academic problem, folks.

duane
Mon, 03/25/2019 - 8:21pm

A Hope,
In your experience in the classroom, with parents and others, have you noticed what those that focus on education do differently than those who are indifferent toward education, what things successful students do differently than the less successful ones do?

Al Churchill
Thu, 05/30/2019 - 11:58pm

As a generalization, it is true that a good teacher is the critical factor in school. It is also true that out-of-school factors play a larger role in determining how well kids do in school. Poverty matters. At one time, the Michigan Department of Education stated on their website that, "The most reliable predictor of success in school is the degree that parents are involved in their child's education".
But there are exceptions.
Stanford University recently did a study of schools across the nation, testing across grades 3-8. Chicago Public Schools, with a disproportionate number of kids from poverty -stricken homes, advanced 6 years over that period. Not many schools in Michigan, including those with tons of money behind them, did as well.
To the best of my knowledge, nobody in the Michigan educational community has looked at Chicago and asked why that happened.
Indeed, while listening to the radio today, I heard the usual self assured educational reformers inform us that they had cooperated with each other and had another plan to fix Michigan's schools. These were folks who were present, with the movers and shakers on Mackinac Island.These are the folks who have had decades to improve our schools and given us charters, vouchers, etc that perform no better than traditional public schools.
It's time to pay attention to the out-of-school factors that affect our kids so much and turn the professional educators, who know what children need, loose.