NY Times Reignites Debate on Class and School Achievement

K-12 Testing

The New York Times' Diana Jean Schemo recently wrote about the factors outside of school that affect student achievement, citing Class and Schools author and former New York Times education columnist Richard Rothstein on what it would take to close achievement gaps (see Examiner, Summer 2004)


The Fordham Institute's Chester Finn responded in his Gadfly newsletter, decrying "pessimists" like Rothstein who say that schools can't propel poor kids to higher achievement. Finn wrote, "Backward reeled my mind upon discovering that the New York Times's liberal education writer Diana Jean Schemo and conservative icon Charles Murray (writing recently in the Wall Street Journal) share essentially the same defeatist view of education: that schools aren't powerful enough instruments to boost poor kids' achievement to an appreciably higher academic plane due to the many other forces (family, neighborhood, poverty, heredity, etc.) tugging them downward." Finn is the director of the right-wing Fordham Foundation and former Assistant Secretary of Education under Ronald Reagan.


In an essay for the Economic Policy Institute, Rothstein answers Finn, dismantling the claim that good schools by themselves can eliminate achievement gaps and fulfill Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of equality. Far from wallowing in defeatism, Rothstein is realistic about what it will take and urges us to action: "Today, many of those policies that we know will make a difference - providing better and more stable housing, improving the health of low-income children, and boosting the incomes of these students' working parents - are economically and politically feasible. So in the Moynihan-Mosteller sense [Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Charles Frederick Mosteller cowrote the influential On Equality of Educational Opportunity in 1972], I too am an optimist. I invite Mr. Finn to join me in my optimism by advocating a balanced set of reform policies, covering schools as well as the social and economic conditions that surround them."