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Posted by on Dec 4, 2006 in At TMV | 6 comments

Conservatives and Education

A… different kind of education

An interesting article at TNR about the conservative model for improving schools.

My wife spent a few years teaching in a mostly low-income elementary school. The main thing I remember her telling me was that parental involvement was a near-perfect predictor of her students’ performance. The kids with active parents did well, and the kids with disengaged parents did poorly.

The great bugaboo of education reform has always been the role of parents. But if a child’s family determines his educational future, then there’s not much point in trying to perfect the school environment. Or so it would seem.

Well, such a point of view would – obviously – be a dramatic over-simplification. Don’t students whose parents are actively involved need great conditions anyway? It’s great that one’s parents are involved, but if the school doesn’t have any books… Besides, couldn’t the school, to a degree at least, make up for the lack of interest from parents? Indeed:

Last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine featured a fascinating article by Paul Tough on the conundrum of the education gap between rich and poor (and white and black). The bad news is that this gap is indeed deeply rooted in parenting styles from a very young age. There is a stark difference between the way middle-class or professional parents raise their children and the way poor parents do. The former talk with their children far more, expose them to a broader range of vocabulary, and give them far more positive reinforcement. “The professional parents were giving their children an advantage with every word they spoke,” Tough wrote, “and the advantage just kept building up.”

The good news is that some schools have shown that they can compress this gap with an intensive and properly focused program. A small number of educators have figured out how to drill their students into appropriate behavior and learning. One of the biggest factors in their success seems to be quantity. The students arrive earlier in the day, stay later, and enjoy radically shorter summer vacations.

After this, Jonathan Chait deals with what he considers to be the “wild utopian flights” of conservatives who look at above described ‘success stories’ and reason that, see, one can deal with it in a ‘conservative’ manner.

Two problems Chait addresses regarding the conservative view on education are:

1- The first objection is that schools are, mostly, funded locally. The obvious results: poor areas do not have the money to improve their schools.

2- According to Chait, teachers are “heavily underpaid”. As a result, can one really expect them to work overtime? Isn’t that the opposite, one could say of a capitalist system? Pay little, work hard? The capitalist system rewards people who work hard. This means that, if teachers are willing to work harder and more, they should be, extra, rewarded, because if one does not reward them, they will not do so.

Anyway, it is an interesting article, although one that over-simplifies the matter a bit perhaps.

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