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What Works in Education

There are many successful programs that work around the country in terms of educating our students and one that was successful on a national level was the original war on poverty which was paid for by public funds.

As Linda Darling-Hammond wrote in her book,  The Flat World and Education:

 How Policy Can Matter

…These declines are not inevitable. We have made strong headway on educational achievement in the past and can do so again. At this moment in history, it is easy to forget that during the years following Brown v. Board vs Education, when desegregation and school finance reform efforts were launched, and when the Great Society’s War on Poverty increased investments in urban and poor rural schools, substantial gains were made in equalizing both educational inputs and outcomes. Gaps in school spending, access to qualified teachers, and access to higher education were smaller in the mid- to late 1970s than they had been before and, in many states, than they have been since.

Driven by the belief that equal educational opportunity was a national priority, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 targeted resources to communities with the most need, recognizing that where a child grows up should not determine where he or she ends up. Employment and welfare supports reduced childhood poverty to levels about 60% of what they are today,” and greatly improved children’s access to health care. Congress then enacted the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, which opened educational doors to children with special education needs, and the Elementary and Secondary Assistance Act, which supported desegregation, the development of magnet schools, and other strategies to improve urban and poor rural schools. These efforts to level the playing field for children were supported by intensive investments in bringing and keeping talented individuals in teaching, improving teacher education, and investing in research and development.

These investments began to payoff in measurable ways. By the mid-1970s, urban schools spent as much as suburban schools, and paid their teachers as well; perennial teacher shortages had nearly ended; and gaps in educational attainment had closed substantially. Federally funded curriculum investments transformed teaching in many schools. Innovative schools flourished, especially in the cities.

Improvements in educational achievement for students of color followed. In reading, large gains in Black students’ performance throughout the 1970s and early 1980s reduced the achievement gap considerably, cutting it nearly in half in just 15 years. The achievement gap in mathematics also narrowed sharply between 1973 and 1986. Financial aid for higher education was sharply increased, especially for need-based scholarships and loans. For a brief period in the mid- 1970s, Black and Hispanic students were attending college at rates comparable to those of Whites, the only time this has happened before or since.

However, this optimistic vision of equal and expanding educational opportunity, along with the gains from the “Great Society” programs, was later pushed back. Most targeted federal programs supporting investments in college access and K-12 schools in urban and poor rural areas were reduced or eliminated during the Reagan administration in the 1980s. Meanwhile, childhood poverty rates, homelessness, and lack of access to health care also grew with cuts in other federal programs supporting housing subsidies, health care, and child welfare. As states picked up more and more of the responsibility for these programs, and state school funding failed to keep pace, urban and poor rural schools fell be- hind their counterparts in resources. Over time, they began to experience growing teacher shortages and increasingly poor teaching and learning conditions. Most of the programs supporting educational innovation and investment in high-need communities were cut when the federal share of funding shrank from 12% to 6% during the 1980s. The situation in many urban schools deteriorated over the decade. Drops in real per pupil expenditures accompanied tax cuts and growing enrollments. Meanwhile, student needs grew with immigration, concentrated poverty and homelessness, and increased numbers of students requiring second-language instruction and special educational services.

By 1991, when Jonathan Kozol wrote Savage Inequalities, stark differences had re-emerged between segregated urban schools and their suburban counterparts, which generally spent twice as much. This included places like Goudy Elementary School, which served an African American student population in Chicago, using “15-year-old textbooks in which Richard Nixon is still president” and “no science labs, no art or music teachers … [and] two working bathrooms for some 700 children,” in contrast with schools in the neighboring town of New Trier (more than 98% White), where students had access to “superior labs … up-to-date technology … seven gyms [and] an Olympic pool.”

By the end of the 1980s, the achievement gap had begun to grow again. Although it has fluctuated from year to year, after 1988 the reading achievement gap grew sharply again at all grade levels, and, except for a recent improvement for 9-year- olds, has never been as narrow since. In 2005, the average Black or Hispanic twelfth grader was reading at the level of the average White eighth grader. The gap in mathematics achievement also widened for Blacks and Latinos after 1988, and although there has been progress since the mid-1990s at the 4th-grade level, that gap has remained a yawning chasm for students at the 8th- and 12th-grade levels.

The investments in the education of students of color that characterized the school desegregation and finance reforms of the 1960s and 1970s have never been fully re-established in the years since. Ironically, had the rate of progress achieved in the 1970s and early 1980s been continued, the achievement gap would have been fully closed by the beginning of the 21st century. Unfortunately, that did not occur. While nations that are now high-achieving and equitable built on the progressive reforms they launched in the 1970s (more on this in Chapter 6), the United States undid much of this progress in the Reagan years.

Now it is a matter of accepting the fact that we must pay for the education of our children, all of our children, for this country to continue to thrive and succeed in terms of innovation and creativity in the arts and sciences and to continue as a democratic nation.

Dora

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