Schools work

Schools work "Do not attempt to prove any connection between school funding and student achievements unless you can prove that school achievement is determined at school and not at home." My mentor gave me this advice as I prepared to defend my economic

“Do not attempt to prove any connection between school funding and student achievements unless you can prove that school achievement is determined at school and not at home.”

My mentor gave me this advice as I prepared to defend my economic dissertation on public school funding. That was almost 40 years ago.

In the recent book publication Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell gives us some insightful analyses of funding and student achievements.

 His research review begins with an analysis of test results based on social class. The lowest scores were achieved by the lower class and the highest scores by the higher-class students. Unlike most excitable researchers, Gladwell did not stop with this proof of the obvious.

He then compared the tests given at the beginning and end of school terms. These measurements enabled comparisons of individual improvements in student achievements during the school term, as opposed to improvements during summer vacations.

Tests measured achievement improvements during the total years spent in elementary school. They showed a cumulative total score of 189 for lower-class students, compared to 184 for upper class students. Thus, commonly held assumptions of upper social-class biases in public schools are now debatable.

Comparisons measuring improvements during five summer vacations displayed a cumulative total of .026 for lower-class students and 52.49 for upper class, a difference of more than 2,000 per cent.

Gladwell concluded that disputes that centre on class size and school funding assume that there is something wrong. When we examine the evidence, we have to agree with his conclusion: “Schools work. The problem with schools, for the kids who aren’t achieving, is that there isn’t enough of it.”

Gladwell points out that in North America, the number of school days in a year is between 180 and 200, compared to 243 in Japan.

Before we push for increased number of school days, however, we should recognize that different parenting styles cross all class boundaries. Irresponsible parents in all classes may simply use increased school days to reduce their babysitting costs. Responsible parenting requires regular parent-teacher co-operation founded in mutual respect.

Responsible parents produce real winners – their children.

 

Henry Armstrong, executive director BC School Trustees Association, 1973-1990 (retired)

Sidney, BC

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