It’s sad that Michael Strong has to end what has been a useful debate by egregiously distorting my position on the best strategies for school reform. He starts his critique by claiming that I believe that “the possibility of significantly better education [is] utopian.” In fact, throughout this exchange, and in all of my writing on education, I have made it clear that we can, indeed, “significantly” improve education outcomes by adopting certain instructional and curriculum reforms. I have also argued that school choice programs have improved education for the disadvantaged. The only time I used the word “utopian” in my previous posts was in characterizing Strong’s statement that free markets in education will lead to “lowering rates of drug use, risky sex, depression, suicide, homicide, and accidents” for the nation’s teenagers. Indeed, I don’t know of a better operational definition of “utopian.”
Strong strays even further from the facts and reality when he resorts to citing Lisa Snell’s article in Reason to show that I misinterpreted the “Massachusetts Miracle.” Snell’s article makes the claim that the extraordinary test score gains in Massachusetts are somehow less of a triumph for the state’s curricular reforms because white students made greater gains than blacks, and therefore the gap between low-income and high-income students grew. This is supremely silly and raises the question of whether free-market education experts are now joining the ranks of the politically correct on questions of race and schooling.
Actually, if Strong is really interested in a useful example of a state with a huge academic achievement gap between white and black students he should look to Wisconsin. On the 2007 NAEP tests in 4th and 8th grade reading and 8th grade writing Wisconsin had the highest gap between black and white students of any state in the country. Wisconsin’s black students also had the lowest absolute scores in the nation on those three tests. Need I remind Strong and other supporters of free markets that Wisconsin also has the biggest voucher program in the country?
Strong also distorts my position on charter schools. I didn’t say that it’s utopian to expect “unlimited charter school growth.” What is utopian is Strong’s belief that urban districts in states that don’t have charter schools will not see improvements in education outcomes. To me this is wildly speculative and utopian, because not a shred of evidence is offered to support this prediction. I also think it’s mildly utopian for Strong to put his hopes for expansion of charter schools on the election of Barack Obama. All I can say is, lots of luck.
Back on earth, there are possibilities for significantly improving education outcomes for minority students if we do the right thing in the classroom. The right thing involves, at the least, using methods for teaching kids how to read that have been validated by scientific research. This should be as controversial as using the findings of science for treating diabetes. Yet I haven’t heard either Michael Strong or Richard Rothstein endorse this obvious and easily implemented school reform.