Giving Compass’ Take:
• In this excerpt from Opportunity for All, Jennifer O’Day and Marshall S. Smith share reasons that decades of educational reforms have failed to remove educational disparities.
• How can funders learn from these lessons and advance education reform that successfully addresses educational disparities?
• Read about the need for accountability in education reform.
An excerpt from Opportunity for All crafts three lessons from the historic inequities of the public school system.
Americans have a penchant for quick fixes and easy solutions. We like to do things quickly, and if we don’t see results right away, we move on to the next new and improved approach. In no arena is this American predilection toward the fast and easy more evident than in education. We have been through numerous reform efforts in the past 60 years, many of them focused specifically on reducing the gaps in opportunities enjoyed by more- and less-advantaged groups in our society and schools. We have thrown money at the problem through supplemental funding streams, like the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and state categorical programs, and through a myriad of state fiscal equity suits and policies. We have tracked and de-tracked students, tried homogenous grouping by ability and heterogeneous cooperative learning in the classroom. We have tried pullout and push-in instructional approaches to give extra support to students who need it. We have focused exclusively on academics only to turn around and chide ourselves for ignoring the whole child. We have thought teacher testing and formal qualifications on the front end were the answer to low educator quality, then moved to test-driven teacher evaluation as the new required solution. And the list goes on.
While these solutions often have a faddish quality, they are not necessarily without merit or void of at least a promising research base. Indeed, in the past 15 years, there has been considerable interest in and policy support for adoption and use of what has come to be referred to as evidence-based practices. The idea is straightforward: figure out “what works” (usually, these are very targeted interventions with a reasonable effect size found in one or more rigorous research studies), adopt and implement the practice at scale, and finally, realize the expected improvements in overall outcomes and gap closings. A corollary to this theme is often the idea that if we adopt multiple evidence-based practices, benefits will cumulate to an overall larger effect.
In the main, we believe that the focus on evidence and effectiveness has been a positive development and has contributed to some gap closings. But almost invariably, when individual interventions are implemented at scale in schools and districts, the results are far less successful than anticipated and sometimes disappear altogether. We see three main interrelated explanations for the diminished effects. First, implementation challenges lead to uneven and sometimes unforeseen results. Second, individual interventions often leave untouched the systemic contributors that underlie and perpetuate disparities. And third, changes in schools must be accompanied by attention to the deep inequalities in children’s out-of-school conditions.
- Lesson One: Implementation Dominates Impact
- Lesson Two: Piecemeal Reforms Ignore Underlying Conditions
- Lesson Three: Schools Can’t Do It Alone
Read the full article about educational disparities persist by Jennifer O’Day and Marshall S. Smith at Stanford Social Innovation Review.
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