Paul Tough has a piece in today's NY Times on the Harlem Children's Zone and Promise Neighborhoods that's worth a few minutes of your time. But I actually want to comment on a tangentially related topic that the piece got me thinking about -- more specifically, this part:
Over the last few years, thanks in part to intensive recruiting by the New York City schools chancellor, Joel Klein, Harlem and the Bronx have become a mecca for a highly successful class of charter schools, all run, to some degree, on the model of the nationwide, nonprofit Knowledge is Power Program: extended hours, energetic young teachers, an emphasis on discipline and character-building, as well as heavy doses of reading and math.
These schools embody the attractive theory that we might be able to erase the achievement gaps between black and white children and between poor and middle-class children with nothing more than new and improved schools.
It made me wonder: what if, using this type of model, we successfully closed the achievement gap . . . and then realized that we hadn't really solved the problem. Let's say we successfully raise math and reading test scores in the poorest neighborhoods but then find out that those children are still less likely to attend college, earn less money, get arrested more often, experience more health problems, and generally lag behind in both opportunities and quality of life. What then?
Because the way I see it, the differences in math and reading standardized test scores isn't really the problem in and of itself but, rather, a symptom of a much larger problem with myriad causes. This isn't to say that closing the achievement gap alone wouldn't be a good thing or wouldn't have ripple effects, just to suggest that focusing only on the gap in test scores is like focusing only on pumping water out of boat full full of holes . . . it would certainly be a good thing of the bilge pumps started removing more water than the boat was taking in, but in the end it really only alleviates one symptom of the problem rather than the problem itself.