One thing that continues to intrigue me is the flip in the attitudes of some conservatives toward the power of schools. When the Coleman Report was released, at least one prominent conservative concluded that it meant that "schools make no difference; families make the difference" and that education is "all family". But for some reason now the attitude is that the poor results of African-American males are "nothing that a good school wouldn’t fix" as Peter Meyer writes on the Fordham Institute blog.
Meyer writes in response to an Ed Week article about the poor performance of black boys, arguing that if we spent less time on teaching them about character, drugs, pregnancy, jobs, and dealing with emotional problems and more time on teaching them content that we wouldn't have this problem. He concludes by arguing that:
African American children, like most children, would do much better later in life if school taught them how to read and write – and, hopefully, a little history and science, art and math along the way – instead of being served up what has become a steady and distracting and unhealthy diet of paternalism and fries.
I'm struck by four things:
1.) I won't belabor the point here, but we have plenty of evidence that non-school factors impact academic performance. Simply ignoring emotional problems, drug use, pregnancy, and other problems that start outside of school won't change that fact.
2.) I'm not even sure that high-poverty schools spend more time on character education, drug prevention, and sex ed than do other schools. If anything, particularly given the incentive structure of NCLB, I'd guess that higher-poverty schools spend more time on reading and math than do others.
3.) Regarding the paternalism quote, I find it interesting that a number of the high-performing charter schools Fordham continually praises were examined in a book written by David Whitman and published by Fordham back in 2008. What are these schools doing right? Whitman argues that, above all else, all of these high-performing schools are highly paternalistic.
4.) Perhaps most striking to me is the dismissal of pregnancy as something worth addressing. Given that around three-quarters of African-American children are now born out of wedlock and that evidence indicates that both single-parent households and teenage mothers negatively impact the performance (on average, of course) of students, this seems like an excellent time to call for a renewed focus on family values. It seems to me that one could build a pretty strong case that a combination of marriage, delayed child birth and personal responsibility could go a long way toward improving the results of African-American males, so I find it odd that most conservative commentators instead seem to call for better schooling instead.
update: I originally misspelled Mr. Meyer's name as "Mayer" in this post. My apologies; no matter how much I disagree with him on this issue he still deserves to have his name spelled correctly.