For as long as I can remember, in fact going back to my first year of teaching, I have been an advocate for the important but often ignored role of student background effects on learner outcomes. The purpose of this advocacy was not to excuse teachers or schools for less than desired educational outcomes but to shine a light on the need for systems-thinking when addressing educational reform. Ignoring an important causal effect in any complex system is a practice guaranteed to produce undesirable outcomes.
A study (Harris, 2006) demonstrates the key role of socio-economic factors on student achievement. The author found low-poverty schools are 22 times as likely to be high-performing schools than high poverty schools! More importantly, Harris articulates policy recommendations that are right on point:
1. Policy makers continue the recent focus on measurable student outcomes, such as test scores, but redesign policies to hold educators accountable only for those factors within their control;
2. Policy makers take a comprehensive approach to school improvement that starts in schools, but extends into homes and communities, addressing basic disadvantages caused by poverty; and
3. All educational stakeholders acknowledge that educational inequity is caused by problems in both schools and communities—and avoid trying to blame the
problem on schools alone.
Once we attack low educational performance within a comprehensive, systems-thinking framework we will begin to see a turnaround in desired educational outcomes.
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Harris, Douglas N.(2006) Ending the Blame Game on Educational Inequity: A Study of “High Flying” Schools and NCLB. Arizona State University. Education Policy Research Unit (EPRU). http://nepc.colorado.edu/files/EPSL-0603-120-EPRU.pdf