[Susan notes: Remember the political campaign, "It's the economy, stupid!" Thank you for a letter that cuts to the real issue: money. Not money for schools, living wages for the families of the children attending the schools.]
Published in The Nation
The NCLB forum identified the nonacademic needs of children. But no one said unequivocally what must be said: No program aimed at educational improvement that fails to address those nonacademic needs head-on, fully financed and with passionate support by the government can possibly achieve significant educational gain.
Clinton's Goals 2000 and Bush's NCLB deceived the public into believing significant change was in the offing, muffled their critics for years and, because there was little if any improvement, succeeded in reinforcing racist views about the innate inferiority of "those people" (blacks, Latinos and poor whites).
Americans must learn that even good teachers have difficulty contending with the consequences of depreciated parental earnings, parental exhaustion, malnourishment, homelessness and unattended health problems. There is no alternative: Societal change must accompany educational change.
This emphatic statement is not just a theoretical bias. The social ferment in the 1960s led to President Johnson's Great Society programs and to a seeming change in consciousness toward the view that the government was really for them. The result, as psychologists Wendy Williams and Stephen Ceci reported, was that the gap in IQ and achievement-test scores between blacks and whites was halved in fifteen years. This trend came to a grinding halt with Reagan's presidency, marked as it was by racist code words, so-called small government and freedom to profit with little oversight to protect workers and the poor.
The sad record of workers' wages since Reagan shows that little has changed: The top 5 percent, if not 1 percent, control America's policies. The time is overdue for the bottom 95 percent to wrest control. That is the road to true educational reform for 100 percent of the population.
Emeritus Dean, Graduate School of Education, Rutgers University