Education reform gets a bad rap for not caring about child poverty and income inequality. The prevailing anti-reform narrative says school reformers only care about busting teachers unions, raising test scores and “privatizing” education.
In truth, most of us education activists and leaders of new schools believe increasing the number of college-graduated students from marginalized communities is in itself a game changer. More students earning college degrees is a death blow for social inequity.
But, I’m learning our opponents see it differently.
This is brought into sharp focus by a particularly deflating Twitter exchange I’ve had with Keith Benson, an anti-reform educator from New Jersey. We’ve locked antlers about the importance of educational attainment for the black community. I believe education is liberation for black people—damn that, all people—but he is concerned “reformists” are overselling college aspirations to deflect attention from capitalism and racism.
I wonder how we got so off course that even a conversation about getting more kids of color to and through college is a political juncture loaded with senseless suspicions about motives.
A fair reading of Benson’s argument raises issues that shouldn’t be discounted. He points out black college graduates are twice as likely to be unemployed as other graduates. That’s true. He says research shows an ethnic name reduces employability regardless of education level. That’s true as well. Sadly, some applicants have learned to “whiten” their resumes. Employment discrimination is no joke.
But how does bypassing a college education improve the situation?
There is new evidence that the public may be following Benson’s lead. In a recent poll by PDK/Gallup, the percentage of respondents who say college is very important was under 50 percent. That’s down from 75 percent just four years ago.
Having been tattered by a lingering recession and news of ballooning college loan debt, it makes sense that public faith in the college system is waning slightly.
For educators to lose faith is another story. Why would people who owe their lives to the premise of education be so sour about its potential?
Perhaps a recent dust-up between Marc Tucker and Anthony Cody (both are teacher advocates) exposes the real issue. Tucker wrote Fixing Our National Accountability System, a report that contained the novel idea that a nation’s economic power is connected to the education of its people.
Prolific education historian Diane Ravitch highlighted in her blog Cody’s displeasure with the connection. He doesn’t appreciate Tucker’s suggestion “that the economic future of our students will only be guaranteed if we educate them better.”
Tucker’s response to Cody is devastating and spot on:
The argument that Cody and Ravitch are making is comforting to some teachers because it absolves them of any responsibility for the poor performance of American students.
Then, the real take down:
…like it or not, the evidence that education really is a major key—perhaps the major key—to economic progress for individuals and nations is overwhelming. And the evidence that the American education system is underperforming that of other nations is also overwhelming.
According to a study in Science Magazine, the gap between college-educated households and high-school-educated households is four times greater than the shift of fortunes “from the bottom 99% to the top 1% of households.”
The “wage premium” associated with having a college education is responsible for 60 to 70 percent of the rise in income inequality.
If we care about income inequality, and the gap between the haves and have-nots is based upon college credentials (or a lack of them), tell me again how you could find fault with the reformers on this. The push of school reformers is a plan for social justice.