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Most of us assume that public schools in America are unequalthat the quality of the education varies with the location of the school and that as a result, children learn more in the schools that serve mostly rich, white kids than in the schools serving mostly poor, black kids. But it turns out that this common assumption is misplaced. As Douglas B. Downey shows in How Schools Really Matter, achievement gaps have very little to do with what goes on in our schools. Not only do schools not exacerbate inequality in skills, they actually help to level the playing field. The real sources of achievement gaps are elsewhere. A close look at the testing data in seasonal patterns bears this out. It turns out that achievement gaps in reading skills between high- and low-income children are nearly entirely formed prior to kindergarten, and schools do more to reduce them than increase them. And when gaps do increase, they tend to do so during summers, not during school periods. So why do both liberal and conservative politicians strongly advocate for school reform, arguing that the poor quality of schools serving disadvantaged children is an important contributor to inequality? It’s because discussing the broader social and economic reforms necessary for really reducing inequality has become too challenging and polarizingit’s just easier to talk about fixing schools. Of course, there are differences that schools can make, and Downey outlines the kinds of reforms that make sense given what we know about inequality outside of schools, including more school exposure, increased standardization, and better and fairer school and teacher measurements. How Schools Really Matter offers a firm rebuke to those who find nothing but fault in our schools, which are doing a much better than job than we give them credit for. It should also be a call to arms for educators and policymakers: the bottom line is that if we are serious about reducing inequality, we are going to have to fight some battles that are bigger than school reformbattles against the social inequality that is reflected within, rather than generated byour public school system.
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|Publisher:||University of Chicago Press|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.50(d)|
About the Author
Douglas B. Downey is professor of sociology at the Ohio State University.
Table of ContentsIntroduction Part I: Why We Shouldn’t Be Blaming Schools So Much Chapter 1: The Forgotten 87 Percent
Herbert Walberg’s outrageous claim Trying to understand how schools matter when you have an eight-hundred-pound gorilla problem Chapter 2: Chickens, Eggs, and Achievement Gaps
When do achievement gaps emerge? Scaling matters Why the early years are so important Relative deprivation matters too Conclusion Chapter 3: One Very Surprising Pattern about Schools
Soccer coaches and schools Trying to understand how schools matter Seasonal comparisons What do we learn from the few studies that have collected data seasonally? Conclusion Chapter 4: And Now a Second, Even More Surprising Pattern
School achievement, growth, and impact Objections Conclusion Part II: A New Way to Think about Schools and Inequality Chapter 5: More Like Reflectors than Generators
Schools generating inequality Two examples of schools reflecting broader society What about those high-flying schools? Underestimating early childhood Conclusion: A diminished role for schools, an enhanced role for early childhood Chapter 6: As Helping More than Hurting
Schools as compensatory: The weak form Schools as compensatory: The strong form Conclusion Chapter 7: A Frida Sofia Problem
Schools and inequality: Stuck within the traditional framing Our value for limited government Fear of “blaming the victim” Gender and the vulnerability of schools Conclusion Chapter 8: The Costly Assumption
Rich guys trying to reduce achievement gaps The never-ending quest to reform schools The great distractor So what should we do?
Acknowledgments Appendix A: The Early Childhood Longitudinal Datasets (ECLS-K:1998 and ECLS-K:2010) Appendix B: Limitations of Seasonal Comparison Studies Appendix C: How Should Social Scientists Study Schools and Inequality? Notes References Index