by Cary L. Tyler
Just when one thought it could not get worse in education, it appears it already has.
Just as Malcolm Gladwell stated in his book, Outliers, opportunity may well be the one major factor in how a child succeeds. Take away some or all of those opportunities, and no matter how potentially bright that child might be, their chances of success will be limited.
In a recent article in the Atlantic online, Jordan Weissmann reviews the research of Stanford professor Sean Reardon and his findings that, since the 1960s, the difference in test scores between the rich and the poor (Weissmann was more delicate, calling them “affluent and underprivileged”) has grown 40 percent and is now “twice the gap between black and white students”.
Weismann remarked it may not just be the rich getting richer, and I agree. The Great Recession could not have come at a worse time for everyone, but especially in education: Just as educational technology exploded and schools ramped up their use of tablet and web-based technologies in the classroom, education budgets were slashed, teachers were sent packing, and suddenly schools that may have had students a grade or two behind may have ended up with students two or more years behind.
Just read this recent Chicago Tribune article: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-01-25/news/ct-x-digital-divide-0125-20120125_1_computers-consortium-for-school-networking-poor-schools . Even with special opportunities and grants, it is a long hard road for some schools to even catch-up let alone move their students ahead.
(Oh, by the way…if one thinks this gap is a new thing, read this 1985 article in the Chicago Tribune for even more context: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1985-02-19/news/8501100294_1_computers-center-for-social-organization-schools)
The divide is strongly illustrated where I teach, an urban private Catholic high school in Portland, Oregon where two-thirds of our sophomores tested at a seventh grade reading level or worse this past Fall. Oh, and yes, most of our students are minorities.
Contrast this to the environment of my former students, who are now juniors and seniors at Gilbert High School in Gilbert, Arizona, have for education. They may have been hit by the recession with the loss of teachers and other cutbacks, but there are still pretty nice computers available for them…if not at school, definitely at home.
I know a good bunch of them have smart phones, maybe an iPad or Kindle, and more. The only drawback that will hold some of them back is a careless regard (if at all) for education either personally and/or at home. However, I know the opportunity is there.
Meanwhile, at my current school in Portland, there is one computer lab and one mobile lab, all using Windows XP, and for about 40 percent of the 300 students at the school, that is all the access they will have.
Yet the microcosm carries: Even in this environment, the parents who have managed to make a little more have made sure their children have internet at home, a laptop or desktop, and some have the latest smart phones and tablets, which gives them hours more access to my classroom web site and the added curriculum I provide online for my students than some of their friends.
If not for the weekly work experience our school provides them at local companies, they would far and away be separated from a shrinking number of students having at least a decent educational in place for possible future success.
Direct link to Weissmann’s article: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/02/occupy-kindergarten-the-rich-poor-divide-starts-with-education/252914/