Can The Brookings Institution Really Be That Clueless?

The Brookings Institution just came out with a major report on schools called The 2009 Brown Center Report on American Education: How Well Are American Students Learning?. It’s divided into three sections. I am dumbstruck by the second one, which is what led me to write an uncharacteristically strongly-worded headline on this post.

That part is titled “Do Schools Ever Change?” You can read an Associated Press news report summarizing its conclusions. It basically says that most schools in California twenty years ago are still there now, and most that were near the top remained there, as well. I don’t think that conclusion is a particularly surprising one to most people.

Here’s a quote from the study’s author that appeared in the AP story:

Loveless, who taught in California public schools for nine years, said the “persistence of school culture” — created by teachers, administrators, parents and students — could help explain why so few low-performing schools become high performers.

“We don’t know how to sever this link between past and future,” he said. “We need to learn a lot more about how schools create their cultures.”

You may be wondering what I’m so upset about.

Their data seems quite accurate. Their conclusions, however, demonstrate that they seem to be..clueless.

Nowhere in the study does it even elude to the fact that conditions outside the school might have some impact on the lack of change — it’s all focused on what happens inside the schoolhouse walls. As Richard Rothstein writes, schools may be able to narrow the achievement gap, but they can bridge it. I’d wager that the socio-economic (God, how I hate that phrase) conditions in the neighborhoods surrounding those schools have not changed much or, if they have, it’s been for the worse.

One possible effective response is for schools to connect with parents and other community institutions to work and confront issues like neighborhood safety, affordable housing, jobs, health etc. Perhaps if those problems were alleviated a bit we might see more profound change in local schools.

P.S. to Mr. Loveless: I’d recommend stop trying to compare how multimillion dollar professional sports teams successfully achieve turnarounds with how schools in low-income communities can do the same (as you do in the report)….

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