Is Education Reform Based on the Expansion of Diversity or the Creation of ‘The Common’?
You can read the article with the above headline from The Hechinger Report here. Cato’s Neal McCluskey tweeted about this Hechinger Report link: When it comes to education, culture matters. The Norway research determined that only 14% of children from the least-educated families in Norway go to college compared to 58% of students of college educated families even as college is tuition-free for all students accompanied by the same allowance for living expenses. So why wouldn’t all students want to attend college free of charge? This should be of particular interest to The Hechinger Report as they report on the issue of Innovation and Inequality in Education and presumably report on reforms which provide opportunities for all students to eradicate inequalities in education.
The article raises the question on the current push by this Administration for everyone to go to college in America even as average salaries for college graduates have decreased as college costs have risen. Why is the current education reform blueprint of that ‘everyone should go to college’ when it may not be everyone’s idea of success, desire or ability? Why are these reforms arranged around ‘common’ goals while at the same time promoting the acceptance of diversity? Isn’t that somewhat of a conundrum?
So if the problem of everyone not going to college is not about money, the supposition is it’s about culture. If money and opportunity are not blockades to college attendance, then what else could it be other than cultural influences? Are the education reformers trying to change the culture of certain groups while at the same time advocating that all cultures matter and diversity is honored? How can these dichotomies exist?
In The Challenge of Diversity in Pre-K Classrooms, the role of culture is addressed in universal preK. Does it read to you the researchers believe that the practices in certain cultures do not provide the opportunities for educational success? Are the researchers suggesting the government begin social engineering in PreK Education to accomplish diversity goals via a common education delivered to differing racial/socioeconomic groups?
Brown v. Board found that “separate is inherently unequal.” Research continues to come to the same conclusion. In fact, a re-analysis of a landmark study by James Coleman, focusing mainly on high school students, showed that “a school’s socioeconomic composition was one and three-quarters times more important than its students’ own socioeconomic status” in predicting educational outcomes. Other research confirms that school composition can also be very important in the earlier grades; this even rings true for programs serving children before they enter kindergarten. While the federal government has been working to limit racial segregation in education, racial and socioeconomic segregation still persist in many parts of the country.
The Century Foundation and the Poverty & Race Research Action Council recently released A Better Start: Why Classroom Diversity Matters in Early Education, drawing attention to the lack of racial and socioeconomic diversity in programs serving infants, toddlers, and pre-kindergartners. Early education data reveal that Hispanic children and children from families of low socioeconomic status (SES) are less likely to be enrolled in center-based programs, which tend to be higher quality than home-based alternatives. And, children from low-income families are more likely to attend low-quality programs, whether they are center-based or home-based. When it comes to pre-K, we know it can be incredibly beneficial for disadvantaged children, but only if the programs are high-quality.
Additionally, the data show that most public pre-K classrooms are segregated by family income and race/ethnicity. The report’s authors draw on research that suggests increased pre-K diversity at the classroom level is correlated with better student outcomes, particularly for low-income children. However, research on pre-K diversity is limited, and research on the later grades is complex. There are many possible explanations for why classroom diversity is associated with better outcomes. For instance, the report highlights the benefits of peer effects, explaining, “Specifically, in preschool, it is beneficial for children to be surrounded by classmates who have relatively high levels of language and math skills, and this is particularly true for children who are less skilled than their classmates; children who are highly skilled tend to be less influenced by the skills of their classmates.”
Oftentimes, the lack of diversity in early education classrooms is a reflection of residential segregation. As the researchers explain, “Because many parents prefer to send their children to neighborhood programs, early education programs often reflect neighborhood housing patterns that result in high levels of segregation by income and race.” Parents often prefer to have young children attend child care and pre-k programs that are easily accessible to them, making it difficult to increase diversity for young children who live in low-income or racially segregated neighborhoods.
The authors point out that one idea to increase diversity in the classroom is to enroll up to 10% of children not eligible for Head Start (currently allowed) in the program to meet that goal of diverse cultures. However that would entail withholding Head Start services for children who economically qualify for the program. The answer is? Increase federal funding to ensure more diversity:
The research presented in this report suggests that Head Start could be more effective if it opened its doors to more higher-income children. Currently, the quality of Head Start varies significantly, so researchers and policymakers are constantly looking for ways to improve quality overall. But Head Start centers rarely take advantage of their ability to enroll higher SES students under the existing guidelines– as of 2012, more than 90 percent of Head Start participants came from families below the poverty line. Giving slots to higher-income peers is a difficult tradeoff due to the high demand for Head Start. However, an increase in the fiscal allocation for Head Start could potentially allow providers, in good conscience, to utilize the existing option of enrolling up to 10 percent of children from more advantaged families, without turning away low-income families and children.
The push toward greater diversity has not been universally accepted by stakeholders known as parents and the article concludes:
Universal pre-K expands enrollment to students of different socioeconomic levels, races, and ethnicities. This is a crucial step to increasing diversity, but does not always improve classroom-level diversity. Classroom diversity is one way to create equitable access to high-quality pre-K programs, but with varied stakeholder interests and tensions like school choice, the report’s policy recommendations may be more idealistic than practical.
Does classroom diversity really create equitable access to supposed *high-quality* pre-K progams that will be aligned to Common Core State Standards and require data tracking of preschoolers? Will preK programs really help students on their way to college when Head Start studies show there is no advantage past 3rd grade?
There is the presupposition that universal pre-school is advantageous (and needed) for all cultures and children and if a child does not attend a diverse program, equitable access to high-quality pre-K programs may very well not be realized. The solution is that we group everyone together to learn the same material with education scripts and Federal funding and all children and cultures will then desire the same goal: to go to college at great expense for jobs that don’t exist. So where is the diversity in that scenario? The opportunity to attend college tuition-free doesn’t tempt all Norwegian children to go to college, because there is a thriving middle class that includes blue collar jobs with sufficient wages. There is the theory that it takes the right amount of social preparation and support that certain cultures don’t have when navigating the educational system. Is the answer to inform and mold cultures to aspire to certain aspirations deemed acceptable and necessary by The Federal Government and private corporations? These educational reforms seem to contradict the meaning of diversity as the outcome is common to the ruling class.
As The Hechinger article states, With a third of U.S. primary and secondary school students now coming from families without higher educations, the most important lesson is that cultural, and not just economic, considerations may keep many of them from going on to college. So if the problem isn’t just money or providing the same academic opportunity nationwide, maybe that’s why it’s important to change student’s attitudes, behaviors and beliefs, i.e. their culture. Is that the role of education and the Federal Government?