The current reformers’ notion that schools alone can make up for the inequality and poverty that exists all around them has become part of the “No Excuses” drumbeat used to impose reforms that have no record of success as school improvement strategies.
Today we hear absurd claims about how super-teachers can eliminate achievement gaps or new charter schools that exclude the very students that need the most help, and how the real problem is not the country’s shameful 23% child poverty rate or underfunded schools. Instead it’s bad teachers.
Now it’s true that effective teachers and good schools can make an enormous difference in the life chances of children. And it’s also true that struggling teachers who don’t improve after they’ve been given support need to find other work.
But when it comes to student achievement there is no evidence that the test score gaps you hear about constantly can be traced to bad teaching. And there is overwhelming evidence that they closely reflect the inequalities of race, class, and opportunity that follow students to school.