Not so easy to be flippant to their faces

Last week I had the remarkable honor of being with a friend as she received a Rockwell Award from the University of Madison, and I had the privilege of listening to Madison’s new superintendent, Jennifer Cheatham, talk about her entry into the school district.  She identified the achievement gap as Madison’s number one problem, but stated that a subtext to the problem is that no one defines or perceives that gap the same way.

Today I read a very good New York Times opinion piece, “No Rich Child Left Behind,” that highlighted those comments about definition and perception.  There are some interesting facts in piece by Sean F. Reardon, Stanford professor.

  • While I have always known test scores can be predicted by the type of cars in the student parking lot,  “the rich-poor gap in test scores is about 40 percent larger now than it was 30 years ago.”
  • “The rich now outperform the middle class by as much as the middle class outperform the poor.”
  • The economists Richard J. Murnane and Greg J. Duncan report that from 1972 to 2006 high-income families increased the amount they spent on enrichment activities for their children by 150 percent, while the spending of low-income families grew by 57 percent over the same time period.”  The investment by the middle class was not noted.

I really enjoyed the article. The comments, on the other hand, made me a little ill.  Comments about high IQ being inherited smacks of the superiority complex that makes it easy to ignore the contexts we all enjoy or we all survive.  Dismissive comments lauding how one family members’ values instilled a love of learning assumes much.

I have been thinking about this gap for years.  The gap isn’t impersonal.  There are real kids in my life who are amazingly wonderful and amazingly blessed.  There are real kids in my life who are amazingly wonderful and awfully stretched.  So I wrote a comment as well:

Image by Javier Jaen and taken from NYT  "No Rich Child Left Behind"

Image by Javier Jaen and taken from NYT “No Rich Child Left Behind”

I have students who have tutors for the ACT. I have students who have tutors for writing. I have students with multiple tutors, each earning a significant hourly check.

I have students who rush home to take care of siblings while mom works her third job. I have students who work multiple jobs just to help the family or to pay for that AP or ACT test themselves. I have students struggling with life events no one- no adult let alone a child- should face.

One tutored boy remarked that he wished school could be divided into those who cared and those who didn’t. I somewhat wondered how that demarcation would go: while there are many of my students for whom education is indeed an afterthought, I additionally have many with deep dreams and work ethics who also have so many issues that I go between discussing thesis statements and how to go about not getting the utilities turned off.

It is easy to say that IQ is inherited. It is easy to pat yourself on the back and say your value system is superior.

It isn’t so easy to be face to face with kids of depth and talent who really didn’t have a fair chance from the beginning. It isn’t easy to be so flippant about the effects of an income gap when you see it play out in the lives of kids you love.

Interestingly, I just read this article about the rise of tutoring programs in the UK tonight as well.  Global issues.