Effects of Inequality and Poverty vs. Teachers and Schooling on America’s Youth by David C. Berliner - 2013Background/Context: This paper arises out of frustration with the results of school reforms carried out over the past few decades. These efforts have failed. They need to be abandoned. In their place must come recognition that income inequality causes many social problems, including problems associated with education.
Sadly, compared to all other wealthy nations, the USA has the largest income gap between its wealthy and its poor citizens. Correlates associated with the size of the income gap in various nations are well described in Wilkinson & Pickett (2010), whose work is cited throughout this article. They make it clear that the bigger the income gap in a nation or a state, the greater the social problems a nation or a state will encounter. Thus it is argued that the design of better economic and social policies can do more to improve our schools than continued work on educational policy independent of such concerns.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question: The research question asked is why so many school reform efforts have produced so little improvement in American schools. The answer offered is that the sources of school failure have been thought to reside inside the schools, resulting in attempts to improve America’s teachers, curriculum, testing programs and administration. It is argued in this paper, however, that the sources of America’s educational problems are outside school, primarily a result of income inequality. Thus it is suggested that targeted economic and social policies have more potential to improve the nations schools than almost anything currently being proposed by either political party at federal, state or local levels.
Research Design: This is an analytic essay on the reasons for the failure of almost all contemporary school reform efforts. It is primarily a report about how inequality affects all of our society, and a review of some research and social policies that might improve our nations’ schools.
Conclusions/Recommendations: It is concluded that the best way to improve America’s schools is through jobs that provide families living wages. Other programs are noted that offer some help for students from poor families. But in the end, it is inequality in income and the poverty that accompanies such inequality, that matters most for education.
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- David Berliner
Arizona State University
DAVID C. BERLINER is Regents’ Professor Emeritus in The Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College of Arizona State University. His research interests are in the study of teaching and educational policy. Among his recent publications are:
Berliner, D. C. (2012). Narrowing Curriculum, Assessments, and Conceptions of What it Means to be Smart in the US Schools: Creaticide by Design. In: Ambrose, D. & Sternberg, R. J. (Eds.). How dogmatic beliefs harm creativity and higher-level thinking. NY: Routledge/Taylor & Francis
Berliner, D. C. (2011) Rational responses to high-stakes testing: The case of curriculum narrowing and the harm that follows. Cambridge Journal of Education. 41(3), 287-302.