2005 Conference in the News
“Confronting the Crises in Education” at Sarah Lawrence College April 1 – 2 brought together a group of eminent scholars who explored issues in education that the College’s Child Development Institute believes have reached crisis proportions.
“We can readily see that the microcosm of the problems and crisis in American education reflect the tensions and crisis of the larger society,” said Sarah Lawrence president Michele Myers. “So it may be that as we confront the crisis in our schools, we will find ourselves confronting the larger pressing issues of our times.”
Throughout the conference speakers discussed their particular concerns. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is one aspect of the wider debate about the nature and future of education that was examined at the conference.
“We do not have a crisis in education in this country. We have a crisis of inequality in the entire society,” said Richard Rothstein, educator and author whose writings include Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic, and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap. “We cannot close the gap in achievement, or in other outcomes between minority and middle class children by schools alone,” he said. Rothstein said that the No Child Left Behind Act, by holding schools accountable for closing the gap is setting the public schools up for “the inevitable conclusion that they are ineffective and that public education is a failed enterprise.”
Sharon Lynn Kagan, professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, raised concern about the assessment of young children and the movement toward high stakes testing for young children ignoring some of the most important areas of early childhood education. “…this accountability movement is really calling into question some of the fundamental beliefs of early childhood.”
Keynote speaker Dr. Edward F. Zigler, founder and Director of Yale’s Center in Child Development and Social Policy opened the conference with a discussion on the importance of school readiness and its impact on the rest of the child’s educational life. “We’re not just talking about preschool, but the success of education in general,” he said, citing statistics showing that 35% of the nation’s children are not optimally ready to learn by the time they reach school and that for poor children that figure can be much higher.
Charles Willie of Harvard’s graduate school of education focused his remarks on his belief that the schools are not failing, but rather are under attack for failing by people whose agenda is to redistribute support to the schools, favoring privileged over needy students. “I have identified the current assault on public school education as a backlash to court ordered desegregation.” What had been a quest for integration and equal access to all opportunities “was hijacked and then translated into equal outcome,” he said. “Our similarities are as important as our differences, or our differences are as important as our similarities which means closing the gap is not what we need to worry about.” Integration – or desegregation – is of concern to Willie who pointed out that black students who had been educated in desegregated schools “were more likely than counterparts from segregated schools to live in racially mixed neighborhoods, to work in racially mixed settings, and to have better employment opportunities.”
Other speakers included Walter Feinberg of the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign and Emilie Vanessa Siddle Walker of Emory University, Deborah Meier, founder and principal of the Mission School in Boston and founder of Central Park East Secondary School in New York and Ted Sizer and Nancy Faust Sizer, both currently at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Reprinted with permission from Education Update.