I saw this op-ed in the New York Times titled: The Good News About Educational Inequalities. The article is so misguided and irresponsible that I have to address it.
The authors of the op-ed (three authors! like it’s a university paper or something!) touted the trend toward poor kids going into preschool more and more prepared. Educators refer to this issue as the “school readiness gap” and they define readiness as math and reading.
This op-ed is a great example of how irrelevant and irresponsible mainstream media is when they talk about education.
1. Journalists ignore inconvenient truths.
Educators no longer believe in forcing math and reading readiness on preschoolers. Toddler years should be focused on free play, and you can see how widespread this belief is because the expensive NYC preschools all advertise an emphasis on self-directed play.
The teachers in this study picked kids from private schools and public schools and then “asked children to identify shapes and colors, to count, to identify letters and to sound out words.” What is mind-blowing to me is that expensive preschools are specifically NOT focused on counting, letters, and the sounds of words. Because it’s been shown to be more beneficial for kids to just play at that age.
2. Journalists report on data without honest measurements.
Also, these measures for preschool readiness skew toward the core curriculum, but rich kids don’t use core curriculum. So what this study really shows is that poor kids are spending their days learning irrelevant, energy-draining skills, while rich kids benefit intellectually and emotionally from endless self-directed playtime. And our educators are measuring if poor kids know as many irrelevant skills as rich kids. We are measuring the success of poor kids using a yard stick rich kids threw out long ago.
Poverty’s effect on a kid is all-consuming, and there is no evidence that anything people do in school reliably lifts kids out of poverty. (In fact, in a long-term study of kids who were born addicted to cocaine, researchers found that a parent’s income had a bigger impact on the child’s success in school than being born addicted to cocaine.) And there is no evidence that school readiness makes kids more successful in adult life.
3. Otherwise ethical journalists ignore conflict of interest for education.
Educators should not be allowed to both create the measuring stick, create solutions, and judge solutions, because doing so incentivizes experts to define a problem that is easy to measure and easy to solve, instead of defining the problem in a clear, true way.
The authors of the op-ed have a conflict of interest. They are vested in the current educational system because they earned graduate degrees to study it. They could not conclude, for example, that doing well in school is a poor measuring stick for doing well in life. And they can’t conclude that kids should not even go to school.
I would say that almost every time I read something positive in the news about school I can dissect the article like I am doing here. Because as a culture we are in such incredibly widespread denial about school that it’s hard to have an honest conversation about it in public.
When I see parents struggling to make the leap to homeschooling, I think of articles like this one—it’s almost Orwellian in it’s doublespeak. It’s hard to go against the grain in society, but it’s even harder to participate in public discourse that makes no sense. Every time you worry you might not be strong enough or rich enough or organized enough or smart enough to homeschool, remember how insane the discussion is about school. That’s the best use of this op-ed: a reminder.