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Karin Chenoweth's op-ed column on public education in the U.S.: Is there hope?

 George Hall Elementary students were honored for high academic performance.
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Date published: 5/6/2012


--It doesn't take much effort to become disheartened about American education. Dismal statistics point to the fact that our children simply don't know enough. Our top-performing kids can kind of pant along behind the world leaders, but the rest are left in the dust. Children who live in poverty and children of color fare particularly badly, and the fact that both groups are growing bodes ill both for them as individuals and for us as a nation. The Council on Foreign Relations warned, "The United States' failure to educate its students leaves them unprepared to compete and threatens the country's ability to thrive in a global economy and maintain its leadership role."

Amid all this doomsaying, is there any hope? Yes.

The last couple of decades have seen a remarkable growth in the knowledge of practitioners and researchers about how to educate all children. The challenge for us as a country is to make sure that knowledge is understood widely and applied consistently.

One key insight: What schools do matters--a lot. People outside the field of education might not think much of that insight, since it seems pretty obvious. Why else would we send our children to school? But it remains a hotly contested idea within the field. Many have said that schools can do little to help students who come to school from impoverished homes.

It is certainly true that schools could do even more if their students were not anxious about their next meal and where they will sleep at night. But educat-ors around the country are demonstrating that they are able to help even children who live in poverty and isolation reach meaningful standards--if they do the right things.


So the next question is, "What are the right things?" I have spent almost eight years trying to answer that question, traveling to high-performing and rapidly improving schools that enroll significant percentages of students of color and students of poverty. Many people would expect these schools to be low-performing, but their student achievement data makes them look at least like middle-class schools; some are at the top of their states.

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Karin Chenoweth is writer-in-residence at The Education Trust and author of "It's Being Done: Academic Success in Unexpected Schools"; "How It's Being Done: Urgent Lessons from Unexpected Schools"; and, with Christina Theokas, "Getting It Done: Leading Academic Success in Unexpected Schools."