George Will Leaves The Research Behind

Our guest blogger is Robin Chait, a Senior Education Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

According to George Will, history tells us that when it comes to educational achievement, family is destiny. Yet recent evidence from excellent charter schools tells us otherwise.

In an op-ed in the Washington Post today, Will cites the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and the 1966 Coleman report to say that family structure and poverty are the key determinants of educational outcomes, and that money and government programs can’t — and don’t — make a difference. He writes:

No reform can enable schools to cope with the 36.9 percent of all children and 69.9 percent of black children today born out of wedlock, which means, among many other things, a continually renewed cohort of unruly adolescent males.

Unfortunately, one of the ways that family structure and poverty do have a strong impact is they indicate that students will be educated at weaker schools with fewer resources. A large body of evidence demonstrates that poor students have more inexperienced teachers, a weaker curriculum, poorer school facilities, and less funding for education.


Yet when poor children receive an excellent education, it does make a difference. Will ignores the existence of schools like the KIPP and Achievement First charter schools, whose students have demonstrated that low-income kids can catch up and excel. Eighty percent of KIPP students are low-income, and 90 percent are African American or Latino, yet more than 90 percent of KIPP middle school students have enrolled in college-preparatory high schools, and more than 80 percent of the alumni of KIPP schools throughout the country have attended college.

It’s clear that we have much more to do to improve student achievement in this country. However, it is also clear that effective schools can and do make a difference.

UPDATE: Jonathan Chait has more.