Both political parties embrace a “corporate model” as the cornerstone of their education policy. 

The “corporate model” assumes that the raw material of a school are its students and the product is their academic achievement. It incorrectly assumes that, if that product outcome of a school is flawed, the responsibility always lies with the educators whose job it is to shape the raw material into the finished product. 

The major flaw in the “corporate model” applied to education is that it assumes that the raw material is always of sufficient quality to be formed into a successful product. The reality is that, in underperforming schools, a significant percentage of the raw material comes to the system in condition that can make it nearly impossible for the most skilled educators to craft it into an academically successful product. I am referring to students who come to school lacking strong vocabulary development and language skills, emotional security, confidence, self-discipline, attention, and/or motivation to be able to respond to high-quality instruction when it is presented to them. 

Most unsuccessful students are not different from successful ones in their level of natural ability. The difference lies in significant skills and personal characteristics established in the earliest years of life preceding entrance into the school system, which are very much a factor of the home environment and parenting skills children experience. These are highly correlated with socioeconomic level and, therefore, demonstrate their impact most significantly in schools that are most impoverished. 

The “corporate model” only has justifiable application to schools with minimal levels of student poverty, where teachers are working primarily with adequate raw material because parents are carrying out their critical role in the educational process effectively. 

The 2009 PISA testing administered every three years to 15-year-olds in 60 countries determined U.S. students ranking 14th in reading. The U.S. average score was 500 and the average of all countries assessed was 493. Dr. Gerald N. Tirozzi, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, did an analysis of the performance of U.S. students based on the prevalence of poverty in the student body of their respective schools determined by rate of free and reduced lunch participation. The overall poverty rate in U.S. schools was established at 21.7 percent, highest of any of the countries tested. 

Tirozzi determined that the average PISA reading score for students in U.S. schools with less than 10 percent student poverty was 551, ranking first compared to the 10 countries with similar poverty numbers. Ruling out the factor of poverty, U.S. educators produce the highest-achieving students of any country in the world. 

The same ranking held for U.S. schools with 10 to 24.9 percent poverty. Remarkably, this group’s average, 527, was higher than the scores of any of the other PISA countries except Korea and Finland. 

U.S. schools with poverty rates between 25 and 49.9 percent (far exceeding any other country tested) scored an average of 502, still in the upper half of all the countries tested. 

In U.S. schools with 50 to 74.9 percent students in poverty, the average PISA score was 471. Students in schools with poverty greater than 75 percent scored 446, outperforming only Mexico. The achievement gap is not a factor of the caliber of leadership and instruction in the U.S. public school system. It reflects the high poverty rates that cluster in the most under-resourced schools in our country. 

By age 4, the average child in a professional family hears about 20 million more words than the average child in a working-class family and about 35 million more than the average child in a welfare family. Research has determined that the ability to expand vocabulary is an almost insurmountable challenge, even in the earliest years of school. Other key factors correlated with poverty that account for most of the difference in schools’ proficiencies are the presence of two parents in the home, student attendance, hours spent watching television, quantity and quality of reading material in students’ homes, and parental monitoring of homework, rewarding children’s efforts, and talking up the idea of going to college. 

Education in parenting skills, especially for families living in poverty, during the preschool years must become the foundation of education policy at all levels. Resources must be redirected into this area, supporting programs with a model like the national Parent-Child Home Program, which sends a reader to visit families of children ages 2-4 at home twice a week for two school years to help teach parents how to read to and play with their children. 

Until this shift in focus and resources occurs, elections will come and go, and the goal of closing the achievement gap, critical to our national well-being, will remain unmet. 

Charles T. Gruszka retired in 2006 after 34 years of service as an educator in the Wachusett Regional School District.


By Charles T. Gruszka

Source: Worcester Telegram –