School Reform Alone Can Never Fully Close Achievement Gaps, Says WestEd Policy Perspectives Paper

June 17, 2006 (PRLEAP.COM) Education News
School reforms to close the academic achievement gap among our nation's children cannot fully succeed unless supplemented by reform in the social and economic institutions that affect children's ability to learn, according to a WestEd Policy Perspectives paper by Richard Rothstein, Research Associate at the Economic Policy Institute.

"We exclusively target schools for reform because we wrongly assume that schools must be the sole cause of persistent achievement gaps," says Rothstein. "But the achievement gaps between middle and lower income students, and between black and white students, cannot be eliminated unless we also tackle the causes of these gaps which lie outside the schoolhouse door."

Rothstein identifies six areas of reform, in addition to school improvement, that could help narrow the achievement gap:

1. Greater Income Equality: Support higher incomes for adults working in low-wage jobs to ensure minimally adequate physical and emotional security for their children.

2. Stable, Adequate Housing: Decrease mobility in lower-class neighborhoods to avoid disrupting children's learning, and create mixed-income housing to increase positive peer influences for poor children.

3. School-Community Clinics: Increase access to high-quality health care to address health problems that impede learning.

4. Early Childhood Education: Provide high-quality infant/toddler and pre-school programs so that low-income children enter school ready to learn.

5. After-School Programs: Replace excessive television watching common in low-cost day care arrangements with after-school programs that can improve children's physical, social/emotional, and academic skills.

6. Summer Programs: Provide lower-class children with summer experiences similar to those of middle-class children, such as recreational reading, organized sports leagues, traveling, attending camp, and visiting museums.

Funding these reforms would be more effective in narrowing achievement gaps than concentrating resources solely on traditional, stand-alone school reform efforts such as smaller class size and higher teacher pay. As Rothstein says, "Schools, no matter how good, cannot carry the entire burden of narrowing our substantial, and growing, income inequalities and social class differences."

A free copy of this Policy Perspectives paper is available at

Richard Rothstein is a Research Associate at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., and a former education columnist at the New York Times. He is the author of Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap (Teachers College Press, 2004), from which this Policy Perspectives paper was excerpted, and of The Way We Were? The Myths and Realities of America's Student Achievement (Century Foundation Press, 1998). He can be contacted at <>.

WestEd, a national nonprofit research, development, and service agency, works with education and other communities to promote excellence, achieve equity, and improve learning for children, youth, and adults. WestEd has 14 offices nationwide, from Washington and Boston to Arizona and California. Its corporate headquarters are in San Francisco. More information about WestEd is available at