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How Much Can Schools Affect the Wealth/Poverty Gap?
From the Marshall Memo #433
In this Kappan article, author/consultant Mike Schmoker takes issue with a recent Diane Ravitch quote: “America does not have a general education crisis; we have a poverty crisis.” True, poverty affects student achievement, Schmoker acknowledges. “It is important then to fight for social justice, for programs we know will mitigate the effects of poverty.” But he believes that if we improve the way students spend their time in school, we will greatly improve schools’ impact on students’ college and career success.
Schmoker’s main concern: “disastrous literacy policies.” He frequently asks audiences of educators, “What are the two things you are least apt to catch students doing during the school day?” The immediate choral response: “Reading and writing.” It’s not uncommon for students to spend less than 10 minutes a day actually reading, much less engaging in the kind of close, thoughtful, text-based reading they need to boost their skills and knowledge. Because “test prep, worksheets, and other forms of malpractice have systematically supplanted actual reading and writing in our schools,” says Schmoker, all too many students arrive at college unable to read their textbooks with any degree of understanding.
The solution? “An immediate, exponential increase in the amount of quality fiction and nonfiction students read, across the disciplines,” says Schmoker. One study found that a single month of this kind of high-quality reading experience produces a year’s growth in reading ability.
What about writing? Studies show that students write almost as little as they read, and largely miss out on the kind of academic, argumentative, text-based writing they need for post-secondary studies. Here again, radically increasing the amount of writing students do in all their courses is the key to preparing students for success – and boosting the importance of schools in closing the achievement gap.
“Can Schools Close the Gap?” by Mike Schmoker in Phi Delta Kappan, April 2012 (Vol. 93, #7, p. 70-71), http://www.kappanmagazine.org; Schmoker can be reached at