This article originally appeared in The Atlantic.
Rising income inequality over the past 40 years has imposed a double burden on schools serving low-income children. First, the technological changes and globalization that have fueled inequality have also increased the skills required for good jobs—which means that schools need to teach higher-level skills if their graduates are to secure jobs that pay middle-class wages. And second, increasing income inequality has led to residential changes that have concentrated poor children in one set of schools and higher-income children in another.
Past efforts to improve public schools have often been based on the assumption that there are “silver bullets”—more money, more accountability, more choice, more charter schools. None of these approaches has resulted in consistently better schooling for low-income children. This is because none focuses directly on improving what matters most in education: the quality and consistency of the instruction and other learning experiences provided to students.
It is easy to dwell on the characteristics of American education that make constructive change difficult. However, there are also strengths to build on. Of particular importance are educational interventions, conducted at considerable scale, that have been shown in rigorous evaluations to improve instruction and develop the skills of low-income children. Our new book, Restoring Opportunity, features three such initiatives: Boston’s pre-K program, the campuses of the University of Chicago charter school, and New York City’s small schools of choice. These durable programs demonstrate that it is indeed possible to improve the education of low-income children by focusing resources consistently on improving the teaching of critical skills. ...
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