Philadelphia Inquirer
April 4, 2005


                        by Dan Hardy

To really "leave no child behind," we must give low-income and minority students better resources and better teachers, rather then simply depend on high-stakes tests and punitive sanctions, a nationally known educator says.

That pointed assessment of the federal No Child Left Behind Law from Linda Darling-Hammond set the theme for a three-day conference at Bryn Mawr College on "Educating All Children: Challenges, Possibilities, and 'No Child Left Behind.' "

In her address Thursday, Darling-Hammond, professor of education at Stanford University and former executive director of the National Commission for Teaching and America's Future, said the achievement gap between white and minority students had widened since 1990.

Some people explain this by saying that a "culture of poverty" discourages achievement or that some families and communities don't support learning, said Darling-Hammond, a 1973 Yale graduate whose doctorate is from Temple University. She also has taught in several Philadelphia-area school districts.

And, she said, some educators and officials want more accountability, and "typically, what accountability means today is 'we need more testing.' "

But Darling-Hammond had a different explanation: Schools serving minority and low-income students are larger and have larger classes, receive less funding, and have fewer qualified teachers, college prep or advanced placement courses, and computers, books and supplies.

Nationwide, "the top 10 percent of districts spend 10 times more than the bottom 10 percent," she said. "In Pennsylvania, as in most states, the ratio between the high-spending and low-spending districts is at least three or four to one."

When provided with good teachers and comparable curriculums, she said, minority and white students do equally well. But "we have systematically structured what is now an apartheid school system... we have schools that might as well be in South Africa."

She said the No Child Left Behind Law, with its emphasis on testing and sanctions for schools that do not perform well, is not the answer to educational ills. Students in states with assessment tests that are used to target resources for improvement of children's education perform better than children in states where tests are used to impose student or school sanctions, she said.

Darling-Hammond said that many people have come to accept the inequities between better-off and poorer schools. Their attitude, she said, often is, "It's not my problem if your kids can't get an education."

"We have to turn that around... . People who live in places like Bryn Mawr have to be willing to fight for the education of people who live in Philadelphia and Chester. It has to become as much a part of civic responsibility as worrying about our own local community."