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We Need a New Vehicle

In a column at Scholastic Administrator, Alexander Russo tries to make the case that schools should not be addressing social issues that directly affect student learning.

There’s no doubt that students’ home lives play an important role in their school success. The question is whether schools are really the best vehicle through which to address deeper social issues such as poverty, lack of childcare or health insurance, inadequate access to transportation, and adult illiteracy. My view is that they’re not.

He’s right, of course.

But only if we continue to accept the traditional concept of “school”: a place where kids are segregated from the real world for six hours a day, 180 days a year.

Where students are expected to progress academically in that hermetically sealed environment at the same pace as their peers, regardless of their background, the support they receive at home, or the community outside the door.

Schools, the ones found in most American neighborhoods, certainly are not the best vehicle to correct all the variety of social problems that influence an increasing number of our students.

Educators, however, cannot ignore those factors and that’s one more good reason why we need create a totally new concept of “school”.


  1. Stephen Downes

    The other thing I’d like to see Russo address is whether he would be in favour of any *other* anti-poverty program. My suspicion is that he would not. It has nothing to do with school, particularly.

  2. Dave

    Education has been developed to a point where the biggest obstacle is often how the child is being raised. Demand further improvement in education and demand that schools make the best use of their money, and that means that the schools have to start looking at kids’ home lives.

    Reminds me of how Pre-K has very little effect on the education career of students from more affluent families, but causes huge jumps in scores for students from less affluent families. The earlier that schools can get to kids, the better the chance is to keep them on track all the way to graduation.

  3. Sean Nash

    As a pretty “out of the box” guy… I must say that this brief post has made me think even more out of that box for the past fifteen minutes. I couldn’t agree more with your assertion that we need to create a totally new concept of “school.”

    I still have the energy to attack a deeply creative systemic problem such as this, but as of NCLB dawn, I see no real vehicle for this in the public schools. (at least in my area)

    Demanding further improvement in school cannot be done from an “accountability” standpoint. The kind of change we need must come from a loosening what what we traditionally call “accountability” and a razor sharp focus on innovation.

  4. Erin

    I feel that for students with issues at home, most times schools are their outlet and most occasions their only outlet. They get to leave the screaming and yelling and sometimes abuse and come to a place where they are treated with respect and are praised for doing good things. They get to see if only for 6 hours how the world can benefit them and they can leave their worries behind. Now, I know that is not always the case, but I do feel that schools/teachers/administrators should be intuned with what is happening outside of school as well. The better understanding of their outside life, I feel the better we understand the children that we work with each and every day.

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