Achieving Goal 2: Reducing the Nexus between Student Achievement and Family Background Characteristics

  • As money is made to matter more in education, funding disparities will become increasingly worrisome, because their effects on achievement will be magnified to the detriment of children in underfunded schools, many of whom are likely to be from disadvantaged backgrounds. The new focus on funding adequacy has the potential to help disadvantaged students, but it will do so only to the extent that school funding formulas are appropriately adjusted for the additional costs of educating youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds.

  • Achieving goal 2 will also require attention to increasing both the capacity of children to learn and of schools to teach. Children raised in economically and socially impoverished environments or suffering from physical disabilities often come to school less ready to learn than their more advantaged counterparts. Schools must deal with these problems, even though they alone will not be able to solve them. A strong consensus has emerged among policy makers, practitioners, and researchers about the importance of increasing investments in the capacity of at-risk children to learn, by focusing on the school-readiness of very young children and by linking education to other social services, so that the broad range of educational, social, and physical needs that affect learning are addressed. Programs providing early childhood interventions and school-community linkages give evidence of both promise and problems, suggesting that there is still much to learn about making these investments effectively.

  • That more investment is needed in the capacity of schools to educate concentrations of disadvantaged students would seem to be obvious given the dismal academic performance of many of these students, but as yet we have only incomplete answers to the question of which types of investments are likely to be the most productive and how to structure them to make them effective. The quality of teachers is likely to be a key component; reducing class size might help under certain conditions; whole-school restructuring may have significant potential; and the dilapidated state of school buildings in many older urban areas suggests that reform of facilities financing must also be attended to. Again, the effectiveness of any individual policy change may depend on how it is linked to an interconnected set of strategies for improving school performance, and some critics question whether these most troubled of U.S. schools can be reformed through strategic investments and related strategies, or whether they require much more fundamental structural change, such as might be brought about by a voucher program.

  • Most federal and some state aid flows to schools via categorical programs tied to the special needs of certain groups of disadvantaged students. Title I compensatory education grants and special education funding are the chief examples. Questions have been raised about the extent to which the incentives

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