Ladd vs. Peterson on education and poverty
By Dr. Terry Stoops
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In the Summer 2012
issue of Education Next, Harvard University professor Paul Peterson responds to
a speech on education and poverty by Helen Ladd of Duke University's Sanford
School of Public Policy. At issue is the
nature of the relationship between socioeconomic status and student achievement.
Does parental income (Ladd) or a symptom of parental income
(Peterson) determine who succeeds and who fails in school? Do we have a satisfactory answer to that
question? If so, what are the implications
for public policy?
Meghan L. O'Sullivan, the Jeane Kirkpatrick Professor of the Practice of
International Affairs at Harvard University's Kennedy School, will deliver the
2012 John William Pope Lecture, "Making Sense of the New Middle East: The
Dynamics and Their Implications for US Interests." The lecture will begin at 7:30 pm on Tuesday,
March 13, 2012 at Withers 232 A, NC State University. The lecture is free and open to the public. A reception will immediately follow in
Withers common area.
- The John Locke Foundation is sponsoring a Citizen's
Constitutional Workshop on Saturday, March 17 from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm at Joslyn
Hall, Carteret Community College, in Morehead City, NC. Historian Dr. Troy Kickler and political
science expert Dr. Michael Sanera will discuss "What would the Federalists
and Anti-federalists say about the current political and economic crises?" The cost is $5.00 per participant, lunch not
included. Pre-registration is strongly
suggested. For more information or to
sign up for the event, visit the Events
section of the John Locke Foundation website.
- The North Carolina History Project would like educators and
homeschool parents to submit lesson plans suitable for middle and high school
courses in North Carolina history.
Please provide links to NC History Project encyclopedia articles and
other primary and secondary source material, if possible. Go to the NC History Project
website for further information.
- Boom goes the dynamite in JLF's research newsletter archive.
In a November address titled
"Education and Poverty: Confronting the
Evidence," Duke University professor Helen Ladd carefully
laid out an argument that has become conventional wisdom for those on
the Left - parental income is the cause of the educational success or failure
of a child.
The argument should sound familiar. Wealthy students succeed in school because
they are wealthy. Poor students fail in
school because they are poor. Exceptions
to these rules are outliers that do not merit serious consideration. Interventions that do not alleviate income
inequality will fail to improve educational outcomes or close the achievement
gap. Thus, improving public education
requires government to support a full range of social and educational support
programs for low-income families (See Facts and Stats below).
That argument is at the heart of the Broader, Bolder Approach to
Education (BBA), a coalition of academics and left-wing organizations co-chaired
by Ladd, Pedro Noguera of NYU, and Thomas
Payzant of Harvard University. But the BBA
approach has its critics. Recently, Harvard University professor Paul
Peterson challenged Ladd's claims in a lengthy Education Next article titled "Neither Broad Nor Bold"
and a related New York Daily News op-ed, "Fix public schools before child poverty."
In the former piece, he outlined the nature of the disagreement,
Children raised in families with higher incomes score higher on
math and reading tests. That is no less true in the Age of Obama than it was in
the Age of Pericles or, for that matter, in the Age of Mao. But is parental
income the cause of a child's success? Or is the connection between income and
achievement largely a symptom of something else: genetic heritage, parental
skill, or a supportive educational setting?
While Peterson agrees with Ladd that a correlation between
income and performance exists, he argues that there is little evidence of a
causal relationship between the two factors.
Indeed, Peterson does not deny the existence of poverty or discount the
struggles encountered by impoverished families.
Rather, Peterson finds that social science research is not as conclusive
as Ladd suggests it is.
For example, a 2011 Brookings Institution report concludes
that the education level of the mother is a more powerful predictor of student
performance than family income. Other
major research studies find that the overall effect of family income on
academic achievement is negligible. In
fact, Peterson identifies compelling evidence that single-parent households, not
income inequality, precipitated the achievement gap between low-income and
Peterson also questions why the massive expansion of social
services, health services, and preschool education failed to close the
achievement gap. Ladd argues that the
gap in reading achievement is larger for kids born in 2011 than those born 1940
because low-income families now have limited access to quality schooling, health
care, and educational programs. Peterson
points out that one would expect larger gaps to exist before President Johnson's
War on Poverty than after. If Ladd's
argument is correct, the introduction of Medicaid, Head Start, and the like
should have improved educational outcomes for low-income children, not widened
the gap between them and their wealthier classmates.
Ladd and Peterson present compelling cases, and both will
have much more to say about the research in coming months. As the debate moves forward, beware of those
who dismiss Peterson's essay for reasons independent of his arguments, and
avoid those who claim that he is motivated by a hatred of poor kids or elitism. It is easy to dismiss a point of view because
it does not correspond to one's political ideology. It is much more difficult to be receptive to the
kinds of genuine disagreements that occur in the world of public policy
Facts and Stats
Examples of policy interventions proposed by Helen Ladd in
her "Education and Poverty:
Confronting the Evidence" address:
- Early childhood and pre-school
- School based health clinics and social services
- After school and summer programs
- High quality schools for disadvantaged students
The word "squeegee" always
brightens up my day.
I would like to invite all readers to submit announcements
as well as their personal insights, anecdotes, concerns, and observations about
the state of education in North Carolina.
I will publish selected submissions in future editions of the
newsletter. Anonymity will be honored. For additional information or to send a
submission, email Terry at email@example.com.
Education Acronym of the Week
BBA - Broader, Bolder Approach to Education
Quote of the Week
"Key to Ladd's case is a graph that shows a correlation
between family income and student achievement in 14 industrialized nations. To
no one's surprise, that graph shows that in every country students who come
from higher-income families score higher on math and reading tests. But is the
connection causal? Do some students do better than others because their parents
earn more money? Or are the parents who make a better living also the ones who
do a better job of raising their children?"
- Paul Peterson, "Neither Broad Nor Bold," Education
Next 12:3, Summer 2012, http://educationnext.org/neither-broad-nor-bold/.
Click here for the Education
Tuesday, Mar. 13th, 2012 at 7:30 PM
2012 John William Pope Lecture
with our special guest Meghan L. O'Sullivan
"Making Sense of the New Middle East: The Dynamics and Their Implications for US Interests"
Saturday, Mar. 17th, 2012 at 9 a.m. - 3 p.m.
A Citizens' Constitutional Workshop in Morehead City, NC
with our special guests Dr. Troy Kickler & Dr. Michael Sanera
Workshop #2 in Morehead City: "What would the Federalists and Anti-federalists say about the current political and economic crises?"
Monday, Mar. 19th, 2012 at 12:00 pm Noon
A meeting of the Shaftesbury Society
with our special guest Professor Anthony J. Papalas
"The Fall of Greece, Keynesian Economics, and the European Union."
Monday, Mar. 26th, 2012 at 12:00 pm Noon
A meeting of the Shaftesbury Society
with our special guest Thomas Thibeault