by Claire Miller
When looking at academic shortfalls and other issues that today’s educational system faces, people can point fingers at a number of people – teachers, administrators and parents – as the culprits.
But David Berliner, Regents' professor emeritus at Arizona State University, believes that society should consider socioeconomic inequities as one of the biggest sources of the problems in the American educational system.
“It isn’t ineffective teachers that’s America’s major educational problem – it’s really broad-based inequality and poverty that’s our problem,” he told College of Education faculty, staff and students at the Sept. 14 Research Wednesdays. “There is class warfare out there, and the poor are losing.”
In an era of growing accountability and emphasis on test scores, teachers are often the ones held accountable for how well their students perform on achievement tests. Berliner argues that teaching and learning are related, but it takes more than just a teacher presenting the material and working to make the information relevant – students must be willing to learn.
“Students and their families share the responsibility for academic performance,” he explained. “Learning is constructed by a learner, and they have to want to learn. And that’s where parents, guardians, neighbors, communities, churches and so forth come in.”
Not only do familial attitudes toward education make a difference in how well students learn, but a family’s income level also plays a major role. Students who come from low-income families face a number of stressors at home that make it more difficult for them to do well in school, where the population is determined by housing and economic status, Berliner said.
“We have policies that segregate our population by income, and this is strongly related to the scores that kids get on international and state tests,” he said. “In China in the year 600, they discovered that poor kids from poor families in poor neighborhoods don’t score as well as wealthy kids from wealthy families in wealthy neighborhoods. We don’t need any more confirmation than that – we just need to get busy and do something about it.”
In the future, Berliner hopes the U.S. combats these disparities by creating more jobs and helping people out of the cycle of poverty.
“We need a more equitable distribution of income in this country, and we need jobs so that people have dignity,” he said. “It’s a social problem that other countries have fixed, so we can too.”
The Research Wednesdays Speaker Series is designed to fulfill three goals: to provide a platform for explorations of new ways of conducting and disseminating educational research, to discuss new methods of mentoring doctoral students in an effort to enhance their development as researchers, and to fill a professional development need by providing access to cutting edge researchers at the state and national levels.
For more information about Berliner and the Research Wednesdays Speaker Series, visit http://education.gsu.edu/main/coe_events.htm.