Author Says Money Won't Fix Education System

Nothing has come from the millions of dollars poured into school reform over the past two decades, said Laurence Steinberg at the Graduate School of Education Forum last night.

Steinberg, the author of Beyond the Classroom: Why School Reform Has Failed and What Parents Need to Do, said that the problems in American school systems stem from a lack of parental and community involvement, two elements which money cannot replace.

Steinberg's book contains the findings of a study he did which correlates lack of student achievement with a sharp decline in parental involvement between the end of middle school and the beginning of their child's high school years.

"This decline in parental involvement in children's schooling could not come at a worse time," Steinberg said. "It occurs just when other interests and activities compete for students' attention."

Steinberg's study showed that other social factors also contribute to low student achievement.


"Even when black and Latino parents take active roles in their children's education, their actions are undermined by the society we live in," he said.

The 600 children interviewed for Steinberg's study came from diverse socio-economic and racial backgrounds, but experienced similar feelings of peer pressure which discouraged them from their studies.

"American teenagers should not be forced to choose between having friends and achieving academically," Steinberg said. "Changes will occur when communities decide that the marquis outside their high schools should celebrate the academic achievements of their students rather than their athletic success."

Steinberg countered the common assumptions that increased funding, high technology and a wide array of extracurricular opportunities will enhance education.

He said that schools must raise their standards for achievement and promotion, that students must be given the skills to take advantage of opportunities outside the classroom, and that educators must look outside the classroom for explanations for low-achievement.

"We must transform reform efforts from widening opportunities to increasing parental and peer involvement," Steinberg said.

During the question and answer period which followed, George H. Hanford '41 asked "In what other countries are parents as involved in children's schools as our parents should be?"

Steinberg replied that instead of looking to other countries for examples, reformers should look instead to America's past.

"Forces in society have made it more difficult for parents to be involved in their children's schooling.... Schools have not been particularly good at responding to these changes in society," he said.

Steinberg cited America's school day as one not particularly suited for families in which both parents work as an example.

But Gabrielle Raff, a teacher and a Cambridge resident, challenged Steinberg's assumption that parents are less involved now than they have been in past decades.

"When I talk to teachers older than myself, they say that people didn't used to be given homework," Raff said.

She said that one of her greatest concerns is that students may fall behind in schools with higher standards and fewer remedial classes, especially those who have recently come to this country or whose par ents do not speak English.

"I find it a troublesome concept that when we raise the bar, many students won't be able to get over it," Steinberg said. "If we don't [raise the bar,] the alternative is to give [students] meaningless degrees and ultimately to leave them unemployed."

Last night's lecture was one in a series of forums at the Education School to be aired on The Merrow Report, a program on National Public Radio