Peterson’s latest: Thrilling or galling?

If you have a case of the mid-March blahs, turn to Harvard political scientist Paul E. Peterson’s new piece in the latest issue of the journal Education Next. It will excite you or infuriate you. Either way, you will get your synapses flashing and have some data to throw around the next time you argue the big issue — should we focus our efforts on improving inner city schools or inner city families?

Peterson is on the fix-the-schools side. His piece is a critique of a speech by Duke economist Helen F. Ladd. His argument is in some ways too narrow for my taste.

He says that Ladd is wrong to argue that inner city kids have low achievement because their families make so little money. Instead, he says, the data show that the education and marital status of a student’s mother correlate better with school achievement than the mother’s income. But isn’t single parenthood and lack of a high school diploma also signs of poverty?

You decide. Along with Diane Ravitch, Peterson is one of the great prose stylists in the national education debate. It is encouraging to me to find people older than me like those two who can still construct a great sentence. Take a look and tell us what you think of Peterson’s argument.

Jay Mathews is an education columnist and blogger for the Washington Post, his employer for 40 years.

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