“You can see a big difference between students who have gone to preschool and who have not,” Jones told Capital & Main in her tidily organized classroom. Aggravating the situation, she adds, is that Angeles Mesa is surrounded by charter schools that tend to siphon higher achieving students and attract more motivated parents, who are drawn as much by safety concerns as academic excellence. That has created an additional inequality within an inequality, as Angeles Mesa is left with a disproportionate population of underachievers lacking in basic social and learning skills.
“It is definitely difficult to have a child come into kindergarten who’s never been read to,” Jones explained. “And it’s not that they haven’t been read to because their parents don’t want to — it’s just when you’re a single mom and you’re working four jobs, it doesn’t always work out that way.”
If there is a lesson in evidence-based research for California policy makers, say Orfield and Gandara, it is that there are limitations to what even the most inspired teachers alone can achieve in a society plagued with inequities.
“I studied a really rich district in Massachusetts,” Orfield noted, “and the kids from the housing projects in the city were just hugely behind when they arrived at school. The schools actually made as much progress each year as the [wealthier] kids did, but the gap never closed at all. So the schools were doing their job, but society wasn’t.”
“I always say, if money doesn’t matter, then why is it that people who have money send their kids to schools that have many, many more resources?” Gandara adds. “I think fundamentally the problem is that other developed nations have social systems that support families and children in a variety of ways: with childcare, with good health care, with recreational opportunities — with lots of things that support healthy development. We have dumped it all on the schools and said, ‘We’re really not going to provide any of these services. You deal with it, schools.’”