Why do so Many Urban Public School Students Demonstrate so Little Academic Achievement?
ROBERT BALFANZ Johns Hopkins University
The vast majority of evidence that has been used to examine and answer the question of why so many public school students in central cities achieve so little has been ahistorical and decontextualized. This chapter posits that both the location of a school within a particular district and state and its history shape students' learning opportunities and supports in what remain largely unknown ways. In particular, there are two confounding variables intimately linked to time and place that have been largely unmeasured or unexamined in prior attempts to understand achievement patterns in urban areas. They are the geographic concentration of weak and dysfunctional learning institutions, and intergenerational school effects. Neither of these variables is invariant by place and time; rather, the effects of both variables are concentrated in particular times and in particular places. Drawing on participant observations and secondary data, this chapter presents insights that are meant to provoke and stimulate thinking regarding the limits of the dominant approaches to figuring out why so many urban public school students achieve so little. Furthermore, this chapter presents an alternative approach to the analysis of low-performing urban schools and indicates directions for future study.
Urban educational policy and practice over the past 30 years have been primarily driven by ongoing attempts to provide an answer to a single question: Why do some students who attend urban public schools achieve so little? Explicit and implicit theories on why large numbers of urban students,