THOMPSON: The Matthew Effect
"The Matthew Effect" is based on the passage "For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath" In other words, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Among educators, the concept explains why students who start out with literacy advantages tend to thrive. Weaker readers decline and after 4th grade as few as 13% of interventions are successful.
The Matthew Effect, however, pervades all aspects of schooling. Parenting is the key to socio-emotional soft skills that drive educational success. The neighborhood is the prime indicator of economic success. "Skills beget skills and motivation begets motivation," explains James Heckmen. And as illustrated by the concept of "degrees of separation," being isolated from a broader functional community undermines motivation. Combine enough isolated and traumatized kids in a high-poverty neighborhood school and a "tipping point" is crossed where disorder grows rampant. The dysfunctional learning culture drives away the best teachers, as magnet schools cream away the most motivated of the students. Worse, rich states and school systems that invest more per capita, are rewarded disproportionately through federal funds. And even worse, data-driven accountability has often damaged the schools it was designed to assist by encouraging excessive test prep and narrowing the curriculum.
NCLB has rubbed in salt the wounds of poor students by encouraging an illogical "best practices" school of reform. For some reason, "reformers" have believed that practices that have raised student performance in lower poverty and choice schools could turnaround the toughest neighborhood schools. Mass Insight has used social science to explain why the instruction-driven methods that have shown success in less challenged schools are inherently incapable of addressing the "complex ecosystems" of our lowest performing schools. This week I will argue that the metaphors of the Matthew Effect, a famed "I Love Lucy" episode, and an off-color Yiddish term can explain where Whole School Reform has stumbled and suggest a correction. - John Thompson