Remedial Gapology

A lot of readers have sent along this Forbes column “Gapology 101” about the futility of achievement gap closing efforts. The writer, Dan Seligman, concludes that: “It is not possible to close the achievement gap.”

Three quick thoughts: First, Seligman notes that everyone hits a wall at some point. That’s true, not everyone is going to do advanced physics, for instance. But Seligman then cites long division as an example of a wall people can hit. Is he saying that it’s unreasonable to teach that to poor kids? There are brick walls and paper ones.

Second, Seligman seems to be taking an expansionist view of gap closing, which not coincidentally is the same rhetorical view many of No Child Left Behind’s critics take (further bolstering British PM Tony Blair’s contention that educational change is so hard in part because there are conservatives on both sides of the debate). But NCLB is not about eliminating all gaps, it’s merely about working to ensure minimal levels of performance in core academic subjects.

Third, again the dismal and counterproductive politics. Seligman happily touts Vermont school superintendent William J. Mathis as a soothsayer for saying that gap closing is unrealistic. Great. When the profession starts saying that it can’t teach all kids the basics what’s the argument for more funding or more equitable funding? What’s the argument against universal school vouchers? What then do you say to parents if you’re basically saying, sorry, can’t do it? The harmonic convergence between demographic determinists like Seligman and lefty critics of No Child ought to be a cause for grave concern not a rallying point if you care about public schools. And what’s most worrying is that the lefty critics don’t seem to see the box canyon they’re merrily walking into…

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