The Gap On The Gap

This week’s TIME column takes a look at the achievement gap backlash. Why it’s overstated and why the gaps do matter – a lot.

Ah, the achievement gap. So much trouble to fix, so why bother trying? That seems to be the attitude in Washington, where pundits have spent the last several months ripping the current focus on improving the low end of student performance in our nation’s schools. In September the Obama Administration put forward a plan to offer waivers to states that want more flexibility — i.e., less ambitious targets — under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. Last week the bottom really fell out when the Senate committee that handles education passed a rewrite of the No Child law basically leaving it to states to figure out how (and probably, in practice, even whether) to close the gaps. In other words, a decade after an overwhelmingly bipartisan effort to get serious about school accountability, it’s open season on a strong federal role in education. How did we get here?

Here’s an easy gap to close: The gap between that paragraph and the entire column.  Click here to do that for free.

5 Replies to “The Gap On The Gap”

  1. Your argument would make sense if NCLB and the standards and testing approach to reform had gone any distance toward closing the gap. However, it hasn’t.

  2. No one is surprised when test scores show that urban and rural schools struggle a lot, but it’s in the suburbs where NCLB’s spotlight is most uncomfortable. Its emphasis on accountability for the performance of all students has revealed that poor and minority students are not doing very well in many of our nation’s most vaunted school systems.

    So, suburban students are doing well in their schools, but the poor and minorities are not, much like their performance in urban and rural districts.
    Why aren’t the poor and minorities doing as well as the suburban kids?

    And are all minorities doing poorly?

  3. Phillip:

    I teach at a relatively upscale suburban district that has a growing (but still small) poor and minority student population. It is not always the case, but generally speaking my affluent students have either been within the district since kindergarten (and so have completely adapted to the culture and demands of the schools) or they have moved in from equally affluent and demanding districts from out of state.

    However most of my poorest kids have only moved in recently and many of them come and go throughout the years as they are bounced around between relatives or migratory parents. Often they are transfers in from the nearby poorer inner city districts if mom or dad finds an apartment in my district. But that often doesn’t last if they can’t keep up the rent so off they go again to some other district.

    What that means is that the affluent kids who grew up in the district have had 12 years of vertically and horizontally correlated curriculum designed to prepare them for all the mandated state tests. But the poorer and minority kids (who often come from Mexico and were in Mexican schools if at all in previous years) may have only been in the district for a few months before they take the state mandated tests. They often come in with huge gaps in their education and have poor test taking skills by comparison.

    I suspect the situation is much the same in most affluent districts throughout the country. The middle and upper class kids are mostly stable or move in from equally good situations. The poor and minority kids (often the same thing) drift in and out and are much more highly transient. When I get truly affluent minority kids they generally perform just like affluent anglo kids.

  4. You make sense if NCLB and the standards and testing approach to reform had gone any distance toward closing the gap. However, it hasn’t.

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