With Carmen Fariña retiring as chancellor of the New York City school system in a few months, the search is on for an experienced educator who can eliminate the yawning achievement gap in the nation’s largest school district (“Next NYC School Leader Faces Budget Issues, Achievement Gap,” The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 22, 2017). But ensuring access to a high-quality education is not going to do much to reach that goal.
The hard truth is that not all students are able to perform equally in any given curriculum. Yes, they all deserve an opportunity to do so, which at present they do not possess. But equal opportunities are not going to produce equal outcomes, no matter how much we like to think they would. Students differ greatly in their aptitude and motivation. It’s why some succeed and some do not. We should do everything we can to help them reach their full potential. But there is always going to be an achievement gap.
Depicting the gap strictly in racial and socioeconomic terms, which is how the issue is presented to taxpayers, ignores certain realities. The Coleman Report found that the quality of schools had little to do with the differences in academic achievement. It never said that schools don’t matter. Of course they do. But wherewithal does not exist in equal amounts in students, regardless of their race or socioeconomic background. There are always going to be variations in talent.
I hope the next chancellor of the 1.1 million-student school system will prove me wrong. But I think the best that person will be able to do in the final analysis is narrow the achievement gap. That’s certainly a worthy goal. But it’s not the same as eliminating it.
The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.