Education Opinion

New York City Achievement Gap Round-Up: Three Cheers for Our Naked Emperor!

By Eduwonkette — July 25, 2008 1 min read
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A child, however, who had no important job and could only see things as his eyes showed them to him, went up to the carriage. "The Emperor is naked," he said. "Fool!" his father reprimanded, running after him. "Don't talk nonsense!" He grabbed his child and took him away. But the boy's remark, which had been heard by the bystanders, was repeated over and over again until everyone cried: "The boy is right! The Emperor is naked! It's true!" The Emperor realized that the people were right but could not admit to that. He thought it better to continue the procession under the illusion that anyone who couldn't see his clothes was either stupid or incompetent. - Hans Christian Andersen, The Emperor's New Clothes

If you’ve been reading over the course of this week, perhaps you, too, now realize that New York City’s emperor, much as he likes to travel across the land saying that he’s significantly narrowed the achievement gap in New York City, is wearing no clothes.

The achievement gap has not narrowed at all in math for any grade level or subject.

Nor has the achievement gap narrowed at all in reading for any grade level or subject.

So perhaps it is time for us to rethink the reform strategy in New York City, and ask some difficult questions about why this strategy has not narrowed the gap between white and Asian students and their African-American and Hispanic peers. K-12 schools are in a tough spot when African-American students show up at kindergarten testing at the 35th percentile of the white distribution in reading and the 25th percentile in math. They are even further disadvantaged by racial inequalities in how students’ out of school time is spent. Remember, kids only spend 22% of their waking hours between kindergarten and 12th grade in school.

We can and should push and support schools to do better. But all of the pushing we’ve seen in New York City has amounted to no change in the size of the achievement gap. Why should we expect anything different from the reforms proposed by the Educational Equality Project, which has taken New York City’s reforms as something of a blueprint?

Bottom line: if we want to close the achievement gap, it will not happen by schools alone. Let’s ask schools to do better, but let’s also be realistic about how far those efforts will take us. Unfortunately for New York City’s black and Hispanic kids, these efforts have left them as far behind their white and Asian peers as they were 5 years ago.

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