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Opinion
Education Opinion

The Perennial Achievement Gap

By Walt Gardner — March 25, 2015 1 min read

The academic achievement gap continues to stymie reformers despite efforts over the years to eliminate it. In my view, the main reason is the lack of realistic expectations in addressing the issue (“Class, Not Race,” National Review, Mar. 17).

No matter how much schools improve, there will always be differences in student performance. That doesn’t mean we should give up trying to equalize educational opportunities, but we are bound to be disappointed if we expect to see similiar patterns in outcomes. Researchers contrast outcomes within groups (unavoidable) and outcomes between groups (unacceptable). I say trying to eliminate either one is a quixotic undertaking.

Consider the goal of proficiency for all students. It sounds great, but it can never happen. A standard can be achievable by all students if it is minimal, but it cannot be achievable by all students if it is challenging (“‘Proficiency for All’ - An Oxymoron,” Economic Policy Institute, Nov. 14, 2006). In other words, we can’t have it both ways, even though we continue to think we can.

I realize that “grit” is now used to explain achievement and upward mobility (“Why the SAT Isn’t a ‘Student Affluence Test',”The Wall Street Journal, Mar. 25). If individuals possess enough of it, they supposedly can overcome all formidable obstacles in their path and succeed. It’s an inspiring message, but I question if it is realistic. There will always be outliers who manage to beat the odds, and get media attention. Yet in this country, prospects are not nearly as bright as mythmakers assert (“Our Kids,” The New York Times, Mar. 8). The reality is that the U.S. has less equality of opportunity than almost any other advanced industrialized country.

I’m not suggesting that we throw in the towel. But the name of this column is Reality Check, not Fantasy Enhancement.

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.

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