Friday, October 2, 2009

A Question of Why

Good news, people. A report out of the Center on Education Policy has found that the achievement gap is narrowing. Of course, it's not nearly that simple, but let's take a moment at least to bask in the very positive headline.

The study found that on the whole, the gap between minority and poor children and white and more advantaged children is less than it was. Furthermore, the gap closing seemed to be taking place largely because those at the bottom are gaining more quickly, as opposed to those at the top slowing down.

And now for the bad news. First, there's still an achievement gap and it's huge in some states (as much as 20 percent). Second, this report looks at state test scores and doesn't take into account the lack of progress on achievement gap closing as its shown by NAEP scores. Also, while the gap narrowed 58 percent of the time (across all of the studies trend lines), the gap increased 37 percent of the time.

The picture gets bleaker pretty quickly, doesn't it?

The next step that these researchers never seem to take is to look at why this might be happening. I get that the study I'm asking for would be infinitely more complicated. I really do understand that. But it also seems like it would be worth it. As it stands, we're looking at data and saying, "Wow, that's great that the achievement gap is closing (except where it isn't). Let's make sure all schools are doing that. Oh wait. We don't know what's actually making the difference. Let's open more charter schools." At least, that's what I'm hearing policy makers say. Maybe you're hearing something different.

To sum up, let's celebrate those 58% who are successfully working to close the achievement gap. But let's not celebrate for too long. After all, for another 37%, the problem is getting worse and we don't really know what's making the difference either way.

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