Achievement Gap

Pro: By Maddy Joseph 

It is difficult to hear any description of the educational gaps in the United States and not be stirred to action, or at least overcome by a sense of injustice. These statistics represent American children who do not have access to the educational opportunities they deserve. The achievement gap is also a symbolic device used by advocates to draw attention to the American education crisis. Their framing represents a welcome emphasis on the mission of transforming underperforming schools.

The constant repetition of the achievement gap frame does have the inescapable consequence of shifting our focus onto poor and minority students. While those who talk about the achievement gap do not intend to lay blame on disadvantaged communities and students, the frame has potentially negative consequences – not only does it distract from national educational deficiencies, it also emphasizes the failures of certain schools in these communities.

It would be a greater injustice to allow the debate about education to move away from how to support and fix the schools and districts that serve (or underserve) the 16 million children living in poverty – many of whom are black or Hispanic.

We cannot allow the language of the achievement gap to distract from what it is intended to highlight: that certain students – the vast majority of whom are poor and many of whom are racial minorities – are not getting the opportunities they need and deserve. If talking about the achievement gaps will bring our country to address the inadequacies of such a system, then discussion of achievement gaps is an essential element of the national conversation about education.

Con: By Ashley Williams

In 2011, New York white students were approximately twice as likely to meet basic test standards in reading and mathematics as their black and Hispanic counterparts. This dramatic difference in academic performance between black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian counterparts, as well as between higher and lower income students, is defined as the achievement gap. Framing this issue in terms of the underperformance of specific racial minorities and low-income background students evinces an incomplete understanding of the nature of the crisis.

Those who cite the achievement gap as the central issue in education policy often overlook the fact that the gap is a reflection of a national education deficiency. In the current reform movement’s haste to “close the gap,” conversations about the relationship between the roles of federal and state governments in education policy, school funding on the district and state level, and the purpose of a strong American education falls to the wayside.

Our entire public education system is in a crisis, and educational issues are merely magnified in poorer communities. The problem affects all American students, even the most privileged. We are still not able to compete internationally: In 2010, the United States ranked 14th in reading skills, 17th in science, and 25th in mathematics out of the 34 nations in the OECD.

Perhaps it is easier for us to address this behemoth of a crisis by focusing on the lack of education given to a certain population of students. But in doing so, we risk making education a racial and socioeconomic issue rather than recognizing it as a national problem.