Forget the gap

Liam Julian

Arne Duncan was in Minnesota last week. He talked of a ?sense of urgency.? And he talked about how Minnesota, which has a large achievement gap, really should feel terrible about it and should be doing more to shrink it. At what point will we stop speaking about, or at least focusing-on-cum-obsessing-over,?this gap? More specifically, when will federal politicians quit haranguing states, state politicians quit haranguing districts, about a failure to close it? Was nothing learned from the failures of, and the intellectual stupor and enforced fantastical groupthink surrounding, No Child Left Behind?

New Jersey includes some of the richest neighborhoods in the country and some of the poorest. It also has the nation's biggest achievement gap. Coincidence? Unlikely. Are states with smaller gaps necessarily doing a better job than New Jersey of managing such gaps, or are their populations perhaps, simply and by chance, less socioeconomically riven? Furthermore, is it appropriate to point out achievement gaps at the state level? States are massive. Might it not be smarter to evaluate gaps in individual schools, say, where problems, if they exist, could be identified and not guessed at, and interventions, if needed, more wisely applied? And, as everyone with a brain knows, there is more than one way to close a gap: Simply put, you can either speed up progress at the bottom or slow it at the top. Is the latter method desirable? Some say yes. Others say no. So there is no concordance there.

It's understandable, really, all this talk and worry about gaps. Inequality?is irksome to the sensitive and sensible mind, and for good reason. But we have to push beyond that and wonder if these gaps that so offend us are not distracting from more productive pursuits.

?Liam Julian, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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