Don't mind the gap

Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews thinks the ed reform lexicon needs a rewrite. He's particularly peeved by the term "achievement gap," which he observes is often used "in a way that suggests narrowing the gap is always a good thing, when that is not so." What if, for instance, the shrinking gap reflected not just a catching-up at the bottom but also a leveling-off at the top? In fact, that's precisely what's happening, as the Brookings Institution's Tom Loveless pointed out in Fordham's recent report, High-Achieving Students in the Era of No Child Left Behind, from which Mathews quotes liberally. The danger of such apparent gains for equity is that they shortchange the high-achievers who might grow up to be the nation's future economic and political leaders. Mathews hypothesizes that we have mistakenly "taken our concern about the income gap... and adopted the same vocabulary when we worry about how our children are doing in school.... I can understand distaste for people who build 50-room mansions with gold bathroom fixtures. But can anyone learn too much?" Probably not. The truth is that both America's lowest- and highest-performing students need to be learning lots more.

"Forget About the Achievement Gap," by Jay Mathews, Washington Post, July 14, 2008

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