Misreading the Achievement Gap: A Tale of Bi-Partisan Failure
Continued from previous page
- "No excuses" reformers make two conflicting claims: Teachers are the most important element in student learning, but bad teachers are the sole reason our schools have historically and currently failed students. These bizarre claims are compounded by another misunderstanding common in the public—that teachers can be to blame for school failure. Few political or public discussions of the role of teachers in school quality acknowledge that teachers have never, and do not now, run schools.
- "No excuses" reformers also call for the need to recruit the best and brightest into education while simultaneously dismantling academic freedom and due process for teachers, as well as endorsing Common Core State Standards to prescribe what teachers will teach, how they will teach that content, and that those teachers will be evaluated and fired based on tests and standards not designed or endorsed by them. [Note that "no excuses" reformers depend on the achievement gap discourse decontextualizing test data from social causes in order to shift the burden of learning to the teachers.]
Reframing the achievement gap as the equity or attainment gap will be of little value unless we also reframe the discussion of teacher quality by placing that debate within the equity/attainment gap discussion. That shift must include the following:
- Teacher quality matters, but it (and school characteristics) correlates with only about 33% to as little as 14% of student outcomes. As Jim Horn explains:
"So what can we do? We can continue to improve our teaching in every way we can, even as we must begin to alter the ravaging effects of poverty and to advocate for policies that help to limit the effects the poverty. Health care, nutrition, housing, transportation, jobs, and integrated and diverse schools that can take take advantage of the power of shared social capital."
- The "no excuses" reformers also make repeatedly another conflicting set of claims: schools are historical and current failures, but they are the mechanism by which we can change society (and that of course must be done by firing the "bad" teachers and hiring the best and brightest into what is increasing a service industry). Thus, the teacher quality debate must be framed in terms of how it often perpetuates inequity of attainment for children, since children of color, English language learners, and special needs students tend to be assigned disproportionately to new/inexperienced teachers as well as un-/under-qualified teachers—a dynamic increased by the rise of commitments to Teach for America.
If the achievement gap is a metric exposing problems the U.S. must confront (it is), and if teacher quality matters (it does), and if our schools are a mechanism for reforming society's persistent scar of inequity (they could be), the ways in which we talk about "gaps" must first be reformed so that we come to understand that living and learning in poverty is a reality of inequity for far too many children in the U.S., 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 52 weeks of each year.
Recommended Further Reading
Barton, P. E., & Coley, R. J. (2007, September). The family: America’s smallest school. Educational Testing Service. Policy Information Center. Princeton, NJ. Retrieved 27 December 2007, from http://www.ets.org/...
Barton, P. E., & Coley, R. J. (2009). Parsing the achievement gap II. Educational Testing Service. Policy Information Center. Princeton, NJ. Retrieved 8 May 2009, from http://www.ets.org/...