Achievement Gap


At last, ceaseless Wire-blogging leads to an actual policy issue as Zachary Norris recalls his days in the Baltimore City school system: "I had no formal teaching experience and no real qualifications other than a college degree and a strong desire to 'close the achievement gap.' I joined the Teach For America program and ended up teaching in Baltimore for three years. The experience was humbling."

But what would it mean -- what could it mean -- to close the achievement gap between high- and low-SES students in American schools? For a whole variety of reasons, this just doesn't seem like it's going to be possible. At the outer limit, more prosperous parents are always going to be able to re-open the gap by investing even more resources in their kids' education. An education and child development arms race to the top might not be a bad thing, but it wouldn't close any socioeconomic gaps. To do that, you actually need to tackle inequality itself. In the context of a reasonably egalitarian society, a well-functioning school system shouldn't exhibit massive achievement gaps, but in the context of a wildly inegalitarian one there's no way the school system can singlehandedly set everything back to zero. See also super-intern Conor Clarke's thought on the latest homework "debate."