Continuing: Our month of the gaps!

MONDAY, JUNE 9, 2014

The role of the gaps in our schools: Today, we start the third week of our ongoing series, “Our month of the gaps.”

Our public schools display very large “achievement gaps.” In a recent New York Times column, Eduardo Porter described this remarkable state of affairs:
PORTER (5/21/14): Addressing the vast disparities between students’ abilities will not be easy. In some public schools, children who are entering the sixth grade with the measured proficiency of first graders are mixed in with children who perform well above the sixth-grade standard.

Schools struggle to teach this mix. Teachers are frustrated: Almost half leave the profession within five years.
Do middle schools really struggle with that wide range of achievement levels? Data from our most reliable testing program, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, suggest the existence of these large achievement gaps within the nation’s student population.

(For painful examples, see last Thursday's report.)

These gaps create large problems within our public schools. Despite this fact, these gaps are often disregarded by our educational experts and our education writers.

All week, we’ll look at the way these very large gaps complicate matters within our schools. As we do, we’ll note the way the problems we describe are commonly disregarded, finessed.

Will people ever come to terms with the problems caused by the gaps? As matters stand, we don’t seem to care about the low-income kids who are often found at the short end of these punishing gaps.

Surely, that can’t be the case! But that’s the way it seems.


  1. "These gaps create large problems within our public schools. Despite this fact, these gaps are often disregarded by our educational experts and our education writers." TDH Today

    “There’s an achievement gap in America that’s not good for the future of this country. Some kids can read at grade level, and some can’t. And that’s unsatisfactory....

    I’m proud to report the achievement gap between white kids and minority students is closing, for the good of the United States.”

    George W. Bush 10/5/2006

    As quoted in:
    "What It Takes to Make A Student"
    By Paul Tough
    New York Times 11/26/2006

    As linked in:

    "A 7 year old reader in Gotham!"
    By Bob Somerby
    The Daily Howler 6/5/2014

    "But the gaps are still extremely large between our lowest and highest scorers.

    Have you ever seen an “educational expert” attempt to address this fact? Ever, by which we mean even once?" TDH 12/7/13

    1. Only closet or open conservative old white men pretending they care about minorities.

  2. As we turn "gaps" through constant repetition into a capitalized term of art through this series, let's not lose sight of the fact that these are averages. There are millions of black kids who do better than most white kids. Averages say absolutely nothing about any individual. Let's also realize that test performance says little about intelligence. If a black kid from the "inner city" made up a test with localized vocabulary and focused on the subject of street smarts -- which could also be divided into "Reading," "English," "Mathematics" and "Science" like the ACT -- if you're a middle class white kid from the suburbs you would get your butt kicked. Then Charles Murray could put you near the bottom of the bell curve and opine (without ever quite saying it, of course) that you and your friends just don't have the intellectual goods to succeed.

    1. High scores say a great deal about intelligence, no matter who has earned them. It is the low scores that are ambiguous. They could be due to lack of intelligence or they could be due to other factors, from motivation to health to family problems. All knowledge is cultural -- that is beside the point. This idea that white kids lack street smarts whereas black kids automatically know lots of stuff white kids don't is a gross oversimplification of a well-meant exhortation not to take test scores at face value, but it is pretty silly. These standardized tests have been adjusted to eliminate culturally biased questions, unless you want to consider school curriculum itself a culturally biased subject. These days those middle class white kids wouldn't get their butts kicked on that urban test any more because they have learned the content from rap songs.

      Finally, averages do say a great deal about most of the individuals in a group because the scores of most of the people in that group are clustered close to the mean. The average says nothing about any particular individual because you don't know where they fit in the distribution and they could have come from either tail -- very high or very low scores.

      Your statement that there are millions of black kids who do better than most white kids is perhaps not true because there are 44 million African American people in the US (2012 census), but the actual percentage of African American kids who are above the white mean is pretty small. The standard deviation for the NAEP is about 20 points and the gaps are larger than that. That means the African American mean score is 1 to 1-1/2 standard deviations below the white mean. The portion of the upper tail that is beyond the white mean is 10-15 percent, generously. If you consider only school age children (8 million) then the number above the white mean would be about 800,000-1,200,000. That is a lot but not "millions."

  3. I cannot thank you enough Bob for this informative post. Few bloggers would bother to let readers know they are in the middle of a month long
    exploration of an important new topic that has been long overlooked.

    1. There has not been anything quite like this sinde:

  4. The gaps show up early and often. A certain class of upper-class liberal seems to enjoy a cuffing-aside of those kids. For today, we’ll assume that this basic point will seem fairly obvious. We’ve never seen that question discussed, and we never will. Given all the propaganda about our stagnant or failing schools, can that possibly be true?

    1. We must all talk about the gaps together. Somerby may be trying to force that to happen.


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