Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home

Reforms that could help NARROW the Achievement Gap

Susan Notes: This paper is excerpted from Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic, and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap, by Richard Rothstein (Teachers College Press 2004). Why isn't anybody listening? Of course, it is more convenient for Corporados and their political handmaidens to blame teachers.

Policymakers almost universally conclude that persistent achievement gaps must result from wrongly designed school policies-- either expectations that are too low, teachers who are insufficiently qualified, curricula that are badly designed, classes that are too large, school climates that are too undisciplined, leadership that is too unfocused, or a combination of these. This exclusive focus on schooling is wrong. Without complementary investments in early childhood preparation, health care, housing, after-school and summer programs, and other social and economic supports, the achievement gap will never be closed.

by Richard Rothstein

Americans have concluded that the achievement gap is the fault of "failing schools" because it makes no common sense that it could be otherwise. After all, how much money a family has, or a child's skin color, should not influence how well that child learns to read. If teachers know how to teach and if schools permit no distractions, children should be able to learn these subjects whatever their family income or skin color.

This common sense perspective, however, is misleading and dangerous. It ignores how social class characteristics in a stratified society like ours may actually influence learning in school. It confuses social class, a concept which Americans have historically been loathe to consider, with two of its characteristics, income and, in the United States, race. For it is true that low income and skin color themselves don't influence academic achievement, but the collection of characteristics that define social class differences inevitably influences that achievement.

If as a society we choose to preserve big social class differences, we must necessarily also accept substantial gaps between the achievement of lower-class and middle-class children. Closing those gaps requires not only better schools, although those are certainly needed, but also reform in the social and economic institutions that prepare children to learn in different ways. It will not be cheap.

What follows is a series of reforms, in addition to school improvement, that could help narrow the achievement gap.

You can read the rest of this paper in a pdf file here.

— Richard Rothstein
Policy Perspectives/West Ed


This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.