What’s the significance of this shift in terminology? Achievement gap is all about measurable “outputs”—standardized-test scores—and not about equalizing resources, addressing poverty, combating segregation, or guaranteeing children an opportunity to learn. The No Child Left Behind Act is silent on such matters. Dropping equal educational opportunity, which highlights the role of inputs, has a subtle but powerful effect on how we think about accountability. It shifts the entire burden of reform from legislators and policymakers to teachers and kids and schools.
By implication, educators are the obstacle to change. Every mandate of No Child Left Behind—and there are hundreds—is designed to force the people who run our schools to shape up, work harder, raise expectations, and stop “making excuses” for low test scores, or face the consequences. Despite the law’s oft-stated reverence for “scientifically based research,” this narrow approach is contradicted by numerous studies documenting the importance of social and economic factors in children’s academic progress. Yet it has the advantage of enabling politicians to ignore the difficult issues and avoid costly remedies. If educators are the obstacle, there’s no need to address what Jonathan Kozol calls the “savage inequalities” of our educational system and our society.
Friday, June 08, 2007
There are several items about NCLB making the rounds this week. The one that's getting the most notice is the report from the Center on Education Policy ("Answering the Question that Matters Most: Has Student Achievement Increased Since No Child Left Behind?"). What the report actually says is that it's hard to tell, but with reports like this, the headlines may matter more than the substance: "Scores Up Since 'No Child' Was Signed" (Washington Post) and "New Study Finds Gains Since No Child Left Behind" (NY Times). There's also a report from NCES that focuses on how widely the proficiency levels on state tests vary (using NAEP as a benchmark). But the most important piece in the long run may be James Crawford's in Education Week, "A Diminished Vision of Civil Rights" (registration required). In it, Crawford discusses the shift from the term "equal educational opportunity" to "achievement gap":