How Can the Achievement Gap Be Closed? A Freakonomics Quorum

The black-white gap in U.S. education is an issue that continues to occupy the efforts of a great many scholars. Roland Fryer and Steve Levitt have poked at the issue repeatedly; a recent study by Spyros Konstantopoulos looked at class size as a possible culprit, to little avail.

We gathered a group of people with wisdom and experience in this area — Caroline Hoxby, Daniel Hurley, Richard J. Murnane, and Andrew Rotherham — and asked them the following question:

How can the U.S. black-white achievement gap be closed?

Here are their responses:

Caroline Hoxby, professor of economics at Stanford and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution:

There is no “silver bullet” for closing the achievement gap, and any person who tells you differently is speaking from something more like religious conviction than evidence. That being said, I have picked out a few things which would almost certainly help close the gap. I’ve picked out policies that are practicable and could be implemented fairly quickly.

The first suggestion may seem pointy-headed but it’s the most important: All major interventions in education should be evaluated using scientific methods — experimental methods, if at all possible.

Most interventions in education (class size reductions, pre-kindergarten programs, classroom technology, paying students for performance, drop-out prevention) are based not on evidence that they work, but rather on the “cardiac test” (e.g., “we just know in our heart that this is right”). Moreover, the interventions are not scientifically evaluated, sometimes because advocates oppose evaluation, but more often because no one bothers to set up pilot, randomization, or baseline data in the first place.

Thus, even though almost every popular intervention has been tried many times in American schools and is probably being started by some district today, we know very little about what works. If we did nothing other than analyze the effect of every intervention that is going to be tried, we would be far more likely to close the achievement gap.

One thing we have learned definitively in recent years is that teachers differ in their ability to raise students’ achievement. Research shows that your child’s learning will be very different at the end of the school year if he has the best teacher in his grade rather than the worst teacher. Importantly, it is not a master’s degree, a teaching certificate, or experience that makes a teacher the best or the worst. The data show that some teachers are simply better at raising achievement and that their superior talents are not revealed by credentials that would show up on a resume. Since we can identify the better teachers ex post but not necessarily when they are hired, it makes sense to reward teachers based on their students’ learning gains.

If states introduced bonuses for teachers who raised achievement substantially and gave bigger bonuses to teachers who raised disadvantaged students’ achievement, considerable progress might be made in closing the achievement gap. Such a policy would not only give teachers strong incentives to improve their teaching, but it would also draw talented people into the teaching profession and keep them there.

In a recent study of New York City charter schools, I compared students who were admitted to the charter schools via random admissions lotteries to students who applied but were “lotteried out.” The beauty of randomization is that the lotteried-in and lotteried-out students were the same — not just in background and prior achievement — but also in motivation. The overall result was that New York City charter school students outperformed the lotteried-out students in math and reading, but not all charter schools had identical success.

One factor that was found to correlate with a charter school’s success was a longer school year (210 days, say, as opposed to 180 days) and day (9 hours, say, as opposed to 5.5). Such policies may hold great promise for schools that serve disadvantaged students, and (unlike the policies I mentioned above) have not been tried much in the past. I would like to see large-scale demonstrations of such policies with scientific evaluations so that we’ll know whether they work or not. Even if the typical public school might hesitate to implement such policies, there are many charter schools in the U.S. that would be glad to try them, with a suitable increase in their budgets.

Daniel Hurley, director of state relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities:

Closing the achievement gap in the United States will require a confluence of strategies and an unprecedented level of energy and focus, both of which are key to maintaining American prosperity in an increasingly Darwinian global economy. Here are four efforts that could pave the way:

Improve Alignment. Entry into postsecondary education needs to be a natural extension from high school graduation. Given the unexceptional retention rates of college students, it’s evident that college readiness needs to be improved. The best way to do this is by increasing the rigor of the high school experience, not by watering down college curriculum standards. Evidence suggests completing a rigorous high school core course of study is the number one determinant of students’ entry into and success in college — even if the grades earned in the tougher classes are mediocre. Efforts to improve alignment throughout the states are being ushered on many fronts, including by Achieve, Inc. and the American Diploma Project, an endeavor being led by many of our nation’s governors to raise academic standards and achievements so that all students graduate prepared for college and work.

Raise Expectations. Many high schools in impoverished communities across America are saddled with a curse of low expectations that impedes the achievement of several populations, including those from very rural areas and poor urban districts. A primary reason students withdraw from high school is not for a lack of ability, but a lack of engagement, challenge, and low expectations that have been set. The story of the Los Angeles Unified School District — in which a mostly minority student body successfully lobbied the district’s school board to raise curriculum standards to those of nearby, but more affluent districts — serves as a compelling example of the power of setting the high expectations yearned for by our youth. Let’s raise the bar and ensure that the high school experience is a cause worthy of the full dedication of America’s next generation.

Increase Aspirations. Closing the achievement gap will involve part public policy, part social marketing. Current socio-economic and demographic trends unabated, the U.S. is at great risk of losing its competitiveness if we fail to increase the educational attainment levels of populations with low college participation and success rates, such as those from low-income households, first-generation college students, minority (especially Hispanic) students, and returning adults. We need to more fully tap the aspirations of our youth and collectively seek to engender a more robust college-going culture in America. A campaign espousing the value and need for all citizens to obtain some type of postsecondary credential will require utilizing every medium at our disposal, from family conversations to state-wide public awareness efforts.

Enhance Visibility. Finally, the challenges and opportunities associated with closing the achievement gap demand much greater visibility in the American consciousness. A Sputnik-like sense of urgency is needed to make K-16 education a public policy priority at the federal, state, and local levels. There are mountains of compelling data that portend a bleak future if our educational success rates are not improved. The nation is currently witness to a robust and historical campaign for the presidency, yet the issue of education reform at all levels remains undiscussed by the major contenders.

One national public awareness campaign currently underway is Ed in ’08, a non-partisan initiative funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that seeks to elevate public awareness about education, and to make it a priority of our presidential contenders and the American people. It’s a good start, and worth rallying around. It is, after all, our very own future prosperity that’s at stake.

Richard J. Murnane, professor of education and society at Harvard:

Within the lifetimes of today’s teenagers, two of every five American workers will be black or brown, and the nation’s economic and social future will depend critically on their skills. Projecting the status quo forward produces a frightening picture. One out of every three students of color fails to obtain a high school diploma. On the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress Grade 8 reading exam, 46 percent of black public school students and 43 percent of Hispanic students scored “below basic.” Only 12 percent and 14 percent of these groups scored proficient or advanced.

Understanding the reasons why so many black and brown Americans enter adulthood with extremely weak skills and low educational attainments is central to figuring out how to change the future. Poverty and inadequate family resources are a key piece of the problem. One in four children of color lives in poverty. Two of three black children and one of three Hispanic children live in a single-parent family. The low resource levels available to support these children’s initial development means that most come to school not ready to learn.

The low quality of the schools black and brown children attend is another critical piece of the problem. Children of color tend to be concentrated in low achieving, highly segregated schools. Recent research that I have done with two Harvard colleagues, Lindsay Page and John Willett, documents that the gaps between the achievement of students attending schools serving primarily students of color and the achievement of students in schools serving primarily non-Hispanic white students have increased steadily over the last three decades. In other words, the costs of segregation have increased.

The sources of the problem suggest three complementary policy approaches. The first is to invest intensively in high quality, full-day preschool. The evidence on the value of such investments is stronger than that for any other policy aimed at improving life chances for children of color. Such investments would need to be sufficient to provide programs of much greater quality than those provided in most of today’s Head Start programs.

A second approach is to strengthen low income families by reducing disincentives to marry, and by increasing resources available to support children. Amendments to the earned income tax credit (EITC) program could do both. Currently, eligibility for the EITC is restricted to low-wage earners who are responsible for children. The amount of the EITC a woman with children receives depends on the total of her labor market earnings and the earnings of her partner. Thus, divorce would increase the EITC for a couple, each of whom is a low-wage earner.

The EITC regulations could be altered so that eligibility for earnings supplements is based on the earnings of individual low-wage workers aged 21 to 54, irrespective of marital status. As explained by Gordon Berlin, who first proposed this amendment, this change in the EITC would eliminate the disincentive to marry and would also increase the potential for non-custodial fathers to pay child support. In other words, this is a promising strategy to strengthen families and increase the resources available to children from low-income families, who are disproportionately children of color.

The third essential is to dramatically improve urban public schools, especially middle schools and high schools. The difficult question is how to do it. Many initiatives have been tried — e.g., small schools, new curricula — that accept the student body composition as given and do not fundamentally change the daily experiences of students. While some initiatives have made a difference in selected schools, nothing tried to date has enabled any big city in America to create a system of effective high schools.

Moving forward, there are two options for bringing about real change. The first is to reverse the series of Supreme Court decisions over the last 35 years that have contributed to the segregation of American schools. While racial and socio-economic integration of schools is no panacea, exploring ways to increase the commitment of suburban communities to improving the education of urban students has substantive merit — if not political appeal. The second option is to dramatically change the middle school and high school experiences of urban youth. Options include travel, apprenticeships with craftspeople, and long-term individual tutorials — to name just a few of the activities through which affluent parents motivate and educate their teenagers.

I have no doubt that educational entrepreneurs could create a wide range of new educational options for urban youth that would improve their life chances. However, I do have doubts about the commitment of the country to pay for such dramatic change and to create the governance structures to support it. This is especially true since the consequences of not doing this will become evident only slowly, if inexorably. As the presidential campaign proceeds, we will learn whether any candidate has the leadership capacity and the will to convey to the American electorate that the country’s future depends on its young people, who are increasingly black or brown and who are not faring well in today’s big cities.

Andrew Rotherham, co-director of Education Sector and a member of Virginia’s Board of Education:

Different schools have different effects on similar students. That is the primary finding from social science research, and a fact around which education policy should be organized. Put more plainly: schools matter. They can be a powerful force to address the gap, and demographics are not destiny for students.

That does not mean that schools can eliminate all social inequality, or that policymakers shouldn’t take common sense steps like expanding access to healthcare and prenatal care in low-income communities. But it does mean that many schools can do much better with poor and minority students, and that holding schools accountable for student learning is neither punitive nor unfair.

Unfortunately, there is a small industry in the education community built around tacitly giving schools soothing reassurance that they really can’t do much better with poor and minority kids than they are today. They can. And rather than attacking the gaps poor students bring with them when they first arrive at school, we actually exacerbate gaps by giving the least to the very students who need the most. Rhetorically, people say that schools matter, but our public policies do not yet systemically reflect it.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Research, such as that by William Sanders and Eric Hanushek, shows that teacher effectiveness is the most important in-school factor affecting student learning. Good teachers can actually close or eliminate the gaps in achievement on standardized tests that separate white and minority students. Conversely, when at-risk students have a couple of lousy teachers in a row, it almost irreparably harms them. Consequently, policymakers should be unyielding in their efforts to ensure that there are effective teachers in every classroom.

Unfortunately, a recent report from Education Week shows that, overall, we are doing anything but. Parents should support these efforts, most of all because good teachers teach; they don’t resort to drilling kids, rote memorization, or other strategies that suck the joy out of learning.

It is not just about training, pay, and accountability for teachers, but also about creating schools where high performers want to be — and are — supported in their work. As former California Board of Education president and Netflix founder Reed Hastings points out: today we have as much a shortage of places where good teachers want to work as we do a shortage of good teachers.

That’s why this is not just a teacher problem, it’s a systemic one. But if we organize the public education system around the idea that teachers and schools matter to student outcomes — instead of implicitly around the idea that they don’t — we’ll see results and gap closing.

Leave A Comment

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.



  1. scott cunningham says:

    I got one: legalize drugs. This alone would have significant effects on the high rates of incarceration, violence, single-parent households, and high opportunity costs of completing schooling that already seem to uniquely harm the Black student.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1
  2. Keegan says:

    As interesting as those pieces are – and I felt that Dr. Hoxby’s was the most rational and realistic of the bunch – it’s interesting that the following two terms never made an appearance in any of the missives: “Vouchers” and “Teachers Unions”.

    It was also disappointing to see that Dan Hurley buys into the myth that a college education is for everyone. Then again, it’s to his organization’s benefit to perpetuate that Utopian ideal.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1
  3. james says:

    I would start with curriculum. There are programs that have been scientifically measured and proven to be effective. Use those as your base. Then look at teaching methods such as Direct Instruction & Precision Teaching that have been shown to be effective and are scalable. Now that you have identified an effective curriculum, effective teaching methods, you must actually train your teachers to effectively deliver the material to the students. Then you gather the data and improve on your weaknesses. Check out Singapore Math for a curriculum that works and is effective when you use teachers that have been trained in the material.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  4. Walter Wimberly says:

    Mr. Murnane starts to hit the nail on the head, but then retreats. I went to a very racially diverse high school which everyone just about was in a low to low-middle class.

    The Asian students, as a group, performed better, were in honor classes, etc than the other groups because they’re parents pushed them, making sure they did their homework etc.

    My own mother & father did the same. They wanted me to have the college opportunity they didn’t. Because they were ALWAYS on my case I went to college while only 55% of the incoming freshman at my high school graduate in 4 years.

    Yes there are areas where education needs to be measured, improved, and measured again – but one of the biggest areas for improvement (parental involvement) lies mostly outside of the school’s influence. To see this, go to a good socio-economic school’s function (5th grade play, PTA meeting, etc) and see how many parents are present vs. an poor socio-economic school. The good socio-economic school will almost always have a higher percentage of parents/guardians attending.

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2
    • Fanny says:

      A word about parental involvement:

      Actually, schools in the suburbs (white wealthy students) struggle as much with parental involvement as schools in urban ares (students of color, who are also poor). The truth is that parents who work 12, 14, 16 hour days really struggle to make time to attend PTA meetings and school trips whether those parents are bankers or security guards the struggle is similar.

      MOST IMPORTANTLY, schools in poor communities are NOT welcoming to parents. There is a common feeling amongst poor parents who have difficulties understand “the system” at schools. As a child of immigrant parents, I attributed this mysterious force to my parent’s inability to communicate in English. However, as a teacher in an urban community, working primarily with African American families (who speak English), I recognize that our institutions of public education are subconsciously racist. (Yes I went there, it is incredible to me how when stared in the face with statistics that show massive achievement gaps between black/ brown people and whites, we are so afraid to name it as a racist issue).

      Those of us, highly idealistic TFA alums and corps members, who aim to save poor communities by teaching their neediest children go into those schools with a deficit model thinking (inherently racist). We find deficits in the students (our language clearly indicates that: “at risk student” “low income student” etc) and we find deficits in their communities (parents aren’t doing enough, the are no role models in their communities, they’re ghetto/loud/obnoxious etc.).

      No, we do not live in a country with equal opportunities exist for all. Let’s face the facts that our black and brown people are being oppressed at every turn, especially by gatekeepers like those who work at our schools (including myself). From the media, to the schools, to the inadequate access to basic services, to the unequal persecution from police officers, black and brown communities are under extreme amounts of stress, and schools aren’t helping.

      A lot of the topics that were discussed by the scholars would help the situation. Yes, we need better teachers, better schools, better policy. However, we also need to start acknowledging issues of racism in our schools (and society as a whole) and expect things to get really uncomfortable before they can get better. I don’t know how to fix the problem, but I do know that naming it and starting the conversation at every opportunity is the only way to start solving it.

      Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2
  5. Donut says:

    Achievement is something that is earned by the student through work, not something that can be given by the state. Only opportunity and help can be given. If a student does not want to learn, or has other factors in their lives that make it difficult for them to learn, then there is very little that the state can do for that person.

    I would argue that the same problems at home that cause a person to be at the lower levels of income (poor discipline, poor understanding of cause and effect, lack of ambition) will bleed into their children either through osmosis, or from the negative effects of the home environment created by those traits.

    These are all things outside of state control. The best we can do is create an environment at school where kids that want to learn and achieve can do so.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1
  6. Punditus Maximus says:

    Yes! I’m so frustrated with the fact that we simply throw half of our HS students under the bus.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1
  7. Mr. K says:

    I’m one of those teachers trying to close the achievement gap. Of the positions above, I am closest to agreeing with Dr. Huxby’s. There are differences between teachers, and acknowledging their individual achievements is a vital first step. Yet, the metrics we currently use for judging student success are weak: they do not necessarily predict readiness for future learning.

    The thing that strikes me most is that none of these four seem to actually have any idea what it is like trying to teach a complete curriculum in an inner city school.

    Not only are there no silver bullets, but no one really knows where the monsters are. I face them every day, and I would be far from comfortable making the sort of blanket assertions made here.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  8. Erik says:

    The way to close to achievement gap it to come to the realization that such a statistic is pointless because it is artificially created when people first try and calculate “achievement” by race or family income or gender or whatever category you wish to pick in the first place. That’s what makes the categories to begin with – DIFFERENT groups of people – trying to get the same outcome from a inherently different group of people is a work of futility.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0
  9. Joe Davidson says:

    More and better preschool is fine, but it is almost too late. By the age of three, the child has already gone through her most formative years. See “The Early Catastrophy” at

    Support for at-risk families and children both prenatal and in infancy is needed. Something as simple as getting a parent to read to their child can have lifetime benefits.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  10. doug says:

    I know what not to do…

    Give everyone standardized tests every couple of years. Teach to the test, everyone will achieve to this minimum standard. Yippee!

    Seriously, teach kids to read early.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  11. William R Millan says:

    So this is a sample of the best academic thinking on our school problem. It shows you just how bad off we are. Are these people this clueless, or just spinning because they can’t tell the truth? Either way, not much hope when this kind of thinking is guiding us.

    We can’t tell the truth about minority education except behind closed doors, I guess. First off, we need to break the Teacher’s Unions and the School Bureaucracy. That’s the reason Vouchers are so popular, and fought so hard. Everybody knows what is going on, but doesn’t want to talk about it.

    I guess the only “solution” is for things get so bad that even the Left admits the real problem.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  12. Punditus Minimus says:

    “Apprenticeships with craftspeople”? The great sociologist Prof. Murnane seems stuck in 1765. Not that our underachieving youth wouldn’t benefit from a summer working at the apothecary or the silversmith….

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  13. Mark S. Smith says:

    It’s pretty easy we just have to find incentives that will motivate the students, parents, and teachers. What those incentives are is the million dollar question. Suggestions: Pay the students for performance using funds allocated for current failing educational programs, pay the parents for students performance, pay the teachers for student performance. Of course we would have to figure out how to curb cheating since the benefits for cheating would increase.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  14. Jason says:

    I agree that Richard J. Mundane ignored the elephant in the room by blaming it on “poverty” when in fact all the empirical evidence shows that Asian and white kids do better in poor areas than Latin and Black kids, and ditto in wealthy areas – on AVERAGE. We also know from international testing that kids in poor countries often score much higher than American kids. Finally, we know that Black kids in American schools who have at least one grandparent who is Caribbean or African score much better than other African Americans.

    All of which points to the fact that its largely a family/social expectation thing. And I should know – I am half Mexican, half black, went to Berkeley undergrad and Stern for MBA (so I did well academically) but ALWAYS heard from my black and brown peers that I was “acting white” or “thought I was too good for them” because I took AP classes, etc.

    The fact is, we know from looking at the scores of Black and brown kids in wealthy school districts that until their is more social and parental pressure to do well, White, the Indian and Chinese (and even Caribbean Black) kids will do better.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  15. carmine cifaldi says:

    The BEST way to bridge the “Achievement Gap”, is to make sure, there is none … to start with. In this age of technological miracles, why not take advantage of some, by using them. Introduce REAL technology, in the Educational System, NOT just computers, “smart boards”, or other dis-jointed, technological pieces of equipment. You want a system, that has vetted teachers, teaching the same lesson, simultaneously, to all like-classes, regardless of the race, color, creed or economic circumstance of the students. How do you do this?
    See Website Clik on Home page.
    Clik on files … clik on Files … clik on TTEC Feb 25 2008 930K

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  16. Roberta L. Raymond says:

    Many of the comments and analyses deal with minority children in inner-city schools. Even more disturbing is the dramatic achievement gap that exists at excellent suburban schools. The issue of parental involvement (or lack of it) is also seen at the suburban schools in middle to upper class communities. Self-segregation and the feeling that high schievement is “acting white” have a negative effect on achievement by black or latino students. No question but that teacher involvement is critical and that positive reinforcement from teachers can be helpful. But, waiting until high school to confront the achievement gap is late, certainly never too late, but late. Some experts have stated that third grade is the cut-off point at which the gap becomes entrenched and becomes more and more difficult to lessen.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  17. Mark says:

    We always seem to begin this gap thought exercise by assuming the solution lies in tweaking schools, teachers and curriculum. Anyone with children in the system seems to get that it is the children themselves who are the issue. They arrive unprepared, unmotivated and uninterested. These are characteristics that require engaged parents to address. Currently, the parents of these children have been allowed to abdicate any responsibility in this arena (I find the argument that they cannot participate unpersuasive). I would love to see more solutions proferred that attempt to incentivise (or deincentivise) parents of at risk children. Rewarding the parent, even if that means a cash incentive would seem to be cheaper than dumping more into the system.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  18. Obi says:

    My family is black. My sister attends Columbia, and I went to Stanford… We both did very well on our SAT’s (exact same scores although I did better on the math 730, and she did better on the verbal). Why have we had relatively successful academic careers?

    I attribute much of it to our parents who are immigrants from Nigeria. Our parents view education as the ONLY means of social mobility. Better to become a doctor or professor where you are judged more on your schooling, than go in business or ‘wing it’ without a degree, where white people can more easily discriminate against you. Most of my Asian friends had parents who felt the same way.

    Black Americans will have to make a cultural shift and begin placing more importance on education. They have to do this even in the formative years, otherwise not even a good school can close the gap. Ebonics doesn’t help either…but that’s another issue

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  19. David says:

    The suggestion that better rewards for teachers (bonuses based on student achivement) misses the mark. No teacher wants their students not to achive.

    What is needed is for teachers of low achiving students to emulate the behaviors of teachers of high achiving students.

    What are those behaviors? How do we measure that the teachers do those behaviors? How can we reward teachers who do those behaviors?

    If we can get these teachers to change what they do in the classroom, student achivement will change.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  20. ak says:

    What about corporal punishment and discipline? Doesn’t the army have a good track record of improving achievement and straightening out youth from all races? And isn’t part of that success due to tough discipline and what is effectively legal corporal punishment?

    And don’t parochial schools (cf. Prof. Altonji’s work) have a better record of getting poor students to graduate (even after correcting for i.q., income, selection effects, and spending on students)? Much of that success is also due to discipline and high expectations.

    Without discipline, the worst behaving kids disrupt life for the great middle. Having removed discipline from the average classroom, schools have to rely on the cultural conditioning bequeathed by the kids’ parents. Middle class kids don’t suffer as much from a lax environment. The poor suffer a lot. So the poor (in culture) get poorer.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  21. rob says:

    In order to increase student engagement in school, it needs to be a privilege instead of a right. Why do classrooms in China with sixty students brim with excitement for learning while classrooms in the U.S. with fewer than half that teem with boredom and disinterest? Simple, in China if your not in school, then you are at work in the fields or factories. In the U.S. if you aren’t in school you

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  22. Robert L. says:

    . . . So the Harvard solution is blame the problem on racism and solve it by throwing money at it and dramatically increasing the size and power of government through mandatory preschool . . . what a shock.
    The first part of the solution is to recognize that there is no central, one size fits all solution and support a voucher program so that people can use local knowledge and multiple approaches.
    The second part of the solution is eliminating social promotion and demanding proficiency, in English, before any advancement to the next grade. Currently in schools there are zero tolerance policies in schools for everything except lack of proficiency in reading, writing, and math.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  23. Bruce says:

    If you spend any time at all with poor families – black or white – you come to understand very quickly how chaotic family life becomes when there is not enough money to pay basic living costs. The kinds of reforms outlined by Professor Murnane are urgently needed.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  24. Rob says:

    Consider this: The teacher prepares a lesson appropriate for the subject and grade. The teacher reviews previous learning and presents the new material. Students are questioned and asked questioned. Assessment at this point is that students appear to understand. Teacher makes assignment.

    At this point, some students will do nothing. Nothing!!!! These students do not learn. I am not sure how we can call this a failure of the “system”. The students who do the work learn much more than those who don’t.

    I invite anyone to find a teacher and ask them about this.

    Some of these same students have been observed finishing a state-wide test or a national test like the NAEP in ten minutes or so. The sometimes all the questions have the same answer colored in, sometimes there are nice designs. No effort in class, no effort on the exam…

    None of the experts really address this problem. There needs to be some kind of incentive to do the work or a dis-incentive for not doing the work. For some children this is provided at home. For too many it must be provided by the school and the school does not seem to be able to do this in the USA today.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  25. mrrunangun says:

    There are so many problems to solve in order to get a better citizen product out of the schools that serve the contemporary poor. Underfunding, family disorganization, a society that glorifies and rewards a lot of antisocial behavior – this combination of obstacles is hard to overcome, and they aren’t the half of it. As was pointed out in the intro, nothing tried so far has been shown to succeed against the forces arrayed against these children.

    On the issue of high performing teachers-those who know their subject material and are proficient at classroom management, behavioral management, and able foresee and head off problems – they are not all that thick on the ground. There are not enough to go around. Where I live, the rich towns pay two to three times the rate of the poor towns for teachers. And our poor towns are not poor by national standards. If you were a good teacher, dedication to the type of student in your poor school is all that would keep you in one. It would not be the money or the responsiveness of the average students.

    The schools are required to teach many things that my parents were expected to teach me such as sex ed, illicit drug avoidance, alcohol effects, tobacco effects. The lesson on tobacco effects was particularly memorable. They would have been affronted by the idea that they should yield that responsibility to the school. And the teachers can’t make them smoke packs of Luckies. If black history is that important for developing pride, why can’t parents still teach that at home? Instead, precious hours of classroom teaching time are mandated to be given to pet political projects created to satisfy narrow constituencies. Now that we have black history month, the poles are agitating for polish history month and the Mexicans want a Mexican history month. There are only so many hours in the school day and school year available for instruction. No wonder American university students don’t know what century the American civil war occurred in. No political constituency exists for teaching American history. In foreign schools which outperform ours, the curriculum is narrow and deep, by that I mean that communication and quantitation skills are developed in depth. It is not diluted with mandates for broad superficial coverage of topics of slight educational importance. This has led to a curriculum here that is overbroad and superficial as a whole. Many schools here are doing something called character education, emphasizing a character trait each week or month of the school term. My parents would have regarded that as presumptuous nonsense. Today we generally think it’s a good idea because we have no confidence in the parents’ ability to teach such things. The same lack of confidence in parents gives cover to the sex,drugs,alcohol, and tobacco ed and perhaps also the the various ethnic history curricula.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  26. Daniel G says:

    Well, we know what the answer isn’t: money. The DC schools have more money, per capita, then anywhere else in the country, and they are a disaster. I would kill the unions, slash the bloated central hierarchy, and provide a corporate model of success for teachers and principals. Moving money from central school hierarchies to teachers will raise salaries and attract better staff. We also need to get away from education degrees for High School teachers and require subject area expertise.

    Schools in underperforming areas should, by default, have full year school and extended hours. That will help parents and kids at the same time.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  27. M.E. says:

    It’s hard to imagine that people actually get paid to write editorials like this.

    The question should be:

    Can the IQ gap be closed?

    You answer this question, you solve the achievement gap problem.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  28. misterb says:

    I notice that you don’t have any employers among your panel of experts. I believe that a big mistake is made in not offering vocational training. Among those students who have no interest or inclination to go to college, there are many who could learn a useful trade, and probably find that more interesting and challenging than the academic education that schools try to force-feed them.
    Certainly society needs to create vocations for which people can be trained. We have over-mechanized, and in destroying occupations where workers can be proud of a skill and replacing them with McJobs, we have hurt our society in ways that educational programs can’t fix.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  29. Steve Sailer says:

    Clearly, these experts don’t really know how to solve the problem, so allow me to suggest that we at least stop making the problem worse through our immigration system. Let’s adopt a Canadian style immigration system that selects high human capital applicants for admission and keeps out low human capital immigration applicants.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  30. Student says:

    I always have a bit of trouble with questions like these. Obviously, we would like to insure that every student reaches his or her full potential. But would everything be fine for failing white children, as long as there is no longer a racial gap? Rather than being obsessed with race, why can’t we just try to insure that every individual student receives the best education that is financially reasonable?
    If we are only concern ourselves with the racial achievement gap, then we shouldn’t forget one potential method for closing it- intentionally dumbing down achieving white students.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  31. Dewey Munson says:

    How about just the 3 R’s so that what they are being taught resembles their real world?
    Probably with a provision to be able to choose other subjects.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  32. What Black Men Think says:

    So, so disappointing! All of this academic prowess, analysis and exercise in rationalization, and not one expert eluding to the fact that the gap is already pronounced and profound by the time African American children enter kindergarten, with too many African American children 2-3 years behind grade average in reading, writing and math skills. No educational system, no revamping, ron reinventing, no child left behind can make up that deficiency. I think Cosby summed it up best; before you buy your child the newest set of Air Jordan’s, buy Hooked on Phonics

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  33. rubemode says:

    I’m not sure where I remember seeing this idea, but i’ll share it anyways: An approach to the classroom could be to break down the large class into smaller groups and give each student a fraction of the day’s lesson. That way you can hammer home the point of inclusion rather than exclusion or isolation as a means to (not) getting an education. In other words, if everyone in the group wants to get they whole picture they have to rely on share information with one another. Students who perform well can learn to value and appreciate others in the room and the underperformers will hopefully be energized by the attention/peer pressure being paid to them. Jig-saw puzzle approach to classes.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  34. Mark Burgh says:

    My credos: Teaching since 1984 in every venue possible, but mainly Universities, including all Mormon and all Black, and now finishing my PhD.

    All of the experts offer interesting ideas, but schematized utopian thinking about education seldom addresses the true problems involved in teaching. Being redactive, I will break them down into two:

    1. In general, Americans despise education and teaching and always have.

    2. Students whose parents value education also value education.

    The very best and brightest of my students go into pre-law or pre-med; the most mediocre opt for teaching. Why? No money in teaching (see point 1). The very best and brightest of my students are second or third generation college attendees (see point 2).

    My control group: over 20,000 students, and reading and grading upwards of 50,000 essays.

    Schematized utopia:

    All resources allocated for a governmental unit (city, town, etc) to be parsed out equally, all teacher assignments to be random. All schools torn down and rebuilt to the same standard.

    All teachers paid better; merit rewarded; incompetence eased out.

    Here’s a little secret that no educational correctional program addresses: the best teachers love teaching and will do it for free, but they are also the most motivated, accomplished and prepared. The worst students feel hopeless and worthless, and need excellent teachers to make them better students.

    Ok, economists: where’s the money coming from for all this?

    Btw: I’ve assigned Freakonomics in Freshman Comp classes. Great book.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  35. d_anon says:

    While all of the posts have some strengths and weakness, the arrogance and shallow thinking of the Hoxby post is astounding.
    1) Use only methods based on experiments and not gut feelings or rationalizations.
    2) Anything she hasn’t personally tested isn’t based on experiments
    3) Link wages to performance even though no studies are cited and nothing more than a broad rationalization is given?!?!?
    4) Oh, and here’s one experiment I did that showed how a very expensive option that would be very hard to implement in all public schools does work well.

    Sure performance wages might help, but after a rant about experimentalism, the least she could have done was list some data from rigorous controlled studies that support her point.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  36. Adam says:

    An economics professor suggests a system to increase pay based on performance, a college policy analyst suggests a better stream line into college, a society professor suggests that improving the family life will help, and a state board of education member suggests that some teachers don’t try too hard. Does anyone else notice that each solution is slanted by their respective backgrounds and agendas? Also, that there is not a single public school teacher or administrator in the bunch. How can the discourse be furthered when a vital voice is left out? It is far to easy to say that we need better teachers especially when the researchers are not teaching professionals. A serious problem in education is that researchers and classroom teachers do not collaborate. How can a Ivy league professor or think tank analyst create policy without experiencing the classroom?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  37. browning says:

    Every teacher would like to walk into a class of well-nourished, well-rested, clean kids who are eager to be in school. Start there.

    Act on the conviction that we have too many convicts. We can save money by spending money on tutors and classroom aides, and even on teachers. The savings will come in reduced budgets for wardens and guards.

    Isn’t it disappointing to realize that we’ve been discussing these ideas since well before Brown v. Board of Education?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  38. Stats Student says:

    I am amazed that there has been only one mention of one of the most controversial aspects of this problem. Mental ability has been consistently shown to differ amongst different racial groups, just as athletic ability, height, and facial features differ amongst different racial groups. Mental ability as measured by the SAT, LSAT, GMAT, or even by IQ tests, have a very strong correlation with educational achievement. The only know persistent method of increasing IQ lifelong is adoption, regardless of what race the child or the parents are. This means that all the effort and special programs and money thrown at the issue will all fail miserably because they don’t address the underlying issue of IQ differences in different racial groups.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  39. cara says:

    “Given the unexceptional retention rates of college students, it’s evident that college readiness needs to be improved.”
    I’m not sure its fair to lay this blanket statement down. Working at a public state university, I see the problem often lies, not always in the educational preparation of the student, but the level of maturity of the student. Going away to college is often a young person’s first experience taking care of themselves and often they can’t handle it or CHOOSE NOT TO, but this is not necessarily the fault of the high school or education system, nor the fault of the college, like many parents like to imply when asking about retention rates. With college becoming less of a choice and more of a requirement for any kind of stable economic future, these students are feeling forced into something they may not want to do, and if the motivation is not there, the achievement may not follow. Often, the thought never occurs to them to question whether or not they really even WANT to go to college….

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  40. Shawn says:

    I enjoyed the first segment of this entry, especially Professor Hoxby’s recommendation that tools need to be implemented under scientific evaluation and not simply because “its the right thing to do”.

    For years, the Democrat Party has had its grip on education. Nothing has been accomplished. Nothing. I have always seen the education business somewhat of a scam. Think of teachers as factory workers that sit on the line all day and produce nothing. And then give them 3 months off in summer. Teaching (public) might be the only profession in the world where you can produce nothing and still get a raise (include politicians and school board members in this category).

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  41. Rotherwho says:

    Including Andrew Rotherham in this panel is akin to inviting Ann Coulter to a foreign policy roundtable with Condoleeza Rice, Henry Kissinger, and Madeline Albright. Shilling for a few narrow ideas with huge financial backing from the Gates Foundation does not make one an expert.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  42. Adam says:

    Wasn’t it Republican President Bush that pushed and signed the No Child Left Behind Act?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  43. Mike says:

    We should just be a communist society, right? That aughtta do it.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  44. mike says:

    My opinion is that education is a community thing, and perhaps the only way to have a wide effect is to have somebody from within the community itself step forth and push it. Attempts to force it from outside of the community often seem patronizing at best, and can be downright destructive at worst (like the turn of the century Indian boarding schools). This isn’t to say that outsiders can’t have a positive effect, only that insiders are best able to *lead* the effort and ensure that the movement as a whole resonates with what the community needs and can accept.

    I’m not black, but I’m minority, and one that is having education troubles of its own. It is a goal of mine (perhaps too lofty) to go back to my community and use the experience that I’ve received in the entertainment fields to push engineering, math, science, music, arts, literature in our community, in addition to keeping our own traditional culture going. I see something like this as more effective than having well-meaning but still outsider university staff come and lecture at us, as has happened in the past.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  45. Elchaggy says:

    I have several teacher friends and family and my opinion is along the lines of Hoxby: it’s a ‘lemons problem’. If I can’t tell a good teacher from a bad one, I pay all of them a discounted rate.

    It sounds like we know good teachers make a difference which implies we know something about measuring teachers. Why not push the rewards higher? (pretend for a moment that somehow the teachers union would get on board – which they wouldn’t). Go to some kind of stock broker model where you are 100% commisssion and licensed (cheaters go to jail). Top performers make millions. Bottom perfomers get nothing.

    Oversimplified I know but if teacher quality is a lever we can pull, why not yank it? Give this a pilot run somewhere and see if it makes a difference

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  46. AaronS says:

    The “Education Gap” will NEVER be solved, and for several good reasons:

    1) It may not be an “Education Gap,” but an “Intelligence Gap.” Perhaps. Maybe. Possibly.

    2) However, if there is an intelligence gap, so what? There is certainly an “Athletic Performance Gap,” but no one is upset, black or white, about it. In fact, we whites rightly rejoice when a Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods excels at their sport. That is, it’s NOT a “black or white” thing–it’s a human thing. But to consider that there might be a similar, gentically-based, “Intelligence Gap,” that is off-limits. Not because it might not be true, but because it is not politically-correct.

    3) Even if there is an Education Gap (and not an Intelligence Gap), as Freakonomics implied, we will never solve it because we do not have the fortitude to make politically-incorrect changes–even if they would greatly benefit black children and the next generation of blacks. Very simply, in Freakonomics, if I recall correctly, a black (under-achieving) child, when placed in a classroom of whites (who, presumeably, were achievers), tended to have scores that were within the average of their white peers.

    So what does America do? We lump thousands of blacks together in shoddy, inner-city schools, where the school population is predominately black, and think that if we just give more money, all will be well. Why not simply put no more than, say, 15 blacks per hundred whites in a school? This just might make the Freakonomics finding come true on a mass scale.

    For that matter, surround black children with Asian children (who are presumeably the best performers of all, on average)! It might do more than close the gap–it might cause them to excel the gap!

    But we will NEVER do it. We’d rather try, yet again, the failed policies of the past.

    I say that it is OWED to the black community to do all we can to ensure that they do no remain a permananet fixture at the bottom of the econmic and education barrel.

    Political correctness may well be the death of the black race in America.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  47. elchaggy says:

    Did I miss the post from a Nobel Prize winning economist that says the ‘intelligence’ and ‘performance’ gap in race has been found?

    Black/White/Asian is a poor sorting methodology for finding intelligence or performance – however it is defined.

    To borrow from something else I read here, why not just sort boys and girls based on height, because boys on average are taller than girls.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  48. MsPrecise says:

    According to Tolle, it is our ego that tells we are that different. In fact, we have much more in common that are illerate non-performing individuals of every race and on every economic strata. We all have a journey, though our paths and starting points are different, everyone has an opportunity to be their best, but we don’t all start from the same vantage point.

    IQ and Athletics are just a few ways the ego attempts to separate itself, and lord us higher than “others”. At our core, we are ALL the same. When we begin to highlight differences we lose the ability to see the wonder, beauty, and sameness in others. When we say we can’t understand why this or that is the case, we tell ourselves we are different; that we would do it differently.

    Exposure to the world around you whether through reading, travel, or an engaging teacher, and having the ability to dream and see yourself successfully achieving your dreams is key to where you how far you go in life. A limited ability to hope, or dare to dream for many is a result of broken spirit. No child starts out wanting to be lost, no child starts out wanting a life of crime, no child starts out wanting to be illiterate, or non performing. Research shows that when a child has just one person who really sees him/her and really believes in him/her, they perform better. So, what a travesty that so many children do not have access to others who believe in them. They do not need to be parents or grandparents, anyone can be an impetus for a young person excelling.

    So, as we consider closing the achievment gap or any gap, we must do so in a morally responsible ways. We must consider what is governments role, what is the communities responsibility, what must families do, and finally what is our individual responsibility. As individuals we are all culpable if we stand aside and blame the “system”. If a significant portion of children of any ethnic origin is falling behind, there is some impetus beyond just the family that is at play. I doubt seriously any parent wants to see their child living worse than themselves. We all want our children to succeed. But in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, if your basic needs are not being met (food, security, health) then its very difficult to focus on education. So, those who point to white children of poverty who out perform individuals of color then we must look closely at how teachers respond to or ignore children in the classroom. For instance, just yesterday (3/18) a young black male student in Florida who asked to be excused to the restroom, was instead made to urinate in a lunch box in front of his classmates. If these experiences were yours, peppered slights, being ignored, consistently being wrongly accused of mis-doings, the butt of snide comments… why would school represent a place where a child would want to go an be volunerable towards learning? Whether or not we accept that discrimination exists, well-meaning, unconscious teachers of all races are prone to judgements. Children, regardless of their home-lives, do not all experience school the same way, do not all learn the same way, are not stimulated by the same things, do not exist apart from the challenges they face at home.

    What can WE do? That is the question. We don’t have to wait on government to mentor or tutor a struggling child.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  49. Ethan Gray says:

    Employing our most highly effective teachers with the task of working with disadvantaged students is one solution that we know “works” to close the achievement gap. Andy Rotherham also makes an important point that no other comments have picked up on thus far (at least none of the 50 or so I just read): “different schools have different effects on similar students.” There are high achieving schools throughout the country that are drastically improving the educational outcomes of students who might be under-performing elsewhere. Charter networks like KIPP, Achievement First, and Uncommon Schools, as well as district-led initiatives like Boston Pilot Schools and expanded learning time schools are all improving student outcomes.

    Do we know the secrets of these schools’ success? Sort of. It’s a combination of high expectations, motivated and effective teachers, longer school days/years, rigorous curricula, and substantial parental involvement. So why don’t we have more of these schools, or why haven’t we replicated their practices at schools across the country? This question gets at the heart of one of the enduring frustrations within the education reform community: the degree to which we know what needs to be done but can’t find the political will-power necessary to make more than marginal changes to policy at the system level.

    One of the reasons we don’t have more of these schools is because they haven’t changed the practices of most traditional district schools; reform by enlightenment, in which one assumes new ideas will spread as soon as they hit the intellectual marketplace, is often made impotent by the political barriers currently in place in today’s systems. But there is another reason these schools/approaches haven’t proliferated as quickly as they could: a limited capital market for growth.

    Here’s one idea that Jon Schnur from New Leaders for New Schools has been talking about recently: let’s create a federal “Grow What Works Fund” that helps schools and other programs that improve student achievement get taken to scale. One way to increase the number of effective schools is to create the right incentives to help them grow and spread.

    There are teachers and schools that are already closing the achievement gap; let’s support the teachers and help the schools grow by recognizing and rewarding what works.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  50. Boring Lawyer says:

    There are 4 parts
    1) the students
    2) the teachers
    3) the educational staff
    4) the parents

    Public money can tinker with 2 and 3, but 1 and 4 are the most important variables.

    The students have to be ready to learn, and that goes back to the parents.

    These pundits are dancing around the problem that parents actively, inactively, consciously, or unconsciously hold their own children back.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  51. Dr. Veritas says:

    In modern western rational philosophy and science an important governing principle is parsimony (or “Occam’s Razor”)– i.e. the simplest explanation is usually the true one. Since it is well known that blacks and Hispanics are less intelligent (i.e. lower IQ) than whites and East Asians, some scientists (e.g. Arthur Jensen, Charles Murray, Richard Herrnstein, Linda Gottfredson, Richard Lynn, Phil Rushton, and James Watson) have surmised that this probably is the main reason for why they have lower academic achievement.

    Anyone who seriously delves into the matter will quickly conclude that of course the real reason that lower IQ ethnic groups (blacks and Hispanics) have lower academic achievement is because on average they tend to be less intelligent. Any honest teacher will tell you that the three main factors that predict academic achievement in a student are 1. IQ, 2. IQ, and 3. IQ; beyond this raw intelligence factor then more minor things like effort and discipline can also be significant. Ever wonder why elite high schools (e.g. NYC Stuyvesant & Bronx Sci, Boston Latin, San Francisco Lowell, Fairfax County Thomas Jefferson etc.) and elite universities (Ivy League schools, Stanford, Duke, Cal Tech, MIT, Berkeley etc) tend to have student bodies comprised about half or more of higher IQ ethnic groups (Jews and East Asians), do you think it may have something to do with higher intelligence causing higher academic achievement?

    IQ is simply a measure of general intelligence. IQ variation between adults is about 70 to 80% due to gene differences (i.e. heredity); in young children it is about 30 to 40% due to genes. All this talk about how blacks and Hispanics would perform far better academically if only they could attend better schools is ridiculous nonsense! There are countless examples of affluent blacks who attend the same schools as middle class and upper class whites and asians, yet the upscale blacks and Hispanics still show much lower academic achievement compared with their white and Asian classmates. In fact the late U Cal Berkeley sociologist John Ogbu wrote a book about how black students from affluent homes in a suburb of Cleveland (Shaker Heights) still performed much worse than their fellow white students. In most cities if you switched the student body from all black inner city ghetto schools with the student body from the most affluent suburbs and left the teachers in place, I am certain that suddenly all the upscale parents would be talking about bad the suburban schools are and how excellent the inner city schools are. It is all about how smart the students are, not how fancy the building is or how “good” the teachers are. This is really nothing new, the Johns Hopkins sociologist James Coleman proved this during the 1960s in his famous “Coleman Report”.

    Dubner, Levitt, Hoxby, Hurley, Murnane, and Rotherham continue to wish for their dream-world in which all ethnic groups will show the same academic achievement. In order for this to actually happen it will be necessary for Jewish and East Asian students to become much dumber and for black and Hispanic students to become much smarter. But alas there is no known way to increase IQ other than choosing higher IQ parents (again IQ is mostly genetically determined — NOT the environment as the old behaviorist psychologists once mistakenly thought). In fact the famous psychologist Dr. Robert Plomin claims that IQ is the most strongly inherited of all well characterized human mental traits. IQ is as strongly heritable as is height.

    One way to achieve the equalitarian goal of equal academic achievement for all ethnic groups would be to penalize all higher IQ children by giving them the worst teachers and dumbing down their curriculum, then they would develop phenotypic IQs of about 100 eventhough their genotypic IQs were say 110 or higher. Similarly the best teachers would be reserved for the stupidest students, thus children with IQs of 85 would act like they had IQs of 100. This would probably work pretty well until the students were in about 6th grade, then the low IQ students would tend to have problems with g-loaded subjects like more complex math and science and literature interpretation. But that is okay because Bill Gates can continue to hire smart software workers from India and China even after the USA is converted into an Idiocracy (hey did you all see the Mike Judge movie?).

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  52. pinq says:

    It comes back to parents. My father used to tell me, “I want you children and your children to live a better life than I did.” This used to be a common anthem for Americans. Where has it gone?
    I’m an American living in a Middle Eastern country. I am surrounded here by men from Nepal, Pakistan, the Philipines, India and other developing countries. They work under slavelike conditions. They usually see their families once every 3 years or so but talk to them monthly over the internet. They tell me they sacrifice their life to earn better wages to support the education of their children. Their monthly conversation with their children are full of encouragement, motivation, and challenge. These are the kind of people who would make good Americans.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  53. achilles3 says:

    This was fantastic.

    Thank you for focusing on Education:-)

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  54. DJH says:

    I have no comprehensive solutions either, but a few ideas.

    1. Measuring success by rate of admission to higher education is not necessarily valid. Not all kids are going to go on to college, no matter how good a high school is. While it would be nice if everyone had some kind of post-high-school education (if only an associate degree or equivalent), the fact is that there are lots of jobs out there which do not require this, so we need not put kids through it, and by extension, we should not judge schools’ success solely on this basis.

    2. Based on this same principle (i.e. that not all kids are going to college, even under the best school systems), I wonder if we shouldn’t go back to the days of the old “vocational school” as an alternative to “regular” high school. Along with this I’d suggest an expansion of these vocational schools to include fields other than what used to be called “the trades.” There are many fields now requiring moderate skill-sets which are not necessarily “college level,” which kids might be trained for, making these vocational schools an appealing alternative to regular high school.

    3. We desperately need to reinstitute truancy laws. Make kids go to school. I’d even opt to force kids to remain in school until they graduate or turn 18 (in today’s world there are few, if any, who MUST work to support their families, as sometimes was the case in a more agrarian economy). Exceptions should be made for only the most extraordinary cases … but aside from these, everyone else stays in school. And if the kids won’t go, prosecute the parents/guardians. Do whatever it takes.

    4. We also desperately need to reinstitute discipline in schools. Too many parents happily undermine school discipline by insisting their little knee-biters are without fault. Sorry, but EVERY single kid acts up, at one time or another; no kid is perfect, contrary to what these militant parents may think. We need to put teachers and administrators back in control of schools and not let them be run by kids or their enabler-parents. Now, I can’t prove that discipline would necessarily improve kids’ academics directly, but it would foster a safer atmosphere for everyone (educators and students alike) to work in, and I cannot see how that might not help. It certainly might improve the high turnover in teachers’ jobs.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  55. Mike in Texas says:

    Too bad you didn’t think to ask any REAL teachers. Hoxby publishes pseudo research without having it reviewed or checked for accuratacy. As a teacher I could care less what she thinks.

    Why are so many people like her given status as “experts” in education when they are anything but?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  56. Matt Johnston says:

    We as a society fear the very thing Hoxby supports, actual scientific research on education. To accomplish a randomized sample means teaching two kids in different ways, one of which at least we are sure will work (if not both of them). So we try our new idea on everyone with nary a clue as to what we expect to get or whether it will even work. Then there are the various stakeholders in the current status quo, the education industry, the teachers’ unions, and to a certain extent the political elites who need a crisis to mandate their involvement. Too much success leads to less of a “crisis” and less need for intervention. In short, we fear that finding something valuable in a real experiment will simply highlight our societal ineptitude when it comes to educating our children.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  57. TeachMoore says:

    You “gathered people with wisdom and experience in this area”? Then, why not ask one of the teachers in this country (and there are many) who SUCCESSFULLY bridge that gap every day? Hint: You can find some online at Teacher Leaders Network.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  58. Mike B. says:

    The problem is not the education gap, it’s the IQ gap. Unfortunately, no amount of social engineering or politically correct doublespeak is going to make that go away.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  59. David Reynolds says:

    It is, of course, absurd for a single teacher to clamor for attention among all the voices listed so far, but I think the Freak folks should give this topic another go around (or five) because there are some points that have not been raised that fundamentally tear this issue at the seams.

    A physicist by training, I can tell you that educational “experts” display no working knowledge of how the observer influences what he observes. Though noble to demand that we “scientifically study” every educational reform we can think of, it is the equivalent of taking a blindfolded inventory of a jewelry shop – with a sledgehammer. The conviction that we MUST measure the performance of our students and teachers overrides any discussion of HOW it should be done. Any proposals put forth that don’t explicitly state how they will measure success are putting the multimillion dollar cart before the horse.

    It’s nice to know you care enough to study my profession, but excuse me if I wince when you show up. I know full well the hindrances placed on education by the union, but when I get an unsatisfactory rating on my teaching ability and have my job put at-risk because I haven’t updated a bulletin board within the past two weeks, to whom else should I turn? And have no illusions that this story is an outlier. “Educational reforms” sweep through inner city schools, clutching studies showing that “92% of all successful schools are alike in that bulletin boards of student work are kept up to date.” But any Freakonomist knows: Correlation is not Causation! Unfortunately, the tools chosen to measure schools to determine who is in greatest need of “reform” are also tools to measure poverty. Is there any surprise when the poorest schools are the focus of this abuse?

    There is a dangerous strain of thought that runs through nearly all of this discussion. My favorite title for it is “The Proletarianization of Education,” but I can simply make my point that we would not be having this discussion about any other profession. Despite the FACT that this nation’s investment bankers have demonstrated gross, catastrophic incompetency, there is no discussion of how we can show them how to do their jobs properly (read: mandated curricula and pedagogy). We certainly don’t compare them to factory workers, conjuring assembly line visuals and demanding, foreman-like, a higher output of quality product. And yet, here are the teachers – arguably the single most important profession toward maintaining the continuity of our society – and suddenly it becomes acceptable for an entire occupation to get bossed around.

    The implications are clear if you choose to look at them: Workplaces with high restrictiveness decrease innovation, worker investment, and morale – all of which decrease overall efficacy. You do not run a private enterprise like this and stay in business for very long. Secondly, but all the more horrifying, is what this assembly-line mentality says about our children. Namely, that they are cans to be filled and sealed, the output of a mass production scheme. America’s competitive advantage has always been in the innovation generated by our relative freedom. That which we really want from our children is that which we cannot measure: creativity, passion, work ethic, and inspiration.

    Finally, to those who insist that standardized tests are measuring intelligence and not the codified racial poverty that exists in this country, I can only hope you open your eyes to the appalling slippery slope on which you stand. I pray that our world never forces you to slide down it.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  60. Robert R says:

    Many years ago, I was fortunate to attend elementary school in Homewood, Illinois, a nice middle class suburb south of Chicago. Back in those days (the 60s) I remember that we focused on the three “Rs” and your family was expected to be responsible for the other stuff. Homewood today is not especially wealthy but still enjoys a reputation in Chicagoland for good schools, and thus attracts a certain kind of resident.

    I now live in Colorado and my kids attend school in the state’s best school district. Their elementary school is top-ranked and most of the kids at the local high school go onto college. In short, it’s very similar to old Homewood, with intact families, strong parental involvement and high standards. People move into my neighborhood because it has good schools; the school district is prominently featured in real estate ads. Parents sacrifice time and money for their children. Children are the family’s priority.

    In short, both school districts in my personal experience produce good results because they start with good inputs: children with good role models, stable family lives which include two parents still married, and a safe, secure living environment. The main problem with our educational system today is that we have a shortage of good inputs. Schools don’t need to have the best computers, the most comprehensive library or the nicest athletic fields to be successful. All those things are nice to have but are not critical. We as a society need to focus more on the quality of parenting and the lives children lead at home. Kids who arrive at school ready to learn, curious about the world and excited to make something of their lives tend to do well in any environment. Blaming teachers, unions, or the government is kind of a smokescreen which makes a lot of people feel better but does nothing to actually improve the situation.

    There are numerous technical adjustments which could be made to just about any school or curriculum (noted by the other writers) which would certainly enhance the nation’s educational system in general, but I’m afraid the core problem problem remains one of declining parental and personal responsibility, especially in many minority neighborhoods where stable families have almost ceased to exist.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  61. Paul Hughes says:

    I’m a history teacher. As we look at the rise and fall of great nations, we are on the decline. Immorality has crept into our lives like a cancer in every level of society. It eats and erodes the foundations of decency in all of our families. Our children are often disrespectful, our school system focuses on the top 20% that would go to college and make it all the way through. The 80% that go to high school that says they are going to college and never make it will be scrambing for any job available. I hate gloom and doom, but our economy is in the dumper and it will get worse before it gets better. We are looking for leadership in this nation. We are looking for a leader that will clean house and make things right. I don’t know if we can rely on one man to do the changing, but we can rely on a voice from a nation to make the right changes. Let’s do the right thing for our nation. Even if it hurts.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  62. Kathy says:

    Robert R., that very problem exists right next door to lovely Homewood, in the surrounding burbs of Hazel Crest, Harvey, Tinley Park, etc. How exactly do we get the parents to “fix” themselves so they’re more like Homewood parents? Or how about outside of Cherry Hill or Boulder or whatever “top” Colorado school system your kids attend?

    Successful schools in low-income areas have one thing in common: Their staffs are successful in getting parents involved.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  63. Hellen Harvey says:

    When educators, not researchers, are the educational policy makers we might see some change. When teachers drive educational change and there is a public and political will to do it – there will be change for the better.
    A longer school day – ya right.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  64. Nancy Damron--Social Studies Teacher says:

    December 2006 I had the pleasure of attending the National Council for the Social Studies’ (NCSS) annual conference in Washington, D.C. Listening to various speakers, I was reminded of the importance of discord and varying perspectives in a thriving democracy. Every educator present was there for one reason-we want to be better at what we do. This involved listening to those with different perspectives than our own, being forced to think outside our comfort zone and willing to learn, as well as being rejuvenated by the support and enrichment given from like-minded persons.
    John Stossel, a 20/20 anchor, and other panel members discussed the state of education in America. The debate reminded me of much that is good in our system-freedom of speech, choice, compromise, and conversation. Without this kind of exchange ideas become lost, imagination stifled, and American beliefs like freedom of choice lost. In the spirit of this American cultural tenet, I also became alarmed at the over simplification and generalizations made when discussing how to improve American schools. I find myself having the same thoughts as I read current publications, blogs, and the like today.
    The founding fathers (Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, etc.) believed that in order for our democracy to survive for ages to come, we must have citizens educated to a degree as to maintain the democratic practices that sustain our society-things like knowing how to read, educated voting, being able to earn a living, and asking critical questions about what we believe, think, and how we act. Over time, this foundational, American belief has manifested itself in the form of public education. Of course, it took decades to see this idea develop into what we now would recognize as public education, but it did with the 20th century issue of immigration fueling it along.
    During the era of Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement, we found America rising to shout that all children, despite race, ethnicity, or creed, should have an “equal” education. It became apparent that children were not getting the same quality education in regards to the physical structure of their learning environments or academic opportunities. The standard (an equal education) created as a result of this outcry, remains vague and lacks the specificity we need to determine how “good” of an education the government should provide to its citizens. Should it be a “C” level education…average? Or an “A” level…excellent? What would this look like and how much would it cost per student? Are we willing to use tax dollars to fund this? Should it look a certain way if we want citizens to be literate and responsible citizens?
    Due to the inequities we still find in education, things like high illiteracy rates in urban areas and on American Indian reservations and high numbers of violent acts on school property, parents, educators, and various organizations struggle to find the “silver bullet”-the fix it all solution-to leveling the playing field so that all kids have the same chances of succeeding in our global society. We hear things in the media and education circles like privatization, charters, vouchers, failing schools, and No Child Left Behind and wonder what forces are shaping the American education experience for children. What forces, or what push and pull actions, are shaping the minds of students across the nation? Solutions are offered by everyone; for we are all education experts…we were in school for 13 years and can speak from experience as to what was effective and what wasn’t-for our self. Perspectives gained by this experience shape the filter we use to process all we hear about education in America.
    John Stossel defended his 2006 episode on what’s wrong with America’s schools, reiterating that vouchers and other forms of privatization in public school systems would only benefit students from all economic classes in America. He often drew comparisons between public schools and the free market, or capitalistic economic system, we have in the United States. Mr. Stossel argued that his years of covering consumerism in the United States showed him that in large part, capitalism has treated us well. If we don’t want to buy something created or sold by a given company for an array of reasons, we simply take our money else where and teach the business who lost our loyalty a lesson…if you want to sell to me you have to lower your gas prices, or give your employees medical benefits, or raise the quality of your cars, or increase your supply of giggling Elmos. Once a business (a supplier) hears our critiques as consumers in the form of lost income or sales, they will change their ways because they want our business, or more specifically our money. This exchange stands true for products and services ranging from a loaf of bread to various forms of journalism and what you see on TV. As time passes, this process of give and take results in a free market, not guided by the government determining how things ought to be supplied or consumed but one whose product selection, prices, and quality have been guided by our choices as consumers. Stossel argued that this process has brought prosperity to the United States and to people all over the world. And he’s right. So why not apply these tried and true practices to schools? Why not let our product, the learned student, benefit from a system which must improve itself to stay in business, to keep the school doors open? Why not let students of low performing schools choose where to learn as a consumer chooses where he/she shops?
    This sounds logical and fair in a society based on freedom of choice but it’s just not that simple. We need to answer a few questions before deciding if market forces are the best method of creating successful schools. First, what is the purpose of education in America? Is it to provide opportunity for economic gain? Is it to provide the opportunity for one to seek life, liberty and happiness? Or is it to sustain our democracy? In any of these circumstances, it then stands to reason that every citizen must be given the same content, skills, and chances in life to ensure a level playing field. If this is true and following this path of logic, education is the “Great Equalizer” in American society. Despite your background, if we all have the same education, then we all have the same chance to use it to our advantage and to pursue whatever it is that will maintain or improve the United States while also giving us money, happiness, life, and liberty.
    But how do we know if schools are leveling the playing field in this way? In short, how do we know if a school is doing its job? Test scores-the most highly used method to determine academic gains. We are educating hundreds of thousands of kids in this nation. Extensive examination on a yearly basis seems impossible. Therefore, in an imperfect world, it seems we have no other choice but to use one time snapshots of what’s been learned at a given grade to decide which schools, or more specifically which teachers, are improving minds. Now that we are working from the same assumptions, let’s apply this to schools as market systems being guided by economic forces, or push-pull actions.
    Economic forces like supply, demand, and competition are most effective in controlling an economy because the control to push or pull lies in the hands of the sellers and buyers; they are the muscle, not the product. As mentioned previously, if a seller displeases us, we simply go elsewhere and let the loss of profit be the seller’s failing report card. But, can you imagine a tennis shoe or a computer determining whether its seller is successful? The computer would tell you where to buy the plastic for the key board and how much to pay for the microchip. No, of course this doesn’t make sense; sellers and buyers determine quality of raw materials used to make a product and the quality of the final product, quantities of the product to sell when and at a specific location, and the price of the product at hand. Although this process is slow and done by an invisible hand of compromise over price, quality, and quantity, it works well with humans providing inanimate objects or serves to groups of people.
    Comparing education to this business model has major flaws. An inanimate object is subjected to the will of the maker and consumer. If the quality of the raw materials is less than favorable, suppliers can go elsewhere to make adjustments until they have what they need to create a product desirable to the consumer and thus making the supplier a profit. Teachers don’t choose who they get in their classroom; they do not choose the content taught or the books used. They don’t even determine how much to spend on the creation of their product, the student. The only factor the supplier, or teacher in this analogy, has control of is what instructional methods are used, what activities and presentation skills he/she uses to teach. How can we place free market expectations on a supplier who has no control over quality, quantity, or price? It seems unfair to hold schools and teachers solely responsible for student academic achievement when so many variables are beyond their control.
    This statement then brings to light another issue which many teachers/schools have been avoiding. While schools can make a difference in the lives of kids, outcomes can not be guaranteed. The raw materials, what kids come in with, are uncertain and a teacher or administrator has no option to go elsewhere to get different raw materials. To admit that this impacts what we do in the classroom makes us vulnerable to an issue which cuts to the center of an educator’s heart…can we truly shape minds and to what extent? The answer: yes we can but results won’t be constant or guaranteed and we see examples of schools across the nation making significant gains in student achievement despite the raw materials with which they work. So what are they doing? Does it have to do with free market expectations being placed on schools? No, it’s about best practice.
    We all agree every child should have the opportunity to learn. We also agree that without education society as we know it will fail. Further, we can agree that children should not be subject to ill conceived and executed academic guidance. Assuming consensus on these points, we must decide if it is fair to have schools and teachers go it alone-being solely responsible for student achievement. The path of student achievement is impacted by multiple factors and when we are working with the dynamic minds of young learners we must realize there are no quick answers nor is there one answer like privatization of schools to level the playing ground. We live in a fast food, fast news, short attention span world. We like simple and exciting explanations and answers (and please note that I said ‘we’ not ‘they’ or ‘you’). To avoid losing ratings and support, politicians and media sources tend to comply with our society’s “fast food” demands. In doing so, we search for solutions to problems that often result in the creation of band-aid fix-its, leading to anything but long term, effective reform in education.
    Research clearly states that students who have parents involved in their education achieve at greater levels. Creating parent teacher programs for communities that extend from birth to 8 years of age have proven to statistically improve student achievement. We also know that schools employing best practices in 1. staff development or training of teachers; 2. instructional methods (the way we teach); 3. school leadership; and 4. teaming i.e. professional learning communities and small learning communities see the greatest strides in student achievement. ASCD also noted that early research is showing that schools who address the needs of the whole child statistically surpass schools that do not on achievement tests. Clearly, the idea of schools improving practices in instruction, curriculum, and leadership in order to draw more students to their schools as a potential for soaring profit margins is a simplistic view of the complexities of the education system. Research shows that multiple schools have pieces of the key to unlock student achievement–there is no one silver bullet. Using the meta-analysis studies offered by researchers like Robert Marzano AND partnering with families in the community to design a community of learners excelling both in their academic life and personal development as a citizen will yield greater strides in improvement compared to scaring the masses with publicized test scores (good and bad), performance pay, descriptions of a failing society, and the like. The American spirit which defines our nation’s resolve and ingenuity is a great asset but public education is a key player in it all. Bringing balance to the system and allowing education to open doors for ALL students, can only be had through school-community partnerships and relevant, powerful content instruction.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  65. Stats Student says:

    To Veritas:

    There IS one consistent, measurable way to permanently raise IQ: adoption. Adopted children score 5-7 points higher than their racial average on IQ tests.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  66. Charles Rentz says:

    To the Think Tank Gurus:

    Here is the process for change to take place – I was going to open with, (if you’re attending national conventions, reading paper’s published by PhDs, etc. then you’re not the right person for the job. Please do not take this statement the right way because information is the most important commodity in the history of the world. The fact of the matter is that we need less information to analyze. What we need are educational systems that promote more leaders, promote independent thinking, incorporating “Real Life Psychology” into the daily curriculum into every level of our education system.

    Yes…the leaders too…My principle is very much like “Peter’s Principal” (just a quick joke here – peter’s principal is Jesus if you believe in it.) Haha…I’m talking about Peter’s Principle and if you don’t know this concept then go to Wikipeia and educatate yourself because this comment is over your head. The principle I am talking about is “Charles’ Principle.” This is that Leaders, Teachers, Mentors, etc. can only teach to the level of their own incompetence. I better speak about the Process before I ramble into a state of unconscienceness.


    – teach “Real Life Psychology” to everyone especially the students at every level

    – launch a awarness campaign that “We Need To Start Thinking Long Term.” Targets are obviously everyone, but especially the children of tomorrow because they will be our leaders in the imminent future. We have to start teaching the kids that the decisions they make today will impact them in the long run. (etcetera, etcetera, etcetera)

    – mandate laws that require (yes REQUIRE) parents to attend parenting classes 1 hour per week that will primarily teach parents the Importance of a “Child’s Education” – their child.

    – roll out this new process to all level’s in the educational system simultaneously. (this means: seminars for board of education members, teachers, principals, parents and students)

    – Launch an educational campaign whose motto is: “Parents Are Ultimately Responsible for their Child’s Education No Matter What School They Attend.”

    – Create a collaborative organization whose affiliates are non-political based and who DON’T have personal or business agendas, AND whose focus is on inacting this plan/process

    – Lobby to form a law that mandates a new level of goverment called “The Educational Branch” who will be composed of 100 members. 1 political representative from each state and 1 non-political member chose from the above newly established organization

    – This plan will have legitamate performance measures that are non-political (to the best we can obviously) AND must be conducted over a reasonable amount of time

    – this will be a 15 year plan where phase Ia years 1-3 will encompass strategy, collaboration, resource integration, lobbying and positioning (not necessary in that order). In concert to Phase Ia will be Phase IIa which will cover the new “Real Life Psychology” curriculum and launch criteria, contingency plans and goals.

    – phase IIa 4-8 will be the launch of the plan

    – phase IIb in parallel to IIa will be a comprehensive research study to evaluate the impact of the “Real Life Psychology” Curriculum that is specifically designed to work in relation to the research to actually establish some “Real Life” statistics that will have some long term benefit and impact.

    – Phase III will be the refinement of the process and are years 8-10

    – final Phase is years 11-15 where we will impliment the refinement R and D then perform a research study once again.

    So for anyone reading or the Think Tank individuals who monitor this blogs looking for the “diamonds in the ruff” who have:

    1) right and left brain working in concert
    2) strategic thinker and planner
    3) integrative thinker and process
    4) ultra-creative thinker
    5) sequential thinker integrated with creativity
    6) subjective thinker who can switch to objectivity when necessary or integrate both
    7) multidimentionally gifted
    8) ability to communicate on virtually any level of intelligence, cultural, gender, age, but most importantly the Humanist Level.
    9) Most importantly: one who questions authority and is not intimidated by the status of anyone

    In closing….send me an email if anyone reading is interested in using my mind. This of course will be at no cost to anyone except myself.

    Sincerely and Respectfully to My fellow Americans and Planetary Human Friends,

    Charles T. Rentz

    ps. you may call me charlie

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  67. jp says:

    As a teacher who has had the opportunity to work in urban and suburban schools, I can say I enjoyed reading this. Several recommendations are definitely on the mark. Generational poverty in urban areas significantly hinders student achievement. Throwing money at it will not solve anything, unless it is used appropriately and effectively. Successful urban schools should be evaluated to determine what they are doing that is making an impact. Only those criteria should be replicated! Teachers DO have a significant impact on student achievement. Effective teachers focus on active learning and are aware of student needs. They use a variety of approaches and definitely maintain high standards for behavior and academic excellence. Merit pay is not something that will increase teacher effectiveness. That money would be better spent on professional development. A personal investment in students is what will make a teacher better.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  68. arh says:

    Those of you suggesting “IQ” as a measure of educational success might want to read the article in the January 2008 issue of Scientific American Mind about what attributes allow students succeed in life. In a nutshell, the ability to accept failure and try again trumps what might be considered ‘innate intelligence’, on the average. This is a message my middle school students are very encouraged to hear. (Not a teacher, just a tutor)

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1
  69. Caryl Davis says:

    I so much enjoyed and concurred with the ideas voiced by contributors and bloggers the same. I especially agree with the declarations of parental involvement and responsibility, “outcomes cannot be guaranteed”, holding learners accountable, and that there isn’t a cure-all for the monumental differences between African-American and European-American learners in our public school systems. Conversely, I was taken aback by the comments of Ms. Caroline Hoxby. Obviously written through the lens of an economist, it appears that Ms. Hoxby has very little authentic knowledge of the day-to-day operation of an urban classroom.

    Her suggestion of using incentive pay to increase student achievement once more places the teacher at the helm of educational ills. Those of us who live the day-to-day existence of dedicated educators know that throwing money at overcrowded classrooms, starvation, homelessness, teen parenthood, fatherlessness, poverty, behavioral challenges, and the like will not solve the dilemma of black-white achievement. The gap will begin to close when we as a nation realize and act as if equal access to educational resources for all children is necessary for our survival.

    In the court of popular opinion, public schools have been viewed and used as dumping grounds for “useless” children who can’t learn. No wonder those who can, send their children to schools where overcrowding, poverty, and teen parenting are not issues. To the contrary, urban education – when nurtured and tended – is comparable to the best in the realm of K-12 training. Quite honestly, educational theoreticians have hidden behind the veil of research and policy for so long that they are blind to the harsh realities of race, inequity, and injustice permeating our urban school systems. With high school graduation rates at 45% in some districts, the veil needs to come off.

    So while we wait for the problems of race inequity, poverty, the sickness of low expectations, and fatherlessness in America are solved, I implore Ms. Hoxby to speak with urban school learners who are directly impacted by the decisions (or lack there of) made by policy makers. They will offer a candid and insightful perspective of what really matters in education.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  70. Cynthia Mitchell says:

    The first step in closing the black-white achievement gap is to stop referring to it as a black-white achievement gap. Why must we use race to discuss our differences in this country? Has anyone thought about the damage we do to the psyche of the black child with headlines bemoaning the poor performance of black children versus white children on all measures of academic success? The implication is the gap is a consequence of the child’s race. So if I’m black I am destined to underperform my white peers.

    I recently watched parts of an MSNBC program hosted by Brian Williams called “a conversation about race” which originally aired on April 11, 2008. I was struck by the piece on Kenneth Clark’s controversial race based doll test which was updated with present-day black children. Again, more than 50 years after the original experiment, we saw black children assigning all the positive traits to the white doll and all the negative attributes to the black doll, the one that looked like them. Characterizing the achievement gap in race terms fuels this image of the black doll/person as inferior to the white doll/person. Is it any wonder that the “doll test” still results in black children assessing negative qualities to the black doll when the messages in the media and in schools are consistently negative? To overcome the achievement gap, we must be cognizant of the deep seated self esteem issues within the American black community to avoid actions that exacerbate the issue.

    We know that poverty is a key piece of the achievement gap puzzle, so let’s shift the achievement gap discussion from race to family income /poverty. As an American at least that’s something I can effect since the American dream is accessible to all who get a good education, regardless of race. I am not calling for “political correctness” here but rather asking that we recognize the impact of our words on the self-image of those whom we purport to aim to help through school reform programs and the like.

    That said the recommendations of Richard J. Murnane, Harvard Professor of education and society, resonated most with me as he advocated social programs that can begin to break the cycle of poverty in low-income communities as well as educational reforms. An additional educational reform initiative that I’d like to see undertaken is to dismantle the ability grouping and tracking programs that secondary schools rely on to sort children by presumed ability. In practice, tracking sorts children by race and socio-economic status. It establishes an educational trajectory for the lower tracked students who are overwhelmingly black, Hispanic, and low-income, that perpetuates their lower socio-economic status. In addition, the intractable achievement gap alone is evidence that tracking does not improve the performance of the lower level students. Finally, there is extensive research showing that the harm that is done to students in the lower tracks far outweighs any benefits that accrue to those in the higher tracks. Surely in the 21st century we can find better ways to offer the differentiated instruction students need to succeed.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  71. Tom says:

    Blacks have the same problem as whites only more so. I think it would be helpful to admit that the whole system has a problem, not just the part with black students.

    If we want our kids to do better, we need to make academic achievement the center of our children’s lives. We need to tell them that school is hard work, and they are expected to work hard and succeed. Separate sports from school and stop glorifying athletes. Instill a dress code and a behavior code. Reward our best students publicly by putting them in seperate classes and expecting even more of them. And most of all, take the students who aren’t putting in the effort, put them in a room of their own, and stop them from poisoning the atmosphere in the classroom. Nobody believes education matters in the US because there are no winners and losers, and everything that matters has winners and losers. Well there are winners and losers, but we do our best to hide that fact so nobody’s feelings are hurt. We need to make it exceedingly obvious just who is winning and who is losing throughout the education process, so children and parents know that success if worth fighting for.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  72. MPA Student says:

    I have always disliked the idea of the achievement gap. I do not understand why educators and government are trying so hard to get minority students to the same level as American white students. Worldwide, the US doesn’t have the best elementary and secondary education system. It doesn’t make sense to bring these seemingly “failing students” to mediocrity of the average white student. If one thinks about it closely, you can argue that education reform will not help this cause at all. It seems that in all other aspects of life with the exception of government and education, people are afraid to admit the obvious…. American education is INSTITUTIONALLY set up for some to succeed, some to fail, and the majority to be mediocre. How can you expect that students will be able to thrive in the same insitutional frame work that less than 60 years ago (which is not long in the narrative of world history) said these students were not even fit to be educated in the same building let alone have the same resources?? With the advent of charter schools and school privitization, the public school system is going to ….poop (for lack of a better expression)…. Our focus as educators, policy makers, parents, community members etc…. is to close the excellence gap. Students are performing at low levels of expectations, How can we get them to perform at their own personal BEST levels…. levels of excellence….
    Please take the time to read an article by Asa Hilliard III (Nana Baffour Amankwatia II) “No Mystery: Closing the Achievement Gap Between Africans and Excellence”…

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  73. Just a mom says:

    Interesting article.

    First of all, I don’t believe that closing the gap is an attainable goal. We have gone from requiring equal opportunitiny to focusing on equal results.

    I laugh at those who critcize that the experts (aka the teachers) were not asked for their opinion. I would assume that their opinion is widely known via the NEA’s constant cry for more money. I often wonder how much better public school systems would be if the unions took the money they spend fighting to get more money and stop vouchers, etc and actually spent in on making better teachers. I wonder how much better teachers would be if they actually discussed how to improve education instead of whether or not to boycott Wal Mart or Gallo wines.

    I put my children in a magnet school. The majority of the kids there are on the free and reduced lunch program. Our district in county wide so the each school starts out at an even playing field as far as money. Magnets schools get more money and then Title One schools get even more money. So our school has more money per pupil than another school in the county that is non-magnet but has a higher socio-economic population. Yet our school has less than 50% of the kids passing the already low standard state tests. It is not due to having less money than the wealthy. I really wouldn’t say that is inferior teachers. Of the 16 teachers (4 per grade) that in the school that a child encounters before 3rd grade testing, there were six that I would say were outstanding teachers,
    It was not lack of ‘extras” -our school has a tv station, lotsof field trips, lots of artists coming in, more specials and foreign language than the non-magnet schools.

    Things I see that hinder education (and btw, we started homeschooling because our children were getting completely ignored so that the teachers could focus on these lower economic kids.

    a) The achievement gap starts at home. Both of my children could read already when they started school. My son started K at age 4 and was reading chapter books. Both my kids could count to thousand, add, subtract, and multiply single digits, could write, and had a lot of real life experiences to draw connections from. On the other hand, I tutored kids who came into K at age 6 who did not know the names of the colors. Now my kids are blessed genetically and I worked with them (no preschool here). Now personally I don’t think it’s fair to have expect these children to achieve at same level as my children. I also don’t think it is fair for my children to be ignored COMPLETELY to work with these children.

    B) Behavior of the children is horrible. The school can not keep teachers in grades 3-5. It is not poor pay. The teachers switch to schools in same district for same pay or move to lower paying districts and private schools. Why?
    Who wants to work where they are getting pushed, yelled at, spit on, etc. with no recourse? They give out awards every quarter to the students. The awards are not given to the high achieving kids but to the low achieving kids. You make straight A’s, start community projects, and behave well at all times, you are ignored. If you can go ONE day without getting in a fight, you get an award in front of the whole school. If you are a low income kid without any kind of special needs, you can knock over bookcases and injuring other kids and cause the entire room to have to be moved with impunity. If you a middle class kid with special needs and you knock a basket off the table in a room (no other kids) because teacher is not following the protocol requested for your special needs and you are suspended. I had my ADHD child who has sensory issues put in in school suspension for swing his lunch box which is sensory related. On the other hand, I have witnessed entire classroom demolished, teachers pushed on the floor, etc and nothing done to the student. I am told over and over by the staff how the administration picks on the kids of involved parents in order to bully those parents into keeping quiet instead of harassing them for equal rights for their child but completely ignore those whose parents don’t care.

    C) Lack of ability grouping. Why are kids passed on each year when they can’t meet the standards? Why must my child spend an entire year not having any reading instruction because he reads above level and teacher needs to focus on the others. Why must my daughter spend an entire year working in library, preschool room, kindergarten, etc. so that teacher can work with the other kids. Personally, I think that grade levels need to be eliminated and every work where they are at. Some people are gifted and can learn faster, they shouldn’t be held back. Some are slower, they should not be pushed to go faster.
    We wouldn’t expect Michael Jordan to have to sit on the bench day after day so the coach could work with kids who
    are not athletically blessed. You wouldn’t

    Now these children go to same exact school, have same exact teachers, books, etc and get more of the teacher’s time and resources. The disadvantaged get accolades and rewards while my children get nothing except punishments. Yet, my children passed the tests with top scores and the others are failing miserably.

    You can not improve those who don’t want to be improved.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  74. Bob Collins says:

    I want offer an enthusiastic YES to Caroline Hoxby’s argument that we must replace intuition with science in education. Otherwise, we’ll never get past the polemics to productive activity.

    There are many levels at which scientific inquiry would be beneficial in education. The most fundamental one is what goes on in the classroom.

    How do you close the achievement gap? One student at a time.

    How do you improve the achievement of an individual student? It’s simple – you start by identifying each student’s gaps in knowledge by directly assessing what they know (both conceptually and procedurally) and comparing what they know to what they should know at their grade level. You can then eliminate each student’s gaps in knowledge with scientifically grounded instruction using technology to support teaching in an innovative way.

    I know because we do it every day. For example, in a high-poverty, rural Middle School with a majority African-American student body, we’ve virtually eliminated the black-white achievement gap in the percentage of students passing the state AYP test.

    In 2003, the gap between African-Americans in the school and the average for Caucasians in the state was 51 percentage points – 28% of the African-American students passed while 79% of Caucasians in the state passed. The school began using our technology-based application in 2004 and has used it school-wide continuously since then.

    As of the end of last year (2008 school year), based on data just released by the state, that gap has been reduced to only 4 percentage points.

    The percentage of African-American students passing the state test has increased by 52 percentage points, to 80% passing, while the average score for Caucasians has increased by only 5 percentage points to 84%.

    How do you close the achievement gap? The data speak for themselves.

    Bob Collins, Ph.D.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  75. Ben Richards says:

    The achievement gap is linked to the IQ gap. See the Dreary study discussed on Gene Expression:

    “Deary took the analysis a step further however and did a little latent variable modeling. As the IQ test had three components/subtests (verbal, nonverbal, quantitative), he correlated a latent g factor with a latent academic factor using the following subtests: English, English Literature, Math, Science, Geography, French (n=12519). The correlation between the latent factors was .81. That is: 66% of the variance in latent (general) academic achievement can be explained by latent cognitive ability—measured 5 years previously. While he hypothesizes that such things as “school ethos” and “parental support” are good areas to search for the other 34%, based on Rohode’s work, it is likely going to be found in residual, first order factors (see Carroll or McGrew).

    Take home message: While general cognitive ability and academic achievement are not isomorphic, the former is necessary for the latter, while the converse is not necessarily true. Spearman suggested this more than a century ago, and, to quote the last sentence in Deary’s work – These data establish the validity of g for this important life outcome.”

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  76. Jessica says:

    I spent my first four years of teaching in a low SES school (98% qualified for free lunch). I taught KG and my students tumbled through the doors not knowing their colors, their last names, whether or not a symbol represented a letter or a number let alone the ability to identify it, or how to hold a pencil or a crayon…… While this does not describe EVERY student, it was certainly the majority.

    What they DID know, (once I taught them to hold a pencil) was how to draw spinning rims onto cars, pictures of guns and anatomically correct drawings of grown men and women. They knew how to give eachother the finger, which words were bad and the appropriate time to use them, how to push, punch, pinch, strangle, trip, slap and choke eachother (and always attempted to do it without my knowledge, which of course means they realize it’s wrong) how to “drop it like it’s hot”, “lean back” and do the “soldja boy” dances.

    Clearly these skills are not part of the curriculum. And trust be, I do NOT know how to dance. They were not getting this information from me.

    Please keep in mind I am speaking about 5 YEAR OLDS.

    Out of close to 100 students over those years I met less than 20 parents.

    Every single student I taught finished the year knowing all their letters and sounds, at least 30 sight words, how to add and subtract, and how to write simple sentences. Many were readers.

    Much harder to teach was staying in their seats or their spots on the rug, walking in line, keeping their hands to themselves, using apporpriate language (ie; we do not call eachother mother f**k*rs in this classroom), using the toilet and not the floor or eachother (seriously), not to throw pencils, crayons, scissors, books, blocks, or (my favorite!) desks and chairs.

    Can you show that kind of growth on a standardized test?

    I’m sure it seems that my room must have been chaos. It was not. I used every ounce of energy that I had to be clear on consequences and following through every time. I wanted to crawl up in a ball of exhaustion at the end of each day. By the end of the fourth year I knew my reserves were tapped, and that I could not keep up the energy required to be sure that these students learn ALL the skills they needed to have even just a sliver of hope at being a success as they moved on. Personally I had lost weight, had failed relationships, developed migranes, a sleep disorder and anxiety to show for my efforts. Plus I was not exactly “rich”.

    I took a 10% paycut to switch to a middle class school and I feel like I’ve gotten my life back. I wake up each morning feeling genuinely blessed to walk into my classroom and spend my day with my students. Even my lowest students are ending the year on level with reading and many are a year or even 2 years ahead. I am an effective teacher and I would NEVER choose to go back into my previous situation. People who advocate for longer days, a longer school year and more dedication from the teaching professionals who chose to work in those situations have no idea what they are really asking. You basically have to give up your own life…

    I am one teacher who won’t do it, because I believe my life is valuable too.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  77. Peter Muennig says:

    Caroline Hoxby’s characterization of the education literature is not 100% accurate. I’m sure that she did not have the space to elaborate, but small class size and pre-K programs have been rigorously evaluated using randomized controlled trials. Both are very effective at increasing high school graduation rates. Small class size in K-3 also has the advantage of reducing education disparities.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  78. Michelle Swaray says:

    Well i don’t think there’s a such thing as an achievement gap. Okay you have statistics but there are a plenty of things that haven’t been changed and we continue to talk about an achievement gap. What about the teachers, this so called achievement gap only shows us that black students aren’t being taught well.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  79. Frank Simpkins says:

    The core of many of the current problems facing Black America stems from the fact that each day a large segment of the community is becomming more and more illiterate. Functional illiteracy causes , directly, and indirectly , so many of Black American’s non-mainstream problems and problems for other non-mainstream minorities! ” If you don’t read, you don’t know, and will never find out”.
    Schools promote institutional racism through policies which allow 60% of Black youth to be tracked into programs that deny them a strong appreciation for history and literature and access to higher order thinking skills, (Cheyney). A study by the National Endowment for Humanities, found that deficiencies in knowledge of history and literature were most pronounced among students from low-income families and among those pursuing curricula designed for students not destined for college.
    The authors found that schools fostered “class bias and elitism” by failing to offer adequate instruction in history and literatue to these students who were most at-risk. The tragic consequences, is that Black youth denied history—their history in particular–are “unlikely to realize their full potential”.(Cheyney) . Cicero wrote that “to know nothing of what happened before you were born, is to remain forever a child”!
    “Between the Rhetoric and Reality” Lauriat Press; Simpkins&Simpkins,2009;p-154. Educators’ disagreements over how to teach standard English to certain dialect speakers grows out of larger unresolved socio-political conflicts. Too much of the professional debate seems to stall on the question of how Black dialect speakers could or should be taught to read and write proficiently in standard English. The deeper and more important questions, however, are not how to teach SAE to Arican Americans students, but why, and will that knowledge and method genuinely empower the students and their community?
    Teachers, administrators, social scientists, policy makers and parents continue to search and wish for the one fool proof technque or curriculum that ensure African American students to learn and effectively use standard English, (R.Moore:”Between a Rock and a Hard Place”)..

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  80. Andy Johnson says:

    This information is very similar to the book: The Bell Curve.

    The national spelling and geography bees a historical won by non blacks. Is there a correlation between race and intelligence?

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  81. Lisa Alva Wood says:

    Teachers are not required nor encouraged to collect classroom data in my school, nor are the ones who want to do this facilitated in their efforts. Help me take my practice seriously, as a classroom teacher! I want software that will help me track progress on metrics I identify for my students, based on where they are now and where they need to go, not on single, high-stakes standardized tests. Evaluate me on this, not on a single, state- or nationally-identified criteria. I teach in an urban school where achievement is low and needs are dire. We have different rules. But my colleagues and I still need to be accountable.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  82. Marcus says:


    It’s apparent that you come with some opinions about college because Dr. Hurley never says anything about college for all. He said that the goal should be for everyone to get some kind of postsecondary credential, but that’s not nearly the same thing. That includes contractor’s license, beauty school certificate, x-ray technician license, etc. Coming into an article with the answers already decided leads readers to see things that aren’t really there.

    I must be one of those religious conviction people that Hoxby refers to because I have seen in my experience teaching and working with teachers as well as the extensive educational research that I’ve digested that there is, in fact, a silver bullet in education. It’s great teachers teaching great lessons. A great teacher can close gaps, end ignorance, and change lives. Unfortunately, the converse is also true.


    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0