Bruno: What If The Achievement Gap Can't Be Closed?
Go read this post from Kathleen Porter-Magee on the reading gap between affluent and lower-income students, then come back here. Her point is a straightforward one that is nevertheless often neglected in discussions about reading achievement: we cannot close reading comprehension gaps without closing background knowledge and vocabulary gaps.
Crucially, Porter-Magee acknowledges a more subtle point that education reformers too often ignore or do not realize. As she says, "we may never completely close the gap" in reading ability between richer and poorer students because the former have out-of-school lives that are much more vocabulary-rich.
I think it's worth being just a bit more explicit about this, so here goes: unless we want or expect to make schools for less-fortunate students substantially and systematically more effective than schools for more-affluent students, we should not expect achievement gaps to ever close completely.
As the saying goes, this isn't politics, it's math. Even if every student acquires vocabulary at an equal rate during their time in school - something that is profoundly unlikely given the extent to which greater background knowledge facilitates faster knowledge acquisition - it will still be the case that students' out-of-school lives are not equally rich in educational terms. Students of privilege will still be exposed to more - and more sophisticated - vocabulary-building experiences outside of school, and reading gaps will persist.
This may be especially true of reading and vocabulary, but the logic applies to varying degrees across the subject areas. You can have inferior schools for more-privileged students or you can have persistent achievement gaps, but you have to pick your poison.
This is not to say that improving the reading achievement of economically disadvantaged students is not possible or extremely important. Read Kathleen's piece and follow her links to see how schools could do some of that work better.
At the same time, clarity about the causes and likely persistence of achievement gaps can help us understand the limits of education reform proposals that focus exclusively on schools. In some cases it may be more productive to think of young people not so much as "students" but as children who live much of their lives, and do much of their learning, outside of a classroom. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)