Achievement-gap mania has distorted education policy, narrowed schooling to reading and math, “hollowed out public support for school reform” and “stifled educational innovation,” argues Rick Hess in National Affairs.
In a “noble” effort to raise the achievement of “left behind” students, schools are ignoring the learning needs of average and high-achieving students, Hess argues.
A universal and exclusive focus on low-achieving kids ignores the fact that different education strategies work best for different kinds of students.
. . . The kinds of teaching and support that can help disadvantaged students acquire the skills and knowledge that they did not receive at home are often superfluous or inappropriate for more advantaged children. In this way, gap-closing can transform from a strategy that lifts up the least proficient students into one that slows up the most proficient.
And children who are ready for new intellectual challenges pay a price when they sit in classrooms focused on their less proficient peers.
“Achievement-gap mania has signaled to the vast majority of American parents that school reform isn’t about their kids,” Hess writes. That’s undercut support for education reform.
Gap-closing reformers are social engineers who think they can identify “what works” — defined as raising reading and math scores and graduation rates — and make schools do it. They want to evaluate teachers by how they move test scores.
But while the ability to move these scores may be 90% of the job for an elementary-school teacher in Philadelphia or Detroit, it doesn’t necessarily make sense to use these metrics to evaluate teachers in higher-performing schools — where most children easily clear the literacy and numeracy bar, and where parents are more concerned with how well teachers develop their children’s other skills and talents.
With so much focus on raising reading and math scores of low-performing students, refoermers aren’t pursuing innovative “education strategies capable of improving American schools overall,” Hess concludes. He defends his stand against critics n his Ed Week column.
Dropout Nation’s RiShawn Biddle is one of those critics. Closing the achievement gap benefits all students, he responds.
Here’s the thing: When we improve instruction and curricula for our students who have been the most ill-served by American public education — including for young black, white and Latino men — we are improving education for our high-performing students as well.
I think improving the competence of low-performing students is very important for the health of our society, our economy and our democracy, but I don’t think it’s an automatic win-win for average or high-performing students.