Achievement Quandaries

Recently, Chester Finn reflected on a new study which finds that achievement gaps have not closed in the last 50 years and educational improvements have not been seen at the high school level. Excerpts appear below:

An ambitious, important new piece of analysis in Education Next concludes that young Americans across the socioeconomic spectrum have made some progress over the past half century in academic achievement, but that rising tide (a) hasn’t narrowed key gaps among them and (b) hasn’t lifted the high school boats. This raises some really tough questions. How much does gap-closing matter versus tide-rising? Why has the tide stopped rising at the high school door? And-of course-what, if anything, is to be done, besides more of what we’ve been doing, at least since we began to get serious about addressing mediocrity and closing gaps back in the 1960s?

On that last question, perhaps the most promising suggestion, which also aligns with other recent work by Hanushek, involves getting abler teachers into classrooms full of poor kids.

High schools have proven a terribly hard nut to crack, and for many reasons. Maryland’s Kirwan Commission proposes to target tenth grade as the point at which most kids should be “college and career ready,” leading them into a quartet of “pathways” that include radically overhauled CTE opportunities as well as “early college” and a lot more Advanced Placement. We’ll need to watch whether the philosophical and structural changes in this effort also incorporate elements—curriculum, pedagogy, standards, accountability, etc.—that truly boost academic achievement.

Higher standards, better teachers, more individualization, sophisticated technology, solid curricula, more quality school options—things like that are good for everybody. The surest gap-closing strategy is to make sure that underserved kids get them, too.

For more commentary, see

For the research report in EducationNext, see