Achievement Gap Smokescreen

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

The latest pronouncement from academia correctly identifies the failings of public education but misdiagnoses the cause and, hence, offers a prescription that promises more of the same malady.

“More than 40 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and President Lyndon B. Johnson’s declaration of a war on poverty, minority and poor students—in rural areas and cities alike—continue to consistently fall behind in basic math and reading skills,” Dr. Roger Wilkins writes on “It would be wrong and unfair to assume that the reason for these students’ poor achievement lies largely within them.”

“The children on the wrong side of the achievement gap often come from devastated neighborhoods where unemployment, poor health care and crowded sub-standard housing are common.”

A professor of History and American Culture at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, Dr. Wilkins serves as co-chair of Renewing Our Future: A National Task Force on Public Education. With all due respect to Dr. Wilkins, whose service in the civil rights movement was fine and honorable, no one is suggesting that the “reason for the student’s poor achievement lies largely within them.” Their teachers, principals and school boards are very likely the culprits that we are looking for.

As to the poverty Dr. Wilkins eloquently describes, how can we explain the students who come from impoverished backgrounds but acquire math and reading skills—in Catholic schools? At least, they can acquire them in Catholic schools that do not try to ape their public counterparts.

Try to find a public school that teaches grammar, algebra and geometry. At the same time, the social planners who run public schools are trying to advance the cause of multiculturalism while shunning the old-fashioned studies of geography and foreign languages. Thus, one-quarter of college-bound high school seniors cannot correctly identify the ocean that lies between California and China, according to the Asia Society.

While multiculturalists work this mental Rubik’s cube, reading and math scores plummet. Hence we have the current phenomena of students graduating high school unprepared for higher education while colleges and universities offer remedial courses.

Against this backdrop, parents, particularly low-income wage earners, might ask whether public schools deserve the money that they get or, for that matter, what they have done with the funds they have already received. There are the cadres of “professionals’ the simplistic among us might find superfluous, such as career guidance counselors in every grade from third on up, even in small, supposedly cash-strapped districts.

At best, about half of the employees in public schools are teachers, annual tallies from the U. S. Department of Education show.

Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.