As I've said before: anyone who talks so much about the "achievement gap" is probably selling snake oil. As Howard Wainer writes:After decades of frustratingly slow progress and expensive programs, the achievement gap between black, Hispanic or economically disadvantaged students in New Jersey has narrowed on key benchmark tests.Statewide results released Wednesday also show improvement in 31 select low-income school districts – such as Camden, Newark and Asbury Park -- that annually receive billions of dollars, and more than half of the state local education aid.State education officials, however, disputed the notion that the performance between groups had gotten much closer. They contend that across all grades, sizable differences remain.“We approach these results today with both confidence and humility,” Acting Education Commissioner Christopher J. Cerf said today in a statement. “Overall, New Jersey students continue to perform at extremely high levels overall, and with few exceptions the statewide numbers continue to inch upwards. However, we have a persistent achievement gap … It is a disgraceful legacy in New Jersey.” [emphasis mine]
Not good enough for you? Check out this post from Bruce Baker. Or this post by yours truly. It all comes down to the same thing:But focusing on the difference blinds us to what has been a remarkable success in education over the past 20 years. Although the direction and size of student improvements are considered across many subject areas and many age groups, I will describe just one -- 4th grade mathematics. In the figure, the dots represent the average scores for all states that are available for NAEP's 4th grade mathematics test (with New Jersey's dot labeled for emphasis). These are shown broken down by race (black and white students) as well as by year (1992 and 2011). We can see that there have been steep gains for both racial groups over this period (somewhat steeper gains for blacks than for whites). Of course we can also see the all-too-familiar gap between the performance of black and white students, but here comes Achilles. New Jersey's black students performed as well in 2011 as New Jersey's white students did in 1992. Given the consequential differences in wealth between these two groups, which has always been inextricably connected with student performance, reaching this mark is an accomplishment worthy of applause, not criticism.
The last thing that we see is that the performance of New Jersey's students was among the very best of all states in both years and for both ethnic groups. [emphasis mine]
New Jersey's school's are some of the best in the nation. Our poor and minority kids do better than average; our not-poor and white kids do WAY better than average. Could our poor kids and minority kids do better still? Of course; but the notion that we should judge our success in terms of closing the gap is ridiculous when we are a state that achievement massive success in spite of chronic urban poverty.
What does Cerf's incessant repetition of this easily disputed argument about the achievement gap say about him? Is he deliberately misleading the public about student achievement in this state? Or is he just clueless?
Because it's got to be one of the two; or maybe both...