Cultural Achievement Gaps Remain in Place
> 11/20/2006 1:23:41 PM

Despite the noble goals of the No Child Left Behind Act, the academic performance gaps that persist between rich and poor as well as minority and majority are not showing any real signs of improvement after three years. One of the specifically stated aims of the program, signed in 2002, is to improve the relative levels of performance among black, hispanic, and other minority students. And while overall American scores have improved slightly over the last few years, these stubborn, inexplicable gaps remain - and the program may in theory serve to make them worse, further punishing poor and minority-dominated schools that fail to perform up to established standards.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, a long-standing series of tests administered to students in every state, released a long-term picture of testing patterns over the last thirty years in 2005, noting that the gaps along ethnic and cultural lines narrowed slightly during the 70's and 80's before falling stagnant over the 90's. Overall student scores increased during that period, with an especially notable surge from 1999-2003, just before the NCLB Act went into effect. Most experts warn that this report is not any sort of referendum on the effectiveness of the new act, whose far-reaching effects have only begun to be measured.

Chester E. Finn Jr is president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, an educational think tank that advocates NCLB, and he put it very simply and distressingly:

Poor and minority students are doing very poorly, and in most states are not making significant gains - and this in spite of N.C.L.B. and all the other reforms of the last 15 years.

These are the facts. On studying relevant graphs it becomes obvious that, across the country, black and latino children are not scoring as well as their white peers and, though the trend slowed slightly at points over the last three decades, it is not going away in any sense. When issues like parental income level and educational history are factored in, these disparities only increase. We have to address the problem as quickly and directly as possible. The only question is how. Some say help should start pre-K, when kids don't receive the same number of learning opportunities. Some argue for increased after-school activities, but these will almost always be voluntary. And some argue that the NCLB act will work itself out over time. Of course, test scores will not grow equal overnight regardless of government oversight. But we expect some better results soon.

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