The 'Achievement Gap' Fraud

Our educational system is self-destructing because of a fraud known as the "achievement gap."  One result of that fraud is that public school bureaucrats are taking away opportunities from good students in a misguided effort to help underperforming students.

When the mainstream media reports on progressive social policies, the results can be astonishing.  A recent Washington Post "Metro" section featured a school policy that ruins opportunities for bright students in order to help students who don't apply themselves("Dumping honors classes for AP," May 22).  The Post reports that honors classes are being abolished from the curriculum in Fairfax, VA, and many schools across the country.  The purpose of abolishing the honors courses: to help "underrepresented minority students."  With that article, the Post unwittingly exhibited the core of the problem with education in this country: The flawed system and students' low culture.  Each factor combines in a downward spiral to give us the bad educational results we have today.

Schools across the country generally have three tracks of courses: basic, honors, and Advanced Placement courses. Honors classes are being removed because "traditionally underrepresented minorities" are not taking enough AP courses.  You might wonder what on earth removing honors courses will do to encourage bad students to take AP courses.  Fairfax's "assistant superintendent for instructional services" Peter Noonan helpfully explains: "We've found that traditionally underrepresented minorities do not access the most rigorous track when three tracks are offered.  But when two tracks are offered, they do."  This may seem like a silly social engineering effort, but there is a serious concept behind this laughable policy: the "achievement gap."

The very concept of the "achievement gap" is a fraud.  It assumes that the correct result in schools is equal educational outcomes among different ethnic groups.  The same is true of the concept of "underrepresentation."  There is a simple problem with these concepts: It is resolutely ignorant to assume that there will be equal outcomes among ethnic groups.  Thomas Sowell has richly detailed the myriad ways in which different ethnic groups have always behaved differently and had disparate outcomes in life, around the world, and throughout history.  As Sowell points out, there is no basis in human experience or in logic to expect that different ethnic groups would have identical outcomes.  Different ethnic groups have vastly different attitudes, habits, and preferences with regard to many aspects of life, including education.  Berkeley Professor John Ogbu (1939-2003), who was black, concluded exactly that in his incredibly important work on black student achievement.  Ogbu concluded that "black students did not generally work hard," he wrote.  "In fact, most appeared to be characterized by low-effort syndrome. The amount of time and effort they invested in academic pursuit was neither adequate nor impressive."

The expectation of equal outcomes only exists because of a radical ideology of liberal equality that has rooted itself into the public education system.  Unfortunately, the academics who educate our children are profoundly biased, as even the NYT has admitted, and would not question their own assumptions.  The liberal ideology of equality is so deeply ingrained in academic and popular beliefs that it is unquestioned and unacknowledged.  In other words, the belief in equality of outcomes is a dogma, and that dogma misleads educators and policymakers into counterproductive and harmful policy, like the one in Fairfax.  The "achievement gap" is just as natural as different cultural preferences in music, the arts, family arrangements, personal space, and sports.  By trying to close the achievement gap, we are embarking on massively expensive, harmful policy in pursuit of a baseless goal.  The public education system is trying to force unnatural outcomes on society when society does not conform to the senseless expectation of equality -- which is itself a fraud.  Of course, the fraud is not limited to Fairfax: The Post reports that the trend to abolish honors courses is now growing nationwide.

As the Post article points out, parents of "high-achieving students" in "suburbs" don't want this good option removed.  We don't hear from the parents of the "underrepresented minorities"; we don't know if those parents want to eliminate opportunities for those from the "suburbs."  But the social engineers in charge of Fairfax schools have determined that the good students' interests are not worth as much as dubious, experimental efforts to advance the "underrepresented minority" students' interests.

Now, Fairfax is going to ruin an opportunity for bright and motivated students in order to make up for the less motivated, less capable students who are not inclined to take AP courses.  This policy alone is bizarre and destined for mediocrity, at best.  Yet, that bad policy is just the tip of the iceberg of error that liberal social engineers keep backing up and ramming into.  The iceberg itself is made up of obsolete social theories and fallacious sociological schemes.

The pious fraud about the "achievement gap" is more than just bunk social science and bad policy; it is harming the interests of good students.  "Underrepresented" students are not going to improve their performance in a way that justifies the cost imposed on good students.

By eliminating honors classes, schools are destroying something of value in a futile quest to produce elusive results.

John Bennett (MA, University of Chicago, MAPSS '07) is a law student at Emory University and writer living in Atlanta, GA.