Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

EDITORIAL: Embracing Complexity

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

EDITORIAL: Embracing Complexity

Article excerpt

LOWELL Rose, who directs Phi Delta Kappa's polling program, has told me on more than one occasion that members of the general public (i.e., noneducators) sometimes seem to know more than we give them credit for. I've not quite come around to sharing his view completely, but I think I see what he means. What's more, even when it seems that the public is mistaken, it's usually for the best of reasons, and there is often more than a little wisdom evident in the thinking of our fellow citizens.

Take the subject of the achievement gap, for instance. For the past four years -- since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 -- we've asked a series of questions about the achievement gap in our annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll. How important is it to close the gap? Nine out of 10 Americans have consistently said it's very important or somewhat important to do so. Is the gap mostly the result of schooling or of other factors? Roughly three-quarters of Americans place the blame squarely on other factors. Is it the responsibility of the public schools to close the achievement gap? Here's where things get a bit stickier: both times that we've asked the question (2001 and 2004), a majority of Americans have said that closing the gap is the schools' responsibility.

The part of me that still reacts like a toddler wants to shout, "No fair!" And, of course, in any absolute sense, it's not fair. Richard Rothstein's article in the October 2004 issue made the point that the achievement gap stems from a wide range of social and economic factors, none caused by schooling. And in this issue we're featuring a special section on the achievement gap in which Robert Evans revisits the questions Rothstein confronted and counsels both modesty and perseverance in our efforts to close the gap. William Mathis points out some of the fallacies and rhetoric that spring up in discussions of the gap.

But what about closing the gap? How can we make serious progress in closing a gap that is the result, at least in part, of what happens outside of schools (during the largest portion of children's lives) and is fed by the inequities of a society that many argue is growing ever more inequitable? …

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