In the years since Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954), there have been many well-intentioned but unsuccessful efforts to close America’s racial and ethnic gaps in academic achievement. At the time of Brown, 75 percent to 85 percent of the nation’s Black students (and 75 percent of Latinos) scored below the median for Whites on standardized academic tests. That has been the case ever since. Despite extensive government intervention and numerous educational reforms, the disparities remain. This persistent “achievement gap” has become one of the most comprehensively documented facts in American educational history.
“Closing the gap”—that is, ending racial disparities through new educational methods or public policies—has been a recurring political leitmotif for the past half-century. It has been a ubiquitous and deeply contentious meme, which has played a role in virtually every national election.
And yet so many reformers take up “closing the gap” as if for the first time. They ignore the complex history of education reformers, which I have recounted in my most recent book, The Long Crusade (2015), and the important lessons that can be gleaned from what can only be considered a history of failures.
Education is undoubtedly critical for sustaining and advancing any advanced society. It is time for those who care about education to ask the difficult questions that past reformers overlooked. The most important of which is whether racial achievement gaps can be closed at all.Read More