It's a vexing problem that haunts the Madison Metropolitan School District -- the disparity between the classroom performance of white students and students of color. Our cover story this week offers insights on the so-called achievement gap as it tells the story of UW education professor Gloria Ladson-Billings. Author Catherine Capellaro has gone to an extremely well-informed source on the problem in "The Next Civil Rights Fight."
Ladson-Billings is an internationally sought-after resource on matters of educational policy. She is also African American, which puts her in a unique position to assess the reasons for the academic underperformance of minority children in Madison schools. (It's something of a misnomer to refer to students of color as the "minority" when they have become the majority in the city's schools.)
Her story shows the cost when we fail to find ways to improve the performance of all students. How many Ladson-Billings might we be losing by not educating all students to their full potential? We'll lose our edge in a competitive world if we don't give all kids the opportunity to be all that they can be. And I'm not talking about joining the Army.
Calling the disparity an achievement gap seems to me to unfairly put the onus on the students, as if they have failed in their efforts. Perhaps it is more accurately defined as a funding gap, or a cultural gap, or an instructional gap. Or maybe it's just a failure to care enough about the welfare of a certain group of students until poor test scores embarrass the community as a whole. And then we care about the "gap" for what it says about us.