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October 18, 2011

Prompt: Visit this website and review the facts listed about the “achievement gap”:

What are your initial reactions?

I’ve heard of the achievement gap (the fact that academic achievement is linked to economic status and race) before this class. And despite that, the scale of the problem never ceases to amaze me. Almost 50% of African-American, Latino, and Native American students do not graduate from high school, compared to 77% of white students. Low-income students are years behind their peers in learning. My first reaction was simply “How do we fix this?” Surely, if the dropout rate is so high, there has to be some glaring problem with our school system.  Are the worst teachers working in low-income districts? Are low-income students not given the right incentives to stay in school? I read one essay in the New York Times recently, saying that teachers in the worst school districts should be paid more to attract the best teachers and close the achievement gap; would that be enough? I also took a look at CPS’s report card [pdf], but it wasn’t too helpful. It doesn’t provide much demographic information, so while I learned that our school district is getting better, I don’t know if the improvements are happening across the board.

Then I took a look at Malcolm Gladwell’s essay, “Marita’s Bargain,” which was on our reading list this week. He cites a study of California schools which discovered that economic status makes no difference in how much a student learns during the school year. However, during summer vacation, high-income students do better at retaining that knowledge, probably because they have more options for learning. Gladwell goes on to discuss a New York school called KIPP, which has a much shorter summer break, longer hours, and excellent test scores across the board. These results are a mixed bag, as it means there is a straightforward solution to the achievement gap, but it’s rather unpleasant: More school, less vacation.


Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers: the story of success. (pp. 250-269). New York: Little, Brown and Co.

Ohio Department of Education, Cincinnati Public Schools. (2011). 2010-2011 school year report card. Retrieved from

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