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The Hard Truth About the Achievement Gap

Blaming the achievement gap on biased standardized tests, racist teachers and abject poverty is politically correct, but it is an argument that appeals only to those with a closed mind ("Denzel Washington Is Making Sense," The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 30).  I say that based on my 28 years teaching English in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

I don't doubt that there is an element of truth to these factors.  But I maintain that when students come from an intact, loving family they can and do succeed in school.  I have no brief for Success Academy charter schools, which constitute the seventh-largest school district in New York State.  But it's impossible not to be impressed that its students routinely outperform their affluent peers in the New York suburbs.  I realize that Success Academy, like all charter schools, plays by a different set of rules than traditional public schools ("Success Academy's Radical Educational Experiment," The New Yorker, Dec. 5).  Nevertheless, it enrolls many students from chaotic backgrounds who have languished elsewhere and provides them with a solid education. Whether the price paid is too great is another issue entirely.

I submit that parental choice has a lot to do with the outcomes of any school.  When parents of any race and/or socioeconomic background are involved with their children's education, they make it a point to inculcate the importance of an education.  Doing so involves instilling reasonable discipline, because without it real learning cannot take place. I'm not saying that the process is easy, particularly for low-income households.  The pressure to make ends meet reduces the amount of time parents have to read to their children and attend open house at school.  But it is being done. 

When parents don't do their job, however, they set their children up for failure in school.  The streets take over, making it impossible for teachers.  I saw that so often during my teaching career.  Education should be a partnership between school and home.  Unfortunately, the latter is derelict in too many cases.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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