Are education policymakers so focused on the poorest-performing students in the name of closing the achievement gap that the highest-performing students suffer? Two influential edu-wonks have sparred over this question in a nearly two week-long battle of blogs.
You haven’t been following, you say? Don’t worry. We’ve summarized.
The opening salvo came from Frederick Hess, the American Enterprise Institute’s director of education policy. On September 21, he argued in National Affairs policymakers’ “achievement-gap mania” had meant No Child Left Behind now hampers the best-performing students:
The kinds of teaching and support that can help disadvantaged students acquire the skills and knowledge that they did not receive at home are often superfluous or inappropriate for more advantaged children. In this way, gap-closing can transform from a strategy that lifts up the least proficient students into one that slows up the most proficient.
For example, Hess contends students are being pushed into Advanced Placement classes in the interest of closing the achievement gap, regardless of their aptitude in the subject matter. “Such efforts can dilute instructional quality… and distract attention from advanced students,” Hess says.
The same day, RiShawn Biddle — an education commentator and former editorial writer at the Indianapolis Star — took to his blog and penned an open letter. “Dear Rick Hess: There is Nothing Wrong with ‘Achievement Gap Mania’,” the title read. Essentially, he argued a rising tide lifts all boats:
Hess attempts to argue that the focus on the achievement gap has “shortchanged many children”. But he can’t prove that in any compelling way. What can be proved is this: American public education does an abysmal job of educating all children…
When we improve instruction and curricula for our students who have been the most ill-served by American public education — including for young black, white and Latino men — we are improving education for our high-performing students as well.
And back-and-forth ensued. Biddle, who spoke highly of other work Hess had done, said Hess’s views on NCLB were contrarian. Hess said that wasn’t fair. Biddle responded, saying he was using Hess’s own words. You get the idea.
So take a look at Hess and Biddle’s arguments, and weigh in yourself in our comments section: Who’s right in this debate? Does a rising tide lift all boats, as Biddle suggests? Or does Hess’s argument bring up serious flaws in our current education policy mindset?