Whether it’s in school or in the workplace, the U.S. is obsessed with engineering equal patterns of results for all groups (“The University of Denial,” The Wall Street Journal, Mar. 23). When the goal is not achieved, charges of discrimination in one form or another are blamed.
But the truth is that no group is a monolith. Some members are smarter or work harder than others. To attribute differences to anything else denies reality. I’ll restrict my comments to schools in this column, although I submit that they apply elsewhere as well.
Differences among groups of students are referred to as the achievement gap. Whenever it occurs, these differences are said to be ipso facto evidence of discrimination. Yet so many disparities happen because people make different choices. No matter how hard we try to provide equal opportunities, there will always be unequal outcomes. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do more to help students be the best they can be (the old Army recruiting slogan), but we need to accept reality.
In 2006, Richard Rothstein, Rebecca Jacobsen and Tamara Wilder published a paper whose title summarized my view: ‘Proficiency for All’ – An Oxymoron. “No goal can simultaneously be challenging to and achievable by all students across the entire achievement distribution.” No standard can do both. In short, we can’t have it both ways. Yet we persist. I submit that diluting standards eventually harms those it purports to help.
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