Reading the Research: Understanding the Achievement Gap and Education Debt

In her 2006 Presidential Address, former AERA president Gloria Ladson-Billings discusses the 'Achievement Gap' by way of analogy to our national economic deficit. Briefly, the annual budget can be in balance, in surplus, or in deficit. However, this ignores the national debt that accumulates over time. (Aside: did you know that the third largest expenditure in the US budget is debt servicing - third to defense and combined social services?)

Similarly, addressing the 'Achievement Gap' - the persistent gap in academic performance between white and non-white groups - to follow the analogy, only balances the yearly budget. It does not address the ever-increasing national debt that "Black, Brown, Yellow, and Red" students continue to face. Ladson-Billings explores sociopolitical and moral debts that have burdened minority groups in the US.

In the end Ladson-Billings argues that we need to understand the achievement gap in relation to a national debt in order to take seriously the implications it has for our country - it slows our current educational progress, it reduces the effectiveness of our educational research programs (especially in relation to two interventions - school desegregation and funding equity), and it threatens our educational future. Viewing our educational woes as a mere 'achievement gap' ignores the mounting education debt we pass on to future generations.