Home > Uncategorized > The Voldemort view: cognitive ability explains the “achievement gap”, not outside factors.

The Voldemort view: cognitive ability explains the “achievement gap”, not outside factors.

An anonymous poster posits an alternative view to the progressive and conservative on the achievement gap in education:

In the public domain, you’ll hear two contrasting views about the achievement gap, its cause and solution. The first is the progressive view, the one associated with “progressive education,” which holds that social injustice, institutionalized racism, white prejudice, and other societal ills cause the achievement gap. Progressives want to fix the achievement gap by moving underachieving students closer to high-achieving students whenever possible, arguing that tracking and sorting are evils that create underachieving “ghettos” that perpetuate, or even cause, the gap. In schools with a majority minority population of underachievers (i.e., inner city urban schools or charter schools specifically created for these populations), progressives push for community involvement, encouraging teachers to support their students in every aspect of life and seek to make the curriculum “relevant.”

So progressives push for underachievers to spend more time with achievers who will model desirable behavior. When achievers aren’t available, progressives seek to create the value system within the child and the community by demonstrating their involvement and cultural acceptance. This is incredibly oversimplified; I’m just trying to give you a general sense. Notice, though, that a large part of the progressive view involves changing the students’ values with sympathetic teachers who understand how to develop “accessible” curriculum for students who aren’t performing at grade level.


The second view, what I’ll call the conservative view of the achievement gap, also focuses on student values. But instead of encouraging teachers to respect the student’s culture, conservatives say that parents and teachers of low-performing students are the cause of the gap, by failing to give the students the correct cultural values. Hard work, family values, commitment to the importance of education, and “no excuses,” to quote the Thernstroms, who are major proponents of the conservative view, will close the achievement gap. The conservatives believe that higher standards are the order of the day, and that everyone can achieve if they just work hard. Conservatives hold ed schools in extremely low esteem, and feel that the progressive push to “understand” students and teach simplified (as they see it) curriculum contributes to the problem. The conservative view is held by most politicians of any ideology. Both NCLB and Race to the Top are based on this viewpoint—which comes along with a hefty dose of blame for the teachers, the ed schools that produce them, and the unions that represent them.

If all you watched were the shout shows, you’d never know there was another way of assessing the achievement gap. And in fact, while progressives and conservatives have many adherents and could even be described as “groups,” those holding the third view don’t get together much. They don’t hold meetings, they don’t have organizations, and in general, they avoid the field of educational policy. People holding this third view—again, not a group—don’t talk much in public. Let’s call this third view the Voldemort View: the View That Must Not Be Named.

And so, the Voldemort View: academic achievement is primarily explained by cognitive ability, and therefore the achievement gap is also most likely caused in large part by differences in cognitive ability. People with this view don’t promote solutions, primarily because in order to even start thinking about solutions one has to be able to discuss the possible cause and mentioning this cause is politically unacceptable. People who think it likely that the achievement gap is primarily cognitive don’t usually risk mentioning it in public because it’s a career destroyer. Please do not infer any other opinions about those with a Voldemort View, because I promise you, most of what you’re likely to assume is simply wrong.

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