District 200 Board member Ralph Lee in the current issue of the paper issues a kind of clarion call for refocusing achievement gap from the black students to all the students. In doing so he joins many parents and many teachers who have over the years said that the high school does a great job with the upper quartile and the special ed kids, but not so good with the middle students.

Last night I saw the movie “Waiting for Superman” and then read Diane Ravitch’s review of it in the November 11 issue of The New York Review of Books. Mr. Lee is to be encouraged in his efforts to take a different look at the high school’s persistent achievement gap.  But the community needs to remember that lots of smart people have spents lots of time , energy and money for the last 25 years without much success in closing the gap. “Waiting for Superman”  concludes that the path to success is really good teachers. If the Board really wants to close the gap it might try firing the worst 10 percent of the teachers, but that of course is next to impossible .                                                                                

Ms. Ravitch cites research that while teachers are the most important factor within schools, their effects pale in comparison with those of students’ backgrounds, families, and other factors beyond the the control of schools and teachers.  

Unless Mr. Lee and the Board takes into account the 25 year history of failure to close the achievement gap despite the very determined efforts of lots of smart people; the fact that the needle will only get moved by improving the number of excellent teachers; and that even then success may be limited due to factors outside the control of the high school, then the community will be stuck in an endless loop of wasted energy and frustration over  a most difficult problem that has no very good solution.



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John is an Indiana native who moved to Oak Park in 1976. He served on the District 97 school board, coached youth sports and, more recently, retired from the law. That left him time to become a Wednesday...

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