How can we fix what we say we don’t understand?


April 8, 2009

When Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education Chairperson Molly Griffin addressed the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Forum Tuesday morning, she said the board was focusing all its energy on closing the achievement gap.

Fair enough. But then there was this exchange:

Q. What causes the gap?

A. “That is a great question. I think there is a historical piece to that, still. I believed that back when we fought the litigation over unitary status. So there is some historical, dual-school-system problem there. But beyond that, I don’t know what causes the gap.

“It doesn’t make sense to me because when you disaggregate for poverty, which a lot of people say, well, it’s poverty, there’s still an achievement gap. And that’s just unacceptable.

“For a while there, it was kind of trendy to talk about the low expectations causing it. That’s part of it. But why does it exist, in spite of all the focus that a lot of really good-meaning, well-meaning, smart people have focused on it? It’s a mystery to me. It’s an unacceptable mystery. We’ve got to solve the problem. I wish I had an easy answer for you. I don’t.”

Q How do you eradicate something you don’t understand?

A. “Well, maybe that’s the great question to end this discussion on. I think maybe if we understood it we could solve it better. But there are as many different explanations for it out there as there are possible solutions. I don’t know. A lot of people are trying to figure it out. I wish I had a better answer for you. I don’t know what causes it, nor have we figured out how to solve it.

“Maybe those two things are related. As you say, it’s because we don’t understand it that we can’t solve it.”