The Rhetoric and Reality of Gap Closing

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

Shockingly, measures aimed at narrowing the gap between “advantaged” and “disadvantaged” students only narrow the gap when they’re denied to the “advantaged” students.

OK, maybe you’re not so shocked, but Cornell researchers Stephen J. Ceci and Paul B. Papierno were:

It turns out, however, that when these gap-narrowing interventions are universalized —  given not only to the group of children who most need assistance but also to the more advantaged group (regardless of whether the latter is identified as White, rich, high ability, etc.), a surprising and unanticipated consequence sometimes occurs: The preintervention gap between the disadvantaged group and the advantaged group is actually widened as a consequence of making the intervention universally available. This is because, as we will show, although the disadvantaged children who most need the intervention do usually gain significantly from it, the higher functioning or more advantaged children occasionally benefit even more from the intervention. The result is increased disparity and a widening of the gap that existed prior to universalizing the intervention. This has led a prominent intervention researcher to bemoan the major drawback of universalization that “makes nice children even nicer but has a negligible effect on those children at greatest risk” (Offord, 1996, p. 338).


  1. Grasspunk says:

    “a surprising and unanticipated consequence sometimes occurs”

    Do these researchers believe what they write, or are they just going along party lines, or just writing what they want to be right even though they know it isn’t? Even if you refuse to believe in the effect of genetics on intelligence, you are at least aware of the existence of the idea, so you cannot be surprised by it.

  2. Lucklucky says:

    Excessively social persons, those whole dependent for their self esteem of their relationships, do not have much care for facts outside those that are allowed by their peers.

    So. Grasspunk. even if they know it, it is a factor they prefer to not think about.

  3. Bill says:

    “Shockingly, measures aimed at narrowing the gap between “advantaged” and “disadvantaged” students only narrow the gap when they’re denied to the “advantaged” students.”

    I’d also note that when it is socially necessary for one group to do better than another group, you can actually go further than simply denying measures to the “advantaged” group. You can actively disadvantage the “advantaged” group.

    I’ve seen how this works in my town’s middle school. It is socially necessary to make sure that girls get better math grades than boys so they can get into the most competitive schools. College-bound boys are much better than girls at math, and it’s not enough to offer special measures to girls while denying them to boys. So, special measures are offered to girls, while actively penalizing boys by requiring them to do things that they don’t want to do or can’t do as well as girls that have nothing to do with math.

    In other words, there are two ways to make someone taller. You can get the privileged person a box to stand on, but you can also cut everyone else off at the ankles.

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