The Gap No One Wants to Talk About

The achievement gap is misleading because it keeps the focus on all the wrong things. That gap is simply a metric for a root cause gap—the inequity gap.

But even more troubling is that addressing the achievement gap or simply allowing the term itself to be a default fact is ultimately a tremendous distraction that serves the privileged.

The gap no one wants to talk about is the ever-widening wealth gap in the U.S. [1]

Consider a typical (and, again, distracting) claim: But the top 20% income earners pay 64% of taxes!

Ever wonder why? Because, in 2009, the top 20% made 59% of the income:

Table 7: Distribution of income in the United States, 1982-2009


Top 1 percent Next 19 percent Bottom 80 percent
1982 12.8% 39.1% 48.1%
1988 16.6% 38.9% 44.5%
1991 15.7% 40.7% 43.7%
1994 14.4% 40.8% 44.9%
1997 16.6% 39.6% 43.8%
2000 20.0% 38.7% 41.4%
2003 17.0% 40.8% 42.2%
2006 21.3% 40.1% 38.6%
2009 17.2% 41.9% 40.9%

[See Wealth, Income, and Power by G. William Domhoff for a wealth of data to confirm the many inequitable wealth and income gaps]

As Paul Buchheit explains in “Five Ugly Extremes of Inequality in America– The Contrasts Will Drop Your Chin to the Floor,” the inequity gap in the U.S. is staggering:

1. $2.13 per hour vs. $3,000,000.00 per hour…

2. A single top income could buy housing for every homeless person in the U.S….

3. The poorest 47% of Americans have no wealth…

4. The U.S. is nearly the most wealth-unequal country in the entire world…

5. A can of soup for a black or Hispanic woman, a mansion and yacht for the businessman…

The current education debate is ultimately just a subset of the larger inequity of wealth debate in the U.S. While entering the education debate may make many educators uncomfortable (it shouldn’t and educators must enter the debate), educators must also speak against and to the social and political discourse that seeks to keep the wealth gap off the table.

[1] See “Picturing Inequality” at Truthout


  1. I think the ‘achievement gap’ is a tool to suck the emotion and money out of us.

  2. Richard Wolffe. Simon Johnson. Cay Johnson. Stiglitz. Krugman. James Galbraith. Michael Hudson. I AM a trained economist. Such as THAT is. And it ain’t sayin’ much. There’s so much evidence out there regarding the destructive forces of capitalism and infinite expansion of consumptive based closed markets. Wolffe was on Moyers just the other day. See him? Co-operatives and a de-stratification of inequitable income gaps. The argument is well beyond the taking of public assets such as public schools. It is the power of capital derived from leveraging rents on interest, among the many and very obfuscating ways money moves. The eventuality is the motivation. GREED. Pure and simple. See the apocalyptic vision of Stefan Molyneux. It’s nearly spot on. A bit of the Libertarian in his strong “property rights” philosophy, but a decent view of the furtherance of feudalism in America.

  3. View this link. It says it all in regards income inequality.

  4. Mindy Nathan says:

    This is completely accurate. If we talk about wealth and opportunity inequities, then we also have to talk about how we have been raped and pillaged by Wall St. and the “big banks,” and that no one has gone to jail for those crimes…yet. Their persistently fat paychecks are borne on the backs of our children.

  5. Del Fuller says:

    I work in a school that is in the bottom 15% in the state standardized testing for 3rd grade. We are a K-3 school. Because we are in the bottom 15% we had to send out a letter for the Scholarship Opportunity Tax Credit. The credit allows local businesses to provide scholarships to ship kids to private schools, including religious schools, thus providing an end around to the separation of church and state. On the other hand any business in the local area that provides this scholarship then no longer pays tax in one for one exchange to the amount of the scholarship.

    This scholarship undermines the funding of public schools in two ways. One, it decreases the tax base for the local school due to the business not paying taxes in the amount of the scholarship. Two, the state provides funding to the school based on the number of students enrolled. For every student a school looses it looses that funding. Although the cost of running the school does not change for a small change of say 10-20 students in a school of over 600 losing the funding for those 10-20 students is quite a sum of money.

    In addition to losing monies through the possibility of students leaving for private schools, our school is also under the gun with the possibility of losing 20% of it’s Title 1 funding due to not making gains on the PSSA. How does taking money away from a school that is already trying to education children with a 77% free and reduced lunch rate help a school meet those mandates?

    What I have seen this year has really opened my eyes. I have watched a school basically do away with science and social studies completely in the name of practice for the PSSA. We have a two hour block for language arts plus an additional 35 minutes a day for reading intervention. The other academic area that is emphasized is Math the Title 1 math teachers. Our students receive less than 15 minutes every other day of social studies or science. With PSSA testing less than six weeks away, we were told to cut those areas to prep for the test by a curriculum consultant.

    In the name of reform our school has narrowed the curriculum to mirror the test. It also serves a low SES area and is threatened with the loss of huge amounts of money. The great policy makers are making great strides toward the privatization of schools and labeling those with the highest levels of poverty as failing. Way to go Ed Reformers.


  1. […] The Gap No One Wants to Talk About – @ the chalk face. […]

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