Areas of Expertise


Achievement Gaps
Literature Library


Why Do the Achievement Gaps Exist?

  1. Explanations

Numerous Factors Contribute to the Knowledge Gap

The author lists and explains the different factors that contribute to the poor performance of these students.

This reports some of the ideas and findings from the following source:

Viadero, D. (2000, March 22). Lags in minority achievement: Defy traditional explanations.Education Week. Retrieved August 28, 2002, from

To see other reports that originated from this same citation, go to the bibliography.

Debra Viadero claims that the “usual explanations” for why black and Hispanic children do not perform as well as white children in school, such as peer pressure, are not satisfactory explanations. Viadero believes the answer is much more complicated and involves a multitude of overlapping factors. Viadero is surprised at the lack of knowledge, since the knowledge gap was first documented in the 1960s, but she claims that the political sensitivity of the issue has led to the problem being understudied.

The author believes that the taboo on talking about racial issues is lessening, and as schools move toward stricter standards, these disparities are surfacing and forcing authorities to address the issue. If blacks and Hispanics are not performing well academically and as affirmative action policies are disassembled, “the door to higher education in several states is conceivably shut in their faces” (Introductory section, ¶9).

Numerous Interdependent Factors Contribute to the Knowledge Gap

Viadero lists and explains the different factors that contribute to the poor performance of these students.




Poverty isn’t the only factor, but it’s a major factor. With poverty comes:

  • inadequate healthcare and nutrition
  • few "educational resources in home and neighborhood"
  • moving frequently

all of which contribute to poor academic performance.

Academic Coursework

Fewer black and Hispanics take challenging academic courses. Viadero attributes this to:

  • Shools rigidly "track" students into such courses so that once a student performs poorly, they are off the "track."
  • Many minority students are discouraged and not challenged.
  • Advanced Placement courses are not offered as widely in urban schools.
  • Inner-city school curricula are often "dumbed down" compared to affluent suburban schools.

Peer Pressure

Some children view doing well academically as "acting white" and therefore purposely do not try to do well in school in order to avoid being harassed.

High Mobility

Schools with higher concentrations of poor students have higher mobility of students. High mobility can hurt individual students and their classmates in the following ways:

  1. Students cannot keep up if they constantly change schools.
  2. Teachers cannot teach consistently if they are constantly helping students catch up and therefore their teaching slows down.

Teacher Quality

Students in schools with high concentrations of poor students are "more likely to be taught by under-qualified teachers" (Teacher Quality section, ¶ 1).


Evidence has shown that the knowledge gap exists when children enter kindergarten, which demonstrates that parents play a large part in conditioning and preparing their children for school. Research has also shown that regardless of color, middle- and upper-class parents "tend to take their children to museums more often, hire tutors when their children are having problems in school, and pay for test preparation lessons for college-placement exams" (Parenting section, ¶ 8).


Minority children have "less access to good preschool and daycare programs" (Preschool section, ¶ 1).

“Stereotype Threat”

Sociologist Claude M. Steele found "that black students performed worse on a test when asked their race" ('Stereotype Threat' section, ¶ 1).From this research Steele concludes that students suffer anxiety when they have to identify their race because of the stereotypes that accompany them.

The “Summer Effect”

Low-income students tend to lose ground over the summer break. Studies show that minority and white students learn at the same pace, but during the summer break white students keep on learning whereas black and Hispanic students fall back because of a lack of academic stimulation.

Teacher Expectations

Teachers can create "a self-fulfilling prophecy"; if they don’t expect much from a student, they will not get much from that student. Therefore, teachers' expectations can reinforce the problem.


White children, on average, watch less TV than black and Hispanic children; 2.22 hours a day compared to 3-4 hours a day, respectively.

Test Bias

Some argue that standardized tests are biased and favor white students over black and Hispanics.


Viadero mentions the bookThe Bell Curve and its argument that “the differences among racial groups stem from genetics." However, Viadero warns that the role of genetics in the achievement gap is "fiercely debated." She fears that this argument could "feed harmful stereotypes about the nation's minority populations" (Genetics section, ¶ 1).

With all of these interwoven factors in mind, Viadero reminds us that the most important thing is not only to focus on the knowledge gap but to do something about it. "The trick," she and many other experts agree, "is to figure out how" (Genetics section, ¶ 5).


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