Social Science and Public Policy


, Volume 47, Issue 5, pp 424-429

First online:

Achievement Gaps in Education

  • Allan C. OrnsteinAffiliated withSchool of Education, St. John’s University Email author 


Achievement gaps on international tests in math and science, between American students and their industrialized counterparts have worsened over the last 40 years, that is since the tests were originally administered. On a short-term basis, the achievement gap reflects America’s decline in human capital—and issues related to innovation, creativity and GDP. On a long-term basis, the achievement gaps reflect a decline of the U.S. (and the West) and the rise of the East. School financing and government programs seem to have marginal or secondary effects on school achievement. Excuses for the decline in U.S. test scores are numerous. What seems to count is that a large fraction of the variation in student achievement is accounted for in out-of-school variables, such as the student’s community, home or peer group characteristics. The bottom line: Schools seem to have little effect on reducing social and economic inequality and differences in educational output.


Human capital Inequality Innovation International tests Low-achieving students Low-income Math and science