Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



Minding the Gap: A Rhetorical History of the Achievement Gap arose as an inquiry into the rhetorical congestion around the phrase achievement gap in public discourse. Having been used in support of multiple, often competing, education agendas, the phrase seems versatile almost to the point of emptiness, and yet it seemingly retains its persuasive power. Examining the history of the phrase, I reveal that the notion of the achievement gap is rooted in the logic of segregation and the rhetoric of disability, and serves to construct students in ways that paradoxically undermine efforts to expand access to educational opportunity. Although achievement gap is most frequently invoked in the name of educational equity, I argue that its rhetorical force can be infelicitous, erecting a discursive boundary that contains and limits students who are understood to be on the “wrong” side of the gap. This project is the first analysis of gap rhetoric, focusing on its heretofore-unexamined origins in the 1950s and the way its inheritances shape discourse since the 2001 No Child Left Behind act. I demonstrate that even equity-driven uses of achievement gap carry the baggage of the phrase’s history, which operates to re-marginalize already marginalized students and to construct educational equity as an unattainable goal.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Weinstein, Susan