Distributional issues are seldom far from the minds of U.S. educational policymakers. At a minimum, information is readily available on the proportion of students who fail to achieve some level of proficiency on
standardized tests. Attention to such issues has even been written into U.S. federal law with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. But observing differences in performance and knowing what to do about them
are not the same thing. Indeed, a variety of researchers and policymakers have argued that the schools cannot be expected to have much impact on the existing distribution of educational outcomes. The theme developed here is that many discussions have confused the potential for impact with current results based on the existing organization of schools.