Achievement Gap Issue Paper - DRAFT

February 11, 2004


Issue summary

Studies of academic performance measures make clear that too many students are falling short of their academic potential. Also clear is that although there are substantial numbers of high achieving students of color, a disproportionate number of these students are African-American and Latino students. This achievement gap between students of color and white students remains persistent and has been well-documented over the last 30 years. The implications of the gap are stark.
Looking at data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the Education Trust concluded that, ?By the time [minority students] reach grade 12, if they do so at all, minority students are about four years behind other young people. Indeed, 17 year-old African American and Latino students have skills in English, mathematics and science similar to those of 13-year-old white students.?
Looking more broadly at educational attainment data, the gaps are even wider. According to the National Association of Governors, Hispanic and African-American high school students are more likely to drop out of high school in every state. Of these high school graduates, college matriculation rates for African-American and Hispanic high-school students remain below those of white high-school graduates ? although they have risen in recent years. Furthermore, of those students enrolling in college, Hispanic and black young adults are only half as likely to earn a college degree as white students. In addition, new research has shown that the impact of low performance can be cumulative, as the achievement gap that begins in the lower grades widens as the young person goes into high school, leaving students largely unprepared for college, and unprepared for work in the increasingly knowledge-based economy. Even when these young people do get to college, new research from the Education Trust has shown that up to 20% of first year college students must do at least one remedial course just to catch up to the rest of their peers.

Over the last 30 years, researchers and educators have tried to understand the complex causes of the gap, and to identify effective practices that ensure student success. Causes that have been identified include differences in educational opportunities, teacher quality, available school time, access to educational information, community supports and levels of expectations in schools and communities. We know that schools are important, but that schools cannot do it alone. We also know that positive change in all these areas ? e.g. positive student teacher relationships, better schools, increased community supports, etc., can bring real progress in closing the gap. (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development).

Confronting the Challenge - Schools and Much More| Addressing Education Equity. At the core of the debate is equity in educational opportunities. Differences in the quality of instruction, teacher-student ratios, range of classes and in school opportunities, as well as simple differences in the amount of quality learning time available (e.g. time not obstructed by student safety issues, overcrowding etc.) provide ample room for improvement towards closing the gap. In addition, other school-related factors include access to information about higher education opportunities, and financial support, as well as application support (Lumina Foundation).
| Addressing the conditions of poverty ? A recent report from ETS points to how conditions of poverty disproportionately faced by minority students add to the achievement gap. Low levels of parent participation, high student mobility, low birth weight, exposure to lead poisoning, hunger and poor nutrition, little experience with reading as a young child, high amounts of television watching, and low parent availability have all been cited as factors that hurt student achievement and are more prevalent in minority and disadvantaged communities. The report stresses the need for addressing these conditions and for researchers to look at which among them are most critical.
| Increasing the quality and quantity of learning opportunities in schools, families and communities. There is no doubt that inner-city schools need improvement. But there is substantial evidence that, just as problems co-vary (e.g. pregnancy, substance abuse, delinquency) so do opportunities. The young people with the weakest schools also tend to have the thinnest learning supports outside of their communities, compounding their ability to succeed.
| Increasing community investment and youth involvement. It is obvious that investments in inner-city education have to be assessed and, in all likelihood, increased. But it is also clear that urban districts cannot fix the problems alone. Improving the academic achievement of minority youth will require the creation of a demand for quality education that is independent, sophisticated, representative and sustained. It will also require the deep and sustained involvement of the students themselves ? involvement in charting the course of their own education, contributing to the education of their siblings and peers, being active voices and hands for change within the school system, and commitment to and involvement in improving learning opportunities in their communities.
| Encouraging high expectations: Improving schools, opportunities and conditions are critical. However, in order to achieve success for all young people, students, teachers, and communities must start from a belief that it is possible for every young person, no matter how far behind, can be ready by age 21. A belief that it is not only possible to close the achievement gap, but possible to rekindle the achievement ache within African American and Latino youth and communities by engaging them as key players in supporting their peers, strengthening families, and rebuilding the social and economic capital of neighborhoods.
| Expanding the definition of learning. Last but not least, improving the academic achievement of inner-city youth requires updating the definition of the goal. We believe that the goal is for every young person to be Ready by 21 ? ready for work, ready for college, ready for life. That means that they have to have the basic ?academic skills? ? reading, writing, math and the basic ?academic? content ? geography, science, literature, and have to be able to perform well in the standard ?academic? environment (the classroom). But these basics are not enough. Research, the business community, teachers, and the public agree that young people need an expanded set of skills (including technology, communication, problem-solving, team work, adaptability), and expanded base of knowledge (including financial literacy and global awareness) and an expended set of contexts for acquiring and applying learning. Improving academic achievement requires a concerted effort to expand the definition of achievement, the opportunities for achievement and expand the current levels of investment and involvement in young people.
National Landscape| Public Funding: In the public arena, recent legislative changes have brought increased attention to the achievement gap. Specifically, as the National Governor?s Association points out, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) requires states to set the same performance targets for minority and disadvantaged children, so that schools are now considered successful only if they close the achievement gap. Many schools are struggling to meet this benchmark, and it is becoming increasingly clear that many states and schools will need more support in order to reach this goal. Many states have also devised strategies for addressing the gap.
| Private Funding: Private funders have also shown a good deal of interest in addressing the gap. The Lumina Foundation, in particular, has dedicated enormous resources to research, publication and advocacy around achievement gap issues and the Ford Foundation has also taken an interest in the issue. Other kinds of partnerships are emerging as well, such as the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity, a project of the The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund (LCCREF), who will look at the impact of structural racism n achievement. A number of other national and regional foundations have also been involved.
| Other organizations. There are a multitude of organizations looking at the achievement gap. Among them are the National Urban League, Pathways to College, Learning First, the American Youth Policy Forum, and the Public Education Network, among others.

Could add more hard data and graphs here, but I thought you might want to save them for the PowerPoint, see my email for links).

New York City Landscape
Recent statistics from the NYC Department of Education show the New York City school population mirrors the national picture.

Minority Achievement Gap for Manhattan Superintendency (entire city information was not available):
Percentage of students that pass Graduation Assessment Requirements

English Math
American Indian/Alaskan natives 85% 92%
Black 83% 77%
Hispanic 78% 74%
Asian/Pacific Islanders 87% 94%
White 95% 94%

The following are two very different, but exciting examples of approaches organizations have taken in New York City to address the achievement gap. The Campaign for Fiscal Equity: CFE is a not-for-profit corporation, coalition of parent organizations, community school boards, concerned citizens and advocacy groups which seeks to reform New York State's school finance system to ensure adequate resources and the opportunity for a sound basic education for all students in New York City. They have focused on improving educational equity chiefly through legislation and litigation. In 1993, CFE filed a constitutional challenge to the state school funding system. The lawsuit, CFE. v. State of New York claims that 1) the state?s school finance system underfunds New York City public schools and denies its students their constitutional right to the opportunity to a sound basic education, and 2) because New York City has over three-quarters of the state?s minority students, the funding system violates the rights of minority students under the Civic Rights Act of 1964. After an initial win, followed by an Appellate reversal, CFE won a major victory when the Court of Appeals overturned the Appellate Division ruling and found in favor of CFE, noting that an 8th grade standard (NY State?s expressed responsibility) is not enough and that ?a high school education is now all but indispensable? to prepare students for employment and civic engagement. The State has until July 30, 2004, to implement the ruling. Prep for Prep: Prep for Prep is a long-term investment strategy to develop the leadership potential of able young people from segments of society grossly under-represented in the leadership pool from which all of our major institutions draw. By expanding the nation's leadership resources, we aim to impact indirectly on a set of inter-related problems that threaten to rend our society. Prep's strategy is to identify talented students from minority group backgrounds, prepare them for placement in independent schools, and provide a sense of community, peer support, critical post-placement services, and a range of leadership development opportunities. The Prep Community includes over 3,000 students and alumni/ae.