Supporting States to Close the Education Achievement Gap

When I think about the educational achievement gap, I really think about inequal access to opportunity for our students, whether that’s quality education, quality educators, quality programs, and so I think it’s important that we close that achievement gap so that all individuals have equal opportunity to be successful. We’re losing too many kids every year because we’re not able to address the learning needs of all of our students. Our schools are very effective at serving some groups but not others, and we need to address the needs of all of our students. [Music] The American Indian education work that we are doing through the Midwest Comprehensive Center is really focused heavily on addressing the achievement gap in both Minnesota and Wisconsin, primarily in Minnesota which is experiencing a 30 percent achievement gap in the graduation rates between white students and American Indian students. We also see a very large gap between the proficiency on mathematics and ELA between white students and American Indian students. It became very clear to the state that these students were not graduating college and career-ready. We have been working with the Director of Indian Education there to create a self-assessment tool for districts to use to determine how they are currently serving American Indian students and what practices they could use to better serve those students. It’s a tool that’s really focused on whether they are engaged in culturally responsive education practices for American Indian students and also ensuring that they’re in compliance with the requirements that the state education agency. We were amazed at the stakeholder engagement that we received when we rolled out the tool as a pilot and asked for feedback, so that’s probably the most exciting thing that we’ve seen so far We’re working on getting the tool online now so that more districts can have access to it and that it might also be able to be used by other states. [Music] We’re an interesting state; we are a majority-minority state. We’re over 50 percent Hispanic, roughly 15 percent African-American and about 25 to 30 percent Caucasian. One thing that we worked on as a comprehensive center in Texas is helping them use publicly available data to better understand the achievement gap. One tool that We’ve used is Geographic Information Systems Mapping. So what we’ve done with the state is help them look at various demographics, whether it’s poverty, whether it’s health, whether it’s free and reduced-price lunch, race, we’re able to map these using this GIS technology and really help them understand where, for example, their Title I schools are. Title I schools are basically high-poverty schools. What I’m excited about is the Texas Education Agency has partnered with the Texas Comprehensive Center and with AIR to build local equity toolkits, and so that will allow us to help local school districts really understand their own achievement gaps. One thing that we learned is that to best understand how to close the achievement gaps, we really need to think locally and support local school districts in doing that. [Music] Mississippi has a strong need as it relates to increasing student performance. They currently have 33 percent of their students that are identified as low-performing based on Kids Count data. The legislators stated that Mississippi had to actually implement a pre-K program. Mississippi developed an early learning office, which we helped them actually get in place. We also assisted them with the early childhood task force and they brought together various stakeholders for that work as well. One of the positive aspects of our work in supporting Mississippi with their early childhood initiative was that over 40 percent of their children actually showed higher readiness levels as compared to kids that were not involved in the collaboratives that we assisted them in developing. [Music] Students who are suspended or expelled have a much higher incidence of failure in school, dropping out of school, and involvement with the juvenile justice system, and that creates opportunity issues for those students for the rest of their lives. Explusions and suspensions were disproportionately experienced by African-American young men, especially at over 3.5 times the rate of white students. They asked for our assistance in addressing that problem. We helped them put together a broad-based group of stakeholders, including multiple state agencies – for example, the Department of Justice and representatives from the state Supreme Court – and then we helped them to craft and formulate a new policy that would address the issue that they originally welcomed us in around. So ultimately, the task force was comfortable with the revised policy, and it went to the State Board of Education, where it was passed unanimously and became the recommended policy of the State of Michigan for school districts to adopt in terms of discipline policies and suspensions and expulsions. It’s really an ethical and moral imperative that we address the achievement gaps. Students are failing our system because we’re not able to help all students achieve. If we can accomplish that, we’ll be doing a great thing. I believe it’s important to close the achievement gap and education because all kids need a quality education and deserve a quality education, and when I say, “a quality education”, I’m talking about resources, programs, initiatives, and definitely effective teachers and we all should strive to make that happen for the children that we serve. [Music]

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