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America’s Achievement Gap

Achievement Gap Image 1


On Thursday, November 5th Edgewood College hosted a panel discussion in Anderson auditorium on the Achievement Gap and what we, as a community, can do to fix it.

The achievement gap is the disparity in success between people of color and their Caucasian counterparts in academics, which in turn impacts their future salary and employment.

Anderson auditorium was filled with a blend of students from Simpson Street Free Press, community families, and individuals prominent in local education. Journalists such as Michelle Li of Wisc-TV News 3, Scott Milfred of the Wisconsin State Journal, Jorge Isaac Zeballos of La Communidad, and Deidre Green of the Simpson Street Free Press were in attendance as interviewers.

Local leaders such as Gloria Ladson-Billings, a professor at UW-Madison, Derrell Connor of WIBA radio, Jack Daniels III, President of Madison College, and Jim Kramer of Simpson Street Free Press spoke at the panel.

The panel highlighted three skills as being important in combating the gap: writing, literacy, and mathematics. Additionally, American schools fail to focus enough resources on secondary languages.

The panel discussed at length how language is a common barrier for students, and that the Unites States is lagging behind the world in this regard. One panel member expressed that often individuals abroad know two, three, or even four languages, whereas many in the United States do not.

“Many of our students will not be bi or multilingual, and [will be] limited in the global economy.”

“A cause of this deficit is limited exposure to other cultures,” said Jack Daniels III. He spoke on his experiences working with kids a few miles away from large cities who have never experienced the huge blend of cultures in the downtown areas.

While some of these issues persist across socioeconomic and racial barriers, one very important aspect of academic success is often dependent on those same factors. Teacher expectations can be a highly motivating aspect of school. Minority students often face significantly lower expectations than their Caucasian counterparts. When faced with lower expectations, these students tend to achieve less, contributing to the gap.

School districts with greater success (shown in test scores and graduation rates) attract better teachers. These teachers can be the difference between students developing a solid foundation in basic skills such as reading comprehension, which better prepares them for the future. Professor Ladson-Billings referenced a study that found three consecutive well qualified teachers can pull students out of academic deficit. An environment that frequently reinforces reasons to strive for academic success, such as extracurricular involvement also helps to lower the achievement gap.

Poverty is often looked as the predominate cause. Students in poverty often face challenges acquiring proper educational supplies. Without access to a wide variety of resources, many students struggle to find purpose and enjoyment in academics.

Reading is a common challenge for students of all backgrounds. It is especially a challenge for students of lower socioeconomic status. When parents are working multiple jobs and long hours, they may not have time to sit and read with their child. A lack of communication between home and school can lead to difficult transitions between primary and secondary education, continuing up through all the levels of school.

Additionally, the panel mentioned a lack of after school and summer programs in Madison. There is a deficit of summer programs, encouraging positive use of time outside of the school day. The school day is filled entirely with studies, leaving no time for students to learn to enjoy subjects. Students who already struggle and dedicate only a minimal amount to education will not leave school prepared for their future endeavors.

Recently, Madison coined the term “community ready,” referring to preparation in finding employment rather than attend college. The speakers mentioned that, “behind the scenes, there’s all kinds of talk about [how] kids don’t need to be college ready anymore, they need to be ‘community ready.’” The commentator continued, “there aren’t going to be jobs for kids who don’t have those basic building block skills, that start with literacy, writing and math.”

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