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Published in Print: November 9, 2005, as N.Y. Schools Chief Unveils Achievement-Gap Agenda

N.Y. Schools Chief Unveils Achievement-Gap Agenda

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New York is making progress in closing the achievement gap between most minority and white students, but not fast enough, the state’s education leaders say.

Last week, the state commissioner of education convened an array of officials—including representatives of K-12 and higher education, libraries, and public television—to outline his agenda to further narrow the gap in test scores, high school graduation rates, and college- enrollment rates.

“Too many children begin life disadvantaged, attend poor schools, learn little, drop out in school or in college, and wind up at the margins in low-skill, low-paying jobs,” Commissioner Richard P. Mills wrote in a statement outlining the agenda for the Nov. 2 event in Albany. “We have made progress in closing the gap, but not enough. … Both research and our progress so far show that people can achieve at much higher levels.”

At the conference, Mr. Mills outlined a three-part agenda to improve children’s readiness for kindergarten, raise high school graduation rates, and make college affordable and accessible to all high school graduates. The agenda grew out of 11 regional meetings held throughout the state during the past year.

While most states have addressed the test-score gaps between generally lower-achieving black and Hispanic students and their typically higher-scoring white peers, none has taken such a comprehensive approach to the efforts as New York, said Kati Haycock, the director of the Education Trust. The Washington-based research and advocacy group promotes better schooling for minority and disadvantaged children.

“This is very interesting,” Ms. Haycock, who spoke at the event, said in an interview last week, referring to New York’s effort. “This is the first time I’ve seen a state come after it in quite this way.”

Then again, New York’s top education official has a uniquely powerful post among state schools chiefs.

Mr. Mills has more authority to oversee a comprehensive agenda than his colleagues in other states because he enforces the policies that govern New York’s public universities and colleges, libraries, museums, and public-broadcasting networks, not just its precollegiate schools.

Promising Progress

New York, like the nation overall, has made some progress in closing the test-score gaps between minority and white students. For example, the gap between New York’s Hispanic and white students on the 4th grade reading exam of the National Assessment of Educational Progress fell from 42 points in 1992 to 24 points in 2005, on a 500-point scale. But the state made much smaller gains in closing the 4th grade reading gap between African-Americans and whites, which decreased slightly, from 27 points in 1992 to 25 points this year.

In addition to representatives from all sections of the state education department, business leaders and community service officials attended the event held last week.

The agenda outlined would use all those sections of the agency and encourage other professions in state and local governments as well as the private sector to contribute.

The list of “key actions” under the agenda, for example, suggests that public TV, museums, and libraries run educational programs to help children acquire literacy skills before kindergarten.

Separately, the list says that colleges and universities should target academic support for minority students who are likely to drop out before earning a degree.

Other professions, such as health care, can also play important roles in his agenda, Mr. Mills said. Doctors and nurses, for example, are “the first line” of education for parents about prenatal and infant care, he said, as well as the people who can best refer parents to the early educational opportunities available to their children.

Vol. 25, Issue 11, Page 23

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