States

State Leaders Launch Achievement-Gap Effort

By Catherine Gewertz — December 10, 2003 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Hoping to use their combined influence, black and Hispanic state lawmakers in seven states have launched a campaign to enlist families, communities, and policymakers to improve schooling for disadvantaged children.

The National Black Caucus of State Legislators and the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators launched the joint effort to address the inequities that fuel underachievement by low-income and minority schoolchildren.

Announcing the initiative last week at the black lawmakers’ annual conference in Houston, leaders of the two groups noted that disproportionate shares of black and Latino children attend schools where crowded classes, inexperienced teachers, and inadequate funding are commonplace. Those problems must be addressed if achievement disparities are to be eliminated, they said.

The campaign will begin in Arizona, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, and Texas. Those states were chosen because they have substantial populations of minority students and legislators willing to lead the charge, said Texas state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, a Democrat who is the president of the Hispanic lawmakers’ group.

It will focus on two areas: improving the “classroom experience” by seeking such changes as reducing class size, ensuring challenging curricula for all students, and increasing literacy; and by drawing experienced teachers to high-poverty schools with better recruitment, salaries, and training.

Common Ground

Recently, the groups issued separate policy reports pointing to the attention needed in those areas of education. Noting the breadth of common ground between them, the groups decided to work together, said Ohio state Sen. C.J. Prentiss, a Democrat who is the chairwoman of the black caucus’ precollegiate education committee.

The campaign has been fueled by the alarm of many state officials at indicators of the achievement gap.

The “wake-up call” in Texas, Sen. Van de Putte said, was unearthing a dropout picture that was worse than that outlined by the state’s own data. In Ohio, Sen. Prentiss said, the first-ever statewide achievement data broken down by race and ethnicity, released in the spring of 2002, showed black youngsters lagging behind whites and helped catapult the state into action.

Raising Awareness

The two groups’ campaign is one of many efforts undertaken to address the stubborn problem often referred to as the “achievement gap.” Researchers point to multiple factors that produce academic performance disparities among racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups, ranging from the home environment to state policy.

One of the most recent reports on the achievement gap examined 14 indicators linked to learning, such as low birthweight and how often parents read to children. On many, black and Latino youngsters showed pronounced disadvantages in their preschool years (“Study Probes Factors Fueling Achievement Gaps,” Nov. 26, 2003.)

The campaign by the caucuses of black and Hispanic state lawmakers is designed to embrace as many of those factors as possible by forging partnerships that include state and local lawmakers, opinion leaders, community groups, and families. It will be modeled after an effort already under way in Ohio, led by Sen. Prentiss.

Ohio’s campaign combines lawmaking—the state legislature committed $20 million to the current two-year budget to help academically struggling schools—with community activism, as advocates travel from city to city raising awareness on such issues as the importance of parents reading to their children.

In the new program, legislators in the seven participating states will advocate for sufficient funding and changes in state law likely to improve the classroom experience and strengthen the corps of teachers, Sen. Van de Putte said. For example, she said that Texas legislators changed state law to require that all students automatically be enrolled in college-preparatory curriculum unless they opt out.

Sen. Prentiss said that while state lawmakers can play a key role, the campaign is “about much more than legislation.” She envisions community groups working with parents to bolster their children’s literacy, and helping teachers become “culturally competent” to better reach their students.

“It’s about shared responsibility,” she said. “It’s about helping everyone see, up and down the line, what they can do to close the gap.”

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
The ABCs of ESSER: How to Make the Most of Relief Funds Before They Expire
Join a diverse group of K-12 experts to learn how to leverage federal funds before they expire and improve student learning environments.
Content provided by Johnson Controls
Science K-12 Essentials Forum How To Teach STEM Problem Solving Skills to All K-12 Students
Join experts for a look at how experts are integrating the teaching of problem solving and entrepreneurial thinking into STEM instruction.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Modernizing Principal Support: The Road to More Connected and Effective Leaders
When principals are better equipped to lead, support, and maintain high levels of teaching and learning, outcomes for students are improved.
Content provided by BetterLesson

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

States Alabama's New Transgender Care Felony Faces Federal Test
An Alabama law is the first to put criminal penalties on the doctors who provide gender-affirming treatments to transgender minors.
3 min read
Conceptual picture of transgender flag overlaying shadows and silhouettes of anonymous people on a road.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
States Texas Governor Sparks Backlash With Talk of Rolling Back Free School for Immigrant Kids
Critics assailed Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's idea as “hare-brained” and “cruel.”
Robert T. Garrett, The Dallas Morning News
5 min read
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a news conference in Austin, Texas, on June 8, 2021.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a news conference in Austin, Texas, on June 8, 2021.
Eric Gay/AP
States How Laws on Race, Sexuality Could Clash With Culturally Responsive Teaching
Critical race theory and culturally responsive teaching are not the same thing. But bans of one could impact the other.
7 min read
Illustration of diverse hands being raised.
iStock/Getty
States Beyond 'Don't Say Gay': Other States Seek to Limit LGBTQ Youth, Teaching
Legislators want to ban lessons on LGBTQ communities and require teachers to tell parents when students want their pronouns changed.
9 min read
Kara Klever holds a sign in protest in the hall outside of the Blue Room as Governor Kevin Stitt signs a bill into law that prevents transgender girls and women from competing on female sports teams at the Capitol Wednesday, March 30, 2022 in Oklahoma City, Oka. The bill, which easily passed the Republican-led House and Senate mostly along party lines, took effect immediately with the governor's signature. It applies to female sports teams in both high school and college.
Kara Klever holds a sign in protest as Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signs a bill into law that prevents transgender girls and women from competing on female sports teams.
Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman via AP