Press Release

(Washington, D.C) – In releasing Education Watch: The Education Trust 1998 State and National Data Book, Kati Haycock, Director of The Education Trust, called for  immediate and bold action to close the achievement gap and to raise overall student achievement. “The American achievement gap continues damage millions of young people as individuals and our country as a whole because we, the adults responsible for the education of our children and young people, almost willfully refuse to act on a growing body of evidence that points to a handful of common sense solutions.”

The 250-page report uses a variety of official data sources to paint a distressing portrait of low quality and vast inequities in K-12 and higher education in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The report ranks the 50 states and DC on 21 indicators of educational quality and equity. While the report stresses the fact that low-income and minority students are the most likely to be short-changed by their schools, Haycock said that the vast majority of young Americans of all racial, ethnic, and income groups could be better served by their schools.

“Every American should be outraged and frankly frightened by the fact that only 5% of the 8th graders in high poverty schools are proficient in mathematics. But the message to these kids and their schools shouldn’t be ‘catch-up to the more affluent schools’, because only 25% of the 8th graders in more affluent schools are proficient in mathematics. Yes, our most urgent agenda must be to close the gap that separates poor kids from non-poor kids and minority kids from white kids, but we must raise achievement for all students, kindergarten through college,” said Haycock.

“The evidence, from both the researchers and trail-blazing communities could not be more clear or compelling about what works to raise student achievement. The time for making excuses that blame the students, or their families, or their communities is long past. As is the time in which we could plead ignorance about what works. We know what works. We know what matters. The question now is do we have the moral and political will to take action,” said Haycock.

According to Haycock a four part “common-sense agenda” could close the gap and improve overall student achievement.

  • All students should attend schools and colleges that are held publicly accountable for high achievement for all students
  • All students should be held to a high standard of performance
  • All students should be enrolled in a rigorous curriculum
  • All students should be taught by highly effective teachers who know their subjects

Haycock urged elected officials-at every level-many of whom were elected on “education platforms” to embrace the common sense agenda. “The stakes for our students and our future are simply too high for policy makers to respond to voters’ with either feel good fixes that only play at the margins or with proposals aimed more at making partisan gains than at helping students make academic gains,” said Haycock.

Stressing the need for immediate action on these issues, Haycock pointed to a study released last week by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that found that U.S. high school graduation rates, once the highest in the world, have slipped below those of many of our competitor nations and that the academic achievement gap between the children of the well-off and the children of the poor is wider in the U.S. than in most industrialized nations. “As a nation we can ill-afford the costs-economic, civic, and human -of an education system that fails to provide all of our young people with the skills and knowledge that they and our country need to compete and thrive in the new century,” Haycock said.

The Achievement Gap: 

According to Education Watch, during the 1970’s and through the mid-80’s, the U.S. made significant progress in closing the academic achievement gap between racial and ethnic groups. During that period the gap between African American and White students narrowed by about half and the gap between Latino and White students narrowed by about a third. Since then the movement toward greater equity has stopped dead in its tracks. According to Education Watch, depending on grade level and subject area, the achievement gap has either remained constant or grown wider since the mid-1980’s.

“This is not happening because white kids are making tremendous strides-they aren’t. In fact, their performance has remained all but flat for the last 12 to 15 years. And it isn’t happening because minority kids some how got ‘dumber’-they didn’t. It’s happened because we adults have lost the will to do what it takes to close the gap,” said Haycock.

Well Qualified Teachers:

According to Education Watch, teacher quality is the single most important factor in determining student achievement. Yet, we have failed to ensure that all students have well-qualified teachers. Nationally, 16% of all secondary school classes are taught by individuals who do not hold an undergraduate degree in the subject area that they are teaching. Worse yet, fully 56% of all American 8th graders are being taught mathematics by an individual who was not a math major in college.

The situation is worse for low-income and minority students than for others. About 1 in 5 classes in high poverty and high minority schools are taught by an individual lacking a college major in the subject area. And about half of all White 8th graders are taking math from an individual who did not major in math, roughly two-thirds of all African American, Latino and Native American 8th graders are being taught math by an individual who did not major in mathematics as an undergraduate.

The states in which students are most likely to be taught by individuals who have majored in the subject area are Minnesota, Rhode Island, North Dakota, Iowa and New York. The States in which students are least likely to be taught by fully qualified teachers are Alaska, California, Arizona, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Washington.

Low-income students are most likely to be taught by individuals with college majors in: Nebraska, West Virginia, Minnesota, Florida, and Arkansas. They are least likely to be taught by individuals with a major in the subject area in: North Carolina, Ohio, Alaska, Montana, and Arizona

Minority Students are most likely to be taught by individuals with college majors in the subject in: Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, and South Carolina. They are least likely to be taught by college majors in: Ohio, Alaska, Montana, Indiana, and Pennsylvania.

Rigorous Curriculum:

The more rigorous courses a student takes, the more likely she or he is to achieve at high levels. The fewer such courses a student takes, the lower that student’s achievement. Too few American students are enrolled in the sort of courses that they need to succeed in college or the work place. Algebra is the generally accepted gateway to high level math classes, yet only 1 in 4 American 8th graders are enrolled in  Algebra I.

And while 27% of White 8th graders are taking Algebra I, only 20% of African American and Latino 8th graders and only 14% of Native American 8th graders are taking Algebra I. Further only 16% of the students enrolled in high poverty schools are taking Algebra I in 8th grade.

Students are most likely to take Algebra I in the 8th grade in the District of Columbia, Utah, Massachusetts, Maryland and Delaware. Students are least likely to take Algebra I in 8th grade in New York, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Hawaii.

Low-income students are most likely to take Algebra I in the 8th grade in: DC, Maryland, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Arizona. They are least likely to take Algebra I in 8th grade in Montana, Vermont, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming.

African American students are most likely to take Algebra I in 8th grade in: DC, Missouri, Maryland, Colorado, and Massachusetts. They are least likely to take it in 8th Iowa, Louisiana, Indiana, New York, and West Virginia.

Latino students are most likely to take Algebra 1 in 8th grade in: DC, Maryland, Michigan, Delaware, and Utah. They are least likely to take it in 8th grade in Iowa, North Dakota, New York, Louisiana, Nebraska, and Mississippi.


“The low academic achievement of low-income students and minority students, and even the mediocre achievement of other American students is neither preordained or intractable. This is, in other words, an achievement crisis of our own making. We must and we can do better. There are a growing number of states, school districts, schools and colleges proving this every day, and they are not doing it with magic, but with common sense, political will, and hard work,” Haycock concluded.