Press Release

Parents, policymakers and the public-at-large are paying closer attention to education outcomes than ever before. That’s good news, because education matters more now than ever before.

Spurred in part by No Child Left Behind, much of the focus is on the achievement gap that separates students of color and low-income students from White and more affluent students. The Education Trust is releasing its Education Watch 2006 State Summary Reports to provide a common foundation of fact for conversations about—and action to close—these gaps.

The State Summary Reports provide a data-based snapshot of student achievement and the condition of public education in the 50 states, the District of Columbia and the nation. The information in these reports reveals how far we have to go to ensure that every young American has access to high-quality education.

The Education Watch State Summary Reports provide state-specific data on:

Achievement Gaps:

  • How many students are proficient in reading and mathematics on state assessments? How do proficiency rates on state assessments compare to proficiency rates on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)?
  • How do achievement gaps between groups compare across states? Where are gaps the smallest? Where are they the biggest?
  • What are the trends in student achievement over time? Which states are making the biggest gains?

High School and College Attainment Gaps:

  • What is the on-time high school graduation rate for different groups of students?
  • How many high school graduates enroll in college?
  • What is the college graduation rate for different groups of students?

Opportunity Gaps

  • What are the participation and success rates for different groups of students in high-level courses such as Advanced Placement (AP)?
  • Which students are most likely to have teachers who have even a college minor in the subject they’re teaching?
  • How much state and local per-pupil funding is provided to schools in low- versus high-poverty districts? Which states provide the most funding to low-income districts? Which states provide the least?
  • How affordable is college for each state’s lowest income students?

The data in these reports underscore the need for a renewed commitment to closing achievement gaps. Despite the dramatic changes in our economy, our public schools continue to turn out millions of young people—mostly minority and low-income—without the knowledge or skills they need to be productive participants in our democracy and economy.

“While manufacturing and agriculture once gave America an edge, education will determine who leads the 21st century,” said Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust. “America is facing unprecedented pressure to compete in a global economy, and we simply cannot afford to under-educate so many of our young people.”

A Deeper Look at Achievement across States: NAEP Data Tables

While no state is yet where it needs to be in terms of educating poor and minority students, some are doing a much better job than others. To help state leaders, researchers, and advocates explore these differences and identify states from which they might learn, the accompanying NAEP Data Tables allow for easy state-to-state comparisons of scale scores for different groups of students. They include tables that look at student achievement and gap trends over time. For example:

  • Low-income eighth-graders in Massachusetts score 21 points higher in math than low-income eighth-graders in neighboring Rhode Island (273 vs. 252).
  • In 2003, reading scores for African-American fourth-graders were 14 points higher in Connecticut than in Delaware. Over the last five years, however, African-American reading scores increased by 23 points in Delaware while in Connecticut, they decreased by 2 points. Delaware’s African-American fourth-graders now read at higher levels than their peers in Connecticut.
  • The gap in math achievement separating Latino from White eighth-graders in Minnesota is 10 points larger than the gap in Virginia, a state educating a similar proportion of Latino students (33 points vs. 23 points).

The wide variation between states in achievement for the same groups of students demonstrates just how important state policies and practices are. “If race and poverty mattered more than what happens in schools, then NAEP scores for low-income students and students of color would be more consistent from state to state,” said Daria Hall, senior policy analyst for the Education Trust.

Focus on Opportunities to Learn

The data are clear: what states do matters a lot when it comes to student achievement. But far too often, state policies and practices work to the direct disadvantage of low-income and minority students. For example:

  • In New York, schools in the highest poverty districts have $2,065 less to spend per pupil than schools in the most affluent districts.
  • In Illinois, students in high-poverty secondary schools are more than three times as likely as students in low-poverty schools to have a teacher lacking even a minor in the subject they’re teaching (47 percent vs.15 percent).
  • In Michigan, African-American students represent 20 percent of the state’s K-12 enrollment but just 5 percent of the students enrolled in Advanced Placement English Language and Composition courses.

The State Summary Reports provide data on the opportunities that students are given to learn in all states. The accompanying PowerPoint presentation delves deeper into opportunity gaps in individual states, illustrating more advanced ways to look at these issues. For example, while a teacher’s college degree provides just a very rough proxy for his or her content knowledge, researchers at the Illinois Education Research Council have devised a much fuller measure of teacher quality—one that includes certification status, years of experience, performance on licensure exams and the teacher’s own academic background and skills. Using this measure as well as student ACT performance, the researchers demonstrate the profound impact that teachers have on their students’ college-readiness. They further demonstrate the hugely inequitable distribution of teacher quality between schools serving poor and minority students and those serving White and middle-class students.

Both the state summary reports and the PowerPoint testify to the unfortunate truth that states continue to give poor and minority students less of everything that research and experience suggest would help them catch up in school: less access to qualified and effective teachers, less money and less access to challenging curriculum.

Rather than questioning whether we can close achievement gaps, as some would have us do, we should instead question policies and practices that undermine the school success of low-income students and students of color. “As our country pushes on into the 21st century, the international challenges will only become steeper. We need to focus NOW on the unfinished business of combining both excellence and equity,” Haycock said. “We owe it to the young people who are relying on public education to give them a path out of poverty, and we owe it to our country. Achievement gaps are not inevitable, but we can’t close them without profoundly rethinking and reshaping our public schools.”