Achievement Gaps

CSG Midwest
Six years ago, with a $2 million legislative appropriation, Minnesota launched a pilot program to help some of that state’s most at-risk students — young learners who lack stable or adequate housing. The state began partnering with schools and local organizations to provide vulnerable families with subsidies that helped pay their rent over two school years. The goals: Stabilize housing and prevent homelessness, thus improving school attendance and, over the long term, academic performance among these students.
The early results, says Eric Grumdahl, were a “powerful signal” that this kind of intervention worked.
Ninety percent of the pilot program’s students with a known housing status were stably housed. (All of them had entered the program experiencing housing instability or school changes.) Further, these young people were more likely to be attending school on a regular basis than their homeless peers.
“That encouraged us to take this to a larger scale,” adds Grumdahl, who works for Minnesota’s Interagency Council on Homelessness and the Department of Education.
The “larger-scale,” permanent program is now called Homework Starts with Home, and the Legislature appropriated $3.5 million for it this biennium as part of Minnesota Housing’s base budget.
The hope among legislators is to reach more young people, and to stop what can be a destructive cycle — homeless students are much more likely to fall behind and drop out of school; individuals who don’t complete high school are at a much higher risk of homelessness as young adults.
“The more children have to change schools [because of housing instability], the further they fall behind,” notes Barbara Duffield, executive director of the nonprofit SchoolHouse Connection, which advocates for policies that help these students. “They’re losing time and they’re losing coursework. At the same time, they’re also losing attachments to friends and teachers, and all of those emotional pieces of stability.”
Not surprisingly, then, the achievement gaps between homeless students and their peers are wide. Nationwide, for example, less than two-thirds of homeless youths graduate from high school on time. That compares to 84 percent among all students, and 77 percent among low-income students who have stable housing.
CSG Midwest
With a law on third-grade reading set to take full effect in the spring and fall of 2020, Michigan legislators are doubling down on a key element of its plan to improve literacy among young learners. The state’s new education budget, signed into law in September, spends an additional $14 million (a total of $21 million) to bring more early-literacy learning coaches into Michigan schools.
“Teaching literacy is complex and challenging,” says Lisa Brown, a program consultant for the Michigan Department of Education. “What the coaches do is break down the research practices for teachers and help with implementation of literacy instruction.”
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Ohio Representative Bob Cupp is addressing the pervasive issue of achieving better academic results for children in low-income households through a legislative task force. In July, Representative Cupp established the Ohio Education-Poverty Task Force to review policies that could lessen the effect of the achievement gap between low income students and their wealthier counterparts, and help students from all schools succeed. The ten-member task force hopes to generate information that will be useful in the Ohio General Assembly’s discussions on education policy, and to derive some proven strategies that can be practically implemented by state policy.

Senator Michael Padilla

As a student, New Mexico senator Michael Padilla had to mop floors, clean tables, and set up chairs in order to receive his lunch. This type of “lunch shaming” is what New Mexico’s SB 374 or Hunger Free Students’ Bill of Rights Act seeks to eliminate from public schools.

CSG Midwest
Struggling young readers in Michigan will get more instructional help to reach levels of proficiency under a new law that also could keep some of them from entering fourth grade. Signed this fall by Gov. Rick Snyder, HB 4822requires students to perform well enough on a standardized reading test in order to be promoted to fourth grade. However, the law does provide for some “good cause exemptions,” including if parents and school officials agree it is in the child’s best interests not to be held back.

In today’s Supreme Court oral argument in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, involving race-conscious college admissions, the Court indicated it might send the case back to the lower court for a second time, meaning that the Supreme Court could ultimately hear it for a third time.

Per Texas’s Top Ten Percent Plan, the top ten percent of Texas high school graduates are automatically admitted to UT Austin, which fills about 80 percent of the class. Unless an applicant has an “exceptionally high Academic Index” he or she will be evaluated through a holistic review where race is one of a number of factors.

Experts say an education in science, technology, engineering, arts and math—or STEAM—is essential to building an innovative workforce in the United States, and the sooner students delve into STEAM education, the better.

A recent report from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth compares the economic growth by increasing the academic achievement of the most socioeconomically disadvantaged families.  If the educational outcomes of these students more closely match the success of children living in the top quartile of families, long-term economic growth would dramatically increase.

CSG Director of Education Policy Pam Goins outlines the top five issues in education policy for 2015, including school readiness, experiential and work-based learning, academic success for at-risk populations, innovative state accountability systems, and advance attainment of degrees, certificates and other high-quality credentials. 

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Compare the overall test scores or graduation rates of students in the Midwest to the rest of the nation’s, and most states in this region fare quite well — sometimes even at or near the top of U.S. rankings. That certainly is the case for Minnesota, a high-performing state on traditional measures of student achievement. But as Greg Keith, director of school support for the Minnesota Department of Education, notes, that level of achievement is far from uniform among different groups of students.

“We could look at our overall scores and say, ‘We’re in the top five [in the nation], so we’re doing it right,’” he says. “It takes a whole change in our mindset to understand we have to do better for our underserved kids.”

Closing the achievement gap — between white and minority students or low-income and higher-income students, for example — is a top priority right now of Minnesota legislators and school administrators alike.

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