States Turn to Task Forces to Address Education Achievement Gap

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.

Ohio is not alone in their efforts to tackle the achievement gap issue through a government task force. In the past ten years, nine additional states established task forces focused on lowering the achievement gap in their state.

Although these task forces vary in size and scope, consistent policy recommendations emerged across the different states.

  • Recruit and hire minority teachers.
  • Develop alternative disciplinary actions to suspensions or expulsions, as they disproportionately affect students of color.
  • Professional development & cultural competence training for teachers.
  • Give special attention to English language learner (ELL) students and teachers.
  • Create initiatives to address family engagement issues.

New research supports the idea that recruiting more minority teachers leads to better results for minority students. According to the Institute of Labor Economics, low-income black students who have at least one black teacher in elementary school are significantly more likely to graduate from high school and consider attending college. Connecticut’s Achievement Gap Task Force responded by creating a minority teacher recruitment initiative with the goal to hire 1,000 black and Latino teachers by 2021.

A task force in Massachusetts also looked at hiring minority teachers to help lower their achievement gap. In 2013, the department of education convened the Massachusetts Advocates for Diversity in Education Task Force. The task force focused on increasing teacher diversity and decreasing the disproportionate number of suspensions and expulsions of students of color.

The need to re-evaluate school discipline is also a policy recommendation supported by research. The Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice studied the state of school discipline in Massachusetts and found African-American students received 43% of out-of-school suspensions and 39% of expulsions although they only made up 8.7% of the students enrolled. Additionally, CSG’s Justice Center released a groundbreaking statewide study of nearly 1 million Texas public secondary school students followed for at least six years. The study found when students are suspended or expelled, the likelihood they will repeat a grade, not graduate, and/or become involved in the juvenile justice system increases significantly. African-American students were suspended and expelled at especially high rates.

Along with hiring and retaining diverse educators, these task forces almost uniformly recommend cultural competence training for teachers and administrators. The state of Washington recognizes the need to develop cultural competence standards for training teachers to educate children of different cultures and backgrounds. In 2014 Washington’s legislature approved funding for “strategies to close the opportunity gap.” Appropriations included funds to create a working group to form and implement professional development content for cultural competence, incorporate cultural competence into state teacher evaluation programs, and create cultural competence standards for career and technical education courses.

Representative Cupp’s task force in Ohio recently held their third meeting where they heard from research experts on strategies other states have used to lower the achievement gap. Cupp described tackling the achievement gap as one of the most significant issues currently facing education in Ohio. He remains confident that the ideas and insights shared will help the legislature address the achievement gap moving forward.