Study finds achievement gap is as large as it was 50 years ago

As the United States grapples with growing inequality, a new analysis finds that the achievement gap between haves and have-nots remains as large as it was 50 years ago — neither having widened, as some have suggested, or closed.

“Two surprises emerge from this analysis,” the paper’s authors — a team of Stanford University, Harvard University and University of Munich researchers — conclude. “First, gaps in the achievement between the haves and have-nots are mostly unchanged … Second, steady gains in student achievement at the 8th-grade level have not translated into gains by the end of high school.”

Additionally, the report finds that programs designated to improve the education of disadvantaged students have done little to close achievement gaps. The report identifies the teaching workforce as a centrally important factor in student achievement and credits the decline to a number of factors including low teacher salaries and the increase in varying job opportunities for women in the examined period.

“The Achievement Gap Fails to Close” finds the consequences are both short and long-term; the study is published on the website Education Next. In the short term, some student groups are at risk of falling behind their peers as they reach high school and prepare for college or careers. This, in turn, can add to social inequality as underperforming students are less likely to move up the economic ladder or see improved standards of living. Long term consequences include inhibited state and local economic growth and productivity, with research showing parallels between strong scores in reading, writing and math and robust economies.

For now, California  boasts one of the top five global economies despite having underfunded schools and high rates of poverty among its K-12 students. Roughly 20 percent of the state’s students live in poverty and about 60 percent qualify for federally subsidized school meals. In the classroom, African American and Latino students — who represent a majority and an increasing number of California students — have performed lower on state assessments than their peers.

How to change this dynamic remains a work in progress in California.

CSBA is calling for Full and Fair Funding of the Golden State’s K-12 public schools. As education advocate John Affeldt recently wrote in the The Mercury News, “for decades, [California] has starved its public schools and 6 million children of the resources necessary to succeed….In a state with such vast wealth, we actually can afford to meet the school funding shortfall — which one recent study concluded to be some $25 billion annually.”

New Gov. Gavin Newsom has also proposed major initiatives to improve California’s schools and student performance, with an emphasis on early learning and kindergarten readiness.

However, the Education Next researchers warn that initial academic gains often diminish by high school, an area they conclude needs further exploration and improvement, along with teacher effectiveness.

“Although policymakers have repeatedly tried to break the link between students’ learning and their socioeconomic background, these interventions thus far have been unable to dent the relationship between socioeconomic status and achievement,” the researchers say. “Perhaps it is time to consider alternatives”


The Achievement Gap Fails to Close, Education Next

The Price of Inequality, California School magazine, Fall 2018

2017–18 CAASPP Results for English Language Arts and Mathematics

2018 state assessments show minimal gains; achievement gaps remain