Opportunity Gap

The RealityThe Data | Key Factors

The Reality

GraduationAll children should have the opportunity to succeed. Although our region has seen positive educational improvements as a whole, there are stark disparities in academic performance of children from some socioeconomic and racial/ ethnic backgrounds that have limited opportunities for success and warrant a closer look.

Social and economic policies, such as zero-tolerance behavior rules and inequitable school funding mechanisms, have had disproportionately negative impacts on students of color, especially Black students. Our region is home to some of the best educational opportunities in the country, yet an alarming number of children in the majority of schools cannot meet grade-level standards.

The gaps in academic performance between White students and students of color and between students in lower-income and higher-income families are present at nearly every school in the region, indicating systemic issues that must be addressed.

Our goal in acknowledging these unacceptable disparities is to start a conversation about ensuring ALL students have the opportunity to graduate high school prepared for either further education or employment in the modern workforce.

Focusing community-wide efforts on improving proficiency for struggling students would have the dual benefits of closing the achievement gap while also raising test scores for the region as a whole, thereby helping ALL students, regardless of income, race or ethnicity, to have the same opportunity to succeed. Many of the efforts to improve educational outcomes across the region have proven successful in recent years; however, the majority of the increases in test scores have been among those students already meeting or exceeding standards – largely White and/or higher income students.

Nearly 3-in-10 Black students are proficient in 3rd grade reading, compared to 7-in-10 White students.
Nearly 2-in-10 Black students are proficient in 8th grade math, compared to 6-in-10 White students.
The Data

Disparities in achievement among student groups in the region are apparent at each key measurement point and are consistent with what we know about educational outcomes.

Key Factors
  • Students who start behind often find it difficult to catch up, resulting in diminished educational outcomes.
  • Reading on grade level by the end of 3rd grade is a significant predictor of high school graduation and college success, yet only 26% of Black children and 30% of Hispanic children meet this milestone.
  • According to the U.S. Census, by 2023, more than half of the country’s student population will be non-White, and, by 2042, the majority of the U.S. population will be non-White. The National Center for Education Statistics has reported a 60% increase in the number of our nation’s students who are attending high-poverty schools since 2000. Twenty percent of children nationally and 23% of children in our region live in poverty.
  • School suspensions hurt academic performance and contribute to the Black-White achievement gap.
    • Black students are 1.6 times more likely to be suspended from school.
    • Although 40% of public school students in the region are Black, they represent 63% of students suspended.
    • Of the 10,500 suspensions last year, 6,600 were Black students.

The rate at which White and/or higher-income students’ test scores have been improving is much faster than the rate of improvement by Black, Hispanic and/or lower-income students, which results in an achievement gap that is widening even further.

Those already proficient in reading and math are steadily improving, while those who are not meeting standards for proficiency are seeing much less improvement. Consequently, while average scores have increased – a good thing – the percentage of students not meeting minimum standards has not changed – not a very good thing.

Though all students have improved proficiency somewhat, the difference between progress rates among White and/or higher-income and Black, Hispanic and/or lower-income students results in widening achievement gaps.

Increase in Average Score from 2009 to 2014

3rd Grade Reading
8th Grade Reading
All Tri-County

“The nation recognizes its social, civic and economic strength is directly linked to the strength of its public schools. But if every child is to have an opportunity for success, every student must have a true opportunity to learn.”

John H. Jackson
President, Schott Foundation for Public Education