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A Plan to Fight the Achievement Gap

February 15, 2008 By John Fitzgerald, Education Policy Fellow

The racial achievement gap has bedeviled educators, lawmakers and community activists for decades. Many plans to close the gap have been tried, yet it still exists. In 2007, African-American students scored far below whites in national and state tests.

The gap is not new: Since 1990, Minnesota's African-American and Hispanic students have consistently scored well below whites in the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Many attempts to close the gap have been launched. State Sen. Patricia Torres Ray is working on a plan to coordinate these efforts.

"The achievement gap affects so many people and the issue is so complex," she said. "People are desperate for action. This legislation would coordinate efforts and put the state to work fighting the achievement gap."

She said the state's school superintendents encouraged her to put the idea forward.

"We have tended to take the shotgun approach rather than having a concentrated effort against the achievement gap," said Charlie Kyte, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators. "We need to have all kids at all levels be successful and offer no excuses."

Under Torres Ray's bill, districts would submit plans to the Legislature to attack the gap using proven research and best practices. They would also provide a reliable way to measure results.

"There are all sorts of ways to increase educational achievement, but there's no way to measure the results," Torres Ray said. "There are different plans to deal with the achievement gap. We need a way to measure the results collectively."

The project would be voluntary, but districts that are accepted into the program would eventually get money to implement their plans - if the money's available. That's a big if.

"We're entering this process at a time when there's very limited funding," Torres Ray said. Her goal is to get enough money to begin the project this year. If it shows results, funding won't be a problem going forward, she added.

That's good news for superintendents. Most are facing funding problems of their own. "There are 300 districts in cutback mode," Kyte said. "Resources are a problem."

Torres Ray's proposal is based on a framework created by superintendents called Minnesota's Promise. The project, started in 2005, suggests 10 strategies to coordinate school improvements. "Each strategy offers a number of suggestions that can be accomplished at a state level, district level and the community level to help the process along," Kyte said.

The 10 strategies dovetail with Torres Ray's plan. "We will build on these strategies to plan a predictable and measurable way to address the problem built on proven research," she said.

Closing the achievement gap is vital to ensuring all Minnesota students have an opportunity to succeed.

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