New approach to education can reduce achievement gap

Oregon education officials recently revealed what many have long known – the public schools have not addressed the persistent achievement gap between white and minority students. The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) will request a waiver from the portion of the federal No Child Left Behind Act that requires schools to make adequate yearly progress for all students, regardless of race or income level.

The ODE is worried that schools will miss achievement targets because of special education, English as a Second Language or minority students. Exceptions for some special education students probably make sense, but that is a far cry from lowering standards for all minority, low-income and second language students.

The Oregon Department of Education is concerned that the lower average academic performance of minority students will make schools look worse then they really are. Such concern for the reputation of schools does nothing to reduce the magnitude of the achievement gap in Oregon. On the 10th grade state benchmark exams only 23.3 percent of African Americans and 21.5 percent of Latinos met the state’s reading benchmarks in 2000, compared to 55.4 percent for white students. Justified concern with the achievement gap should not obscure the fact that nearly 45 percent of white students also did not meet reading standards.

The achievement gap is not an intractable problem, and there are policies that can help reduce it. Numerous studies have shown that private schools, particularly Catholic schools, can successfully educate low-income and minority students. Instead of wasting time, Oregon should acknowledge this research and enact a tuition tax credit to help families get their children the best education possible, whether it is at a public or private school.

Nick Weller is an education policy analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland, Oregon based think tank.

© 2006, Cascade Policy Institute. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and Cascade Policy Institute are cited. Contact Cascade at (503) 242-0900 to arrange print or broadcast interviews on this topic. For more topics visit the QuickPoint! archive.

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