Who’s Left Behind? The American Achievement Gap

“Everyone I talk to really shares my sense of urgency that we have to do better for our children. We’re fighting for our country here.” – Arne Duncan

We are fighting for our children and the sustainability of our country in what seems like a losing battle. The achievement gap continues to grow while more schools are being closed and more prisons being are built. What will we do differently in 2017 – 2020 to help bridge the achievement gap in America? As school district leaders and educational advocates across the Nation go back and forth about school choice, funding and the state of public schools; parents and teachers are working to stop more of our students from becoming statistics of the achievement gap. It may seem elementary or even outdated, but the first line of defense in bridging the achievement gap in America is to support education at home. Parents and families are our children’s first educators. The communities that we live in have a great influence on how we learn, play and socialize. In order for us to see more progress in student achievement for all students, we as adults have to be better.

The achievement gap in America is nothing new. It refers to outputs and connects to the unequal or inequitable distribution of educational results and benefits. Other critical areas that connect this but receive less attention are the opportunity and learning gap in education. The opportunity gap refers to inputs and connects the unequal or inequitable distribution of resources and opportunities. Then there’s the learning gap that refers to relative performance of individual students which includes the disparity between what students have actually learned and what they were expected to learn at a particular age or grade level. If we look at most recent years, from 2004  to present, what have our students who have and are matriculating through the American education system learned under the policies of the No Child Left Behind act? In order to truly address the achievement gap, we must ensure that the parents and students that have been overlooked, under served and left behind in our schools are at the decision making and planning table. These groups include:

  • children in low income households
  • low income communities
  • poverty stricken communities
  • rural counties and towns
  • homeless students
  • high transient students
  • disabled students
  • students with learning disabilities
  • students of non white racial groups
  • students of non Christian religious groups
  • LGBT students
  • students being raised by grandparents or family members
  • students in foster care

Changing the achievement gaps will require grassroots organizing to drive collaborative work with schools, communities, policy makers, elected officials, businesses to really reform education. This level of community and family engagement is key to the success of students, families and communities. The achievement gap connects the dots to the gaps in economic equity, home-ownership or affordable housing and entrepreneurship. What students are exposed to, how resources are issued to schools and opportunities offered matters to how the achievement gap closes. We must realize that children begin to make decisions based off of what they see within a 2 mile radius of their home. Environment, exposure and expectation will either bridge or deepen the achievement gap. How schools engage, support and involve families and communities in school turn around strategies plays a critical role in the academic success of all students.

Bridging the gap between policy makers and practitioners matters in helping more students and families find success and reducing the achievement gap. It will take all of us to help make the change in helping students find successful pathways.


Jason has worked in education for over 15 years as a teacher, blogger and community advocate. He speaks and writes primarily about the need to improve education for Black boys, particularly increasing the number of Black male educators in schools. In addition to blogging here at EdLanta, Jason is also a featured writer at Education Post.

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