Investigating the Achievement Gap - What State Governments Can Do to Help

Inspired by the movement of community empowerment this year, a team of high school students at Youth Research Vox initiated this study. After weeks of hard work--reviewing the achievement data of 13,000 school districts across the country, examining over 6,000 education bills of 50 states, and comparing the profiles of both economically disadvantaged and advantaged communities--surprising facts began to emerge.

 

Achievement Data by County

The achievement data of 13,000 school districts across the US: green represents the counties where students of low socioeconomic status (SES) have a learning rate (SLR) that is higher than the national average; blue represents the counties where students of low SES have a lower SLR than the national average.

Figure 1

Achievement Data by District & Socioeconomic Status

Each dot in the chart represents a school district. Bigger dots are larger school districts. The districts that are on the left side have lower SES. The districts on the right have higher SES.

Figure 2

Samples: Richest vs. Poorest School Districts/Communities

185 richest and 185 poorest districts were selected as samples.

Figure 3

Samples: Richest and Poorest School Districts on the map

Sampled districts are shown on the maps below. Black dots show where the poorest districts are located. Red dots are the richest districts. The size of a dot represents the number of districts in the state.

Figure 4&5f

Highest Performing vs. Lowest Performing Districts among the RICHEST

The 185 richest districts are ranked by SLR. Group A, the 50 districts listed on the left, are the lowest performing districts. Group B, the 50 districts listed on the right, are the highest performing districts.

Table A&B

While both Group A and Group B are among the richest districts, there is a large gap in student performance. Comparing the community factors of Group A and Group B, the data shows that two variables could be possible contributors:

1. The size of the community a district serves - STUDENTS IN SMALLER DISTRICTS PERFORMED BETTER

Rich 50H vs 50L Population

 2. The diversity or demographics of a community - STUDENTS IN MORE DIVERSE COMMUNITIES PERFORMED BETTER

Rich 50H vs 50L

Summary of the Richest School Districts

  • In economically advantaged school districts, less consolidation of schools and districts could be beneficial. Meanwhile, considering separating the largest districts into smaller ones could provide more flexibility and autonomy to each district, which could bring positive learning outcomes.

  • Increasing diversity within each school district should be an ongoing effort. Creating an inclusive environment as well as celebrating each individual student’s uniqueness could benefit a district as a whole.

  • State educational policies focusing on diversity within school districts are crucial in generating learning outcomes.

Highest Performing vs. Lowest Performing Districts among the POOREST

The 185 poorest districts are ranked by SLR. Group C, the 50 districts listed on the left, are the lowest performing districts. Group D, the 50 districts on the right, are the highest performing districts.

50H &50L among Poorest

While both Group C and Group D are among the poorest districts, there is a large gap in student performance. Comparing the community factors of Group C and Group D, the data shows that two variables could be the possible contributors:

1. The size of the community a district serves - STUDENTS IN SMALLER DISTRICTS PERFORMED BETTER

Poor 50H vs 50L Population

2. The percentage of single-mom families in a district - STUDENTS IN COMMUNITIES THAT HAVE FEWER SINGLE-MOM HOUSEHOLDS PERFORMED BETTER

Poor 50H vs 50L

Summary of the Poorest Districts

  • In economically disadvantaged school districts, less consolidation of schools and districts is just as beneficial as in advantaged districts. Despite the severe challenges that poverty brings, Group D, the 50 smaller districts, are able to help their students learn 12% more each year compared to the national average.

  • Despite more parents having college degrees, the 50 districts in Group C are struggling, especially with students in single-mom households. 

  • State educational policies aiming to help students in single-mom households and their families are needed.

Actions Followed

A thorough review of education bills passed in 9 different states finds that there are five major categories: funding related, accountability related, teacher related, parent-involvement related, and student-wellbeing related education bills. The emphasis of individual states varies; a slight year-to-year increase in student-wellbeing related bills in all states is observed.

9 State Bill Analysis

Among the 6,000 education bills passed between 2008 and 2015 in all 50 states, there are few bills that address students of color or students in single-parent families.

What Happens Next

  • The research team is in the stage of collecting interview data. Superintendents in school districts in Group A, B, C, and D are selected interviewees. 

  • Once interview data is analyzed, the research team will begin to draft educational bills and propose them to district legislators.