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

Inspired by the 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 communities of high and low socio-economic status, 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: Low, Average, and High-SES School Districts

200 poorest, 200 national average, and 200 richest districts were selected as samples.

3 Samples 600 Districts.png

Samples: Richest and Poorest School Districts on the map

Low-SES and high-SES 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

Student Learning Rates (SLR)

50 high-performing and 50 low-performing districts were selected from each sample. All three samples show a significant gap in SLR between the high and low-performing groups.

Student Learning Rates_3 Sam please Comparison.png

Community Demographics

High-performing groups in all three samples have a higher percentage of minority or non-white population compared to the low-performing groups.

Community Demographics.png

School District Characteristics

High-performing groups are consistently associated with a smaller student body.

Student Body_3 samples.png

Family Characteristics

Students of single parents in poor district struggle the most.

Family Characteristics_3 Samples.png

District Per-Pupil Revenue (PPR)

There is no direct correlation between PPR and student performance.

Per-Pupil Revenue (PPR).png

Parents' Educational Attainment

Parents in high-SES sample have significantly higher educational attainment. However, there is no direct correlation between parents' educational attainment and student performance.

Parents' Educational Attainment_3 Samples.png


The findings show that regardless of socio-economic status, high-performing districts are: 

  • consistently associated with a more diverse student population.

  • consistently associated with a smaller student body.

The findings show no consistency between:

  • district per-pupil revenue and its student performance.

  • parent educational attainment and student performance.

Actions Followed

  1. 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. Among the 6,000 education bills passed between 2008 and 2015 in all 50 states:

    • few bills address students of color or students of single-parent families.

    • few SES-specific bills were found.

  2. The research team interviewed superintendents from selected districts. After analyzing the interview data, the research team drafted educational bill proposals and reached out to their district legislators.

9 State Bill Analysis