Teachers, Administrators Talk Achievement Gap Solutions in Madison

MacIver News Service | April 9, 2014

[Madison, Wisc…] The State Superintendent’s Task Force on Wisconsin’s Achievement Gap met for the first time on Wednesday, convening a diverse group of educators who have been tasked with fixing one of the biggest problems in Wisconsin’s K-12 education. That group will work to figure out how to close the persistent gaps in educational performance between students of different races in the Badger State.

Wednesday’s meeting laid out the stakes of Wisconsin’s achievement gap. DPI research analyst Jared Knowles discussed the gap plainly by showing that though the state’s non-white student population is growing rapidly, those students are also lagging far behind their peers in subjects like reading and math. DPI estimates suggest that between 20,000 to 40,000 students do not grade out as “proficient” or better in those categories thanks to the state’s achievement gap each year. That’s a huge disparity that begins in kindergarten and grows into high school.

Those disappointing figures are the ones that a group of educators are tasked with turning around. Mequon-Thiensville Superintendent Dr. Demond Means is the head of the task force that is made up of educational leaders from schools that have shown encouraging growth in educating all students effectively. Means made it clear from the outset that the group’s mission won’t be limited to schools in Milwaukee, Madison, or any one specific district.

“This is not an urban issue, rural issue, or suburban issue,” said Means. “It is a Wisconsin issue.”

State Superintendent Evers echoed that sentiment in his opening remarks.

“These are issues that we’re all facing. It’s not just one of these sectors [traditional public, choice, and charter schools] that are having problems,” said Evers.

The Task Force has three goals:

1. Recommend proactive instructional strategies to lessen the achievement gap in Wisconsin.
2. Develop resources for educators to meet that goal.
3. Understand how local policies may help or hinder closing the achievement gap from school to school.

While Wednesday’s meeting consisted mostly of introductory and background discussions, the group also took time to work out different scenarios to better understand the challenges that parents, teachers, and students face across the state. These scenarios put educators in the shoes of students, their families, and other stakeholders who are forced to face issues that could be disruptive to a student’s education.

They’ll have the opportunity to put more of those ideas to work when they reconvene on May 1st and 2nd in Brookfield to discuss best practices for eliminating the achievement gap in Wisconsin’s schools.