Working on the achievement gap

Madison’s racial achievement disparities remain perplexing, pervasive, political

October 31, 2018   |   By Steven Elbow

From the Capital Times:

Some officials, experts and education advocates say initiatives to narrow Wisconsin's gap between black and white student academic achievement have been in place for years and are having an impact on a problem that will likely take decades to solve.

“I think there have been significant successes across different areas,” Madeline Hafner, executive director of the Minority Student Achievement Network at WCER, told the Capital Times. “Individual schools and individual districts have seen gaps close across different measures.”

“No single educational entity can fix this,” Hafner said. “It’s a societal challenge that took hundreds of years to create and will require addressing all the aspects that contribute to societal racism.”

Hafner, the UW-Madison education professor, heads up the Minority Student Achievement Network, a national coalition of school districts that share strategies for narrowing the achievement gap. In the four districts in Dane County, including Madison, more students of color and more students who live in poverty are taking honors and advanced placement classes. “We have research that shows that participating in honors courses and AP courses, the kids who do that persist in college at better rates than kids who don’t take those courses,” Haffner told the Capital Times.

She said those districts are also investing in early childhood intervention, a strategy that has been effective in getting kids ready for school, and they are recruiting more teachers of color. “Research shows us that when kids have racially diverse teachers, students of color achieve at higher levels,” she said. “You’ve seen that program grow over time.”

Her coalition also trains “equity leaders” to help narrow the achievement gap by interacting with fellow students to encourage achievement. “Just next week our kids are going to a national leadership conference for high school students for becoming equity leaders in their schools and districts,” she said. “I see across the United States our kids coming and telling us about the changes they’re making in their schools.”

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