The New State Achievement Gap: How Federal Waivers Could Make It Worse-Or Better

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With the adoption of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2002, the federal government signaled its intention to close achievement gaps in K-12 education, particularly for minority students. While there has been surprising progress in educating disadvantaged students since the law was passed, according to a new report released today by Education Sector, the progress has not been nationwide.

In The New State Achievement Gap: How Federal Waivers Could Make It Worse—Or Better, Education Sector Interim CEO John Chubb and Policy Analyst Constance Clark examine how states have performed since NCLB and find that the achievement gap among states is growing—it now approaches the already significant national racial achievement gap of 2.5 years in achievement.  “In just eight years, the states have created an achievement gap that is about 60 percent of the magnitude of the racial achievement gap — that took two centuries to establish,” write the authors.

Chubb and Clark also evaluate how the new state achievement gap will affect the Obama administration’s ESEA waiver program, which grants states exemptions from ESEA’s major regulations in exchange for adopting innovative approaches to helping disadvantaged students. The authors examine what states have promised to do in their waivers and how they will achieve those goals by comparing the progress made by the highest performing states with progress of the lowest. What they find is that high performing states are implementing more robust plans, going above and beyond the federal requirements to build on existing successes, while low performing states seem to be taking the easier road, driven by the basic guidelines provided by the administration, such as signing onto the Common Core standards to meet the “college ready” requirement, but failing to benchmark their assessments against other measures of college readiness.

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