Did you know Washington’s opportunity gap is growing?

September 13, 2011 at 11:36 am

At first glance, it seems Washington’s students perform well overall. And, compared to other states, on average Washington students do perform well on a number of measures. We should celebrate these achievements with pride.

However, this is only part of the story. These averages mask the fact that student outcomes are vastly different depending on where they live, their family’s income, and their background. This is because the quality of education Washington students receive is often determined by the zip code students live in, rather than their ability to learn. An African American or Latino child in our state has only about a 1 in 2 chance of graduating high school.

Washington is one of only a handful of states where the achievement or opportunity gap— between rich and poor, and white and non-white students—is growing. If our state’s dismal progress continues, researchers predict it will take 105 years to close the gap between white and African-American students in fourth grade reading. In contrast, Louisiana is on pace to close its achievement gap in fourth grade reading in just 12.5 years.

The challenges of ending this opportunity gap are compounded by the fiscal challenges facing our state. Washington continues to fail in its constitutional paramount duty to fund basic education for all students. In fact, after last session the percentage of state funding going to schools is less than 40%, down from a traditional level of about 50%.

While Stand for Children believes the state should increase the percentage of state revenue going to education, these fiscal times call for tough decisions on how the state spends its scarce resources.

On September 15, the state will announce its next revenue forecast—and it is likely to be ugly—to the tune of $1 to $2 billion dollars in additional cuts needed. The governor has already asked agencies to identify another 10% cut in funding in case its necessary ($1.7 billion total) and prepared legislators for a possible special session.  

We hope the state does not make further cuts to education, but no matter what they must prioritize maintaining supports that are targeted at improving under‐performing schools and closing the achievement gap. For example, over the last few years the state has begun funding full-day kindergarten in schools serving 21% of the state’s poorest students. This program and others like it must continue if we are going to close the opportunity gap in our state.

Obviously, this issue is big and can’t be covered in just a few paragraphs. It is a fundamental flaw in our current system and it underpins all efforts in public education to improve outcomes for kids. At Stand, it is the primary driver for all the work that we do on behalf of students.

Dave Powell
Policy Director, Stand for Children – Washington

To learn more, join us for a policy webinar on Thursday, September 15 at 2 pm or 6 pm. Contact wainfo@stand.org for more information.

Learn More

The state’s Achievement Gap Oversight and Accountability Committee has published numerous reports on the state’s achievement gaps with recommendations for how to narrow the gaps: http://www.k12.wa.us/AchievementGap/Studies.aspx

The Education Trust is nationally recognized for their focus on closing the achievement gap: See their Gauging the Gaps report for a national summary and this profile of Washington State with statistics on our gaps.


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