State Level Strategies and Policies for Closing the Achievement Gap
California’s struggle to close the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic achievement gaps among its groups of students mirrors that of every other state. But compared with other states, the challenge in California is by every measure more daunting. Gaps between white students on the one hand and African American and Latino students on the other are among the widest in the nation.
Similarly, the state has the largest achievement gaps between students from low income families and those from more affluent homes.
Even more alarming is the scope of the imbalance. While in some states relatively small percentages of students are at the low end of the gap, fully 70 percent of California’s students are among those falling behind—a reality that underscores and galvanizes policy urgency.
This is not to say that California’s schools and students have not made progress. In spite of massive growth in enrollment and diversity over the last 15 years and a level of resources and support markedly lower than that provided in most states, achievement for all students has improved or at least held steady—a tribute to California’s educators. The problem is that even as all do better, the gaps between groups persist.
At the national level, the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), enacted in 2002, has made closing the gap a U.S.-wide priority. Spurred by NCLB’s accountability pressures, states have launched numerous policy initiatives aimed at reducing achievement disparities. This brief summarizes what’s being learned from state initiatives, especially in states similar to California; addresses key obstacles that may be limiting the effectiveness of California’s policy approach; and discusses options for California policymakers.