Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Friday, July 19, 2013

Ideas from other states could help close achievement gap in Wisconsin schools

Ideas for helping Wisconsin reduce its racial academic achievement gap are summarized in a new report from the La Follette School of Public Affairs.

Available online

Narrowing the Achievement Gap: Policy Success at the State Level
Prepared for the Department of Public Instruction by Kelsey Hill, Daniel Moser, R. Sam Shannon, Timothy St. Louis

Commissioned by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, a team of students in the Workshop in Public Affairs reviewed state-level education policies that help reduce the gap in academic achievement between black and white students and between Hispanic and white students.

In particular, the graduate students focused on programs in Iowa, Kansas, North Carolina and Oklahoma because their contexts are similar to Wisconsin's situation and because they have developed successful or promising programs.

Among the highlighted programs are the Iowa Statewide Voluntary Preschool Program and Oklahoma's Universal Preschool Program, both of which emphasize high quality early education for minority and other students.

The Kansas Accreditation Model is another promising endeavor. It requires local schools to develop programs that go beyond achievement in core subject areas and address social and career development in a manner relevant to cultures of students of the school.

Timothy St. Louis

"Kansas is expanding accreditation criteria to include how well schools help students with college preparedness, career readiness, behavior and character development, social development, student engagement and school engagement," says one of the authors, Timothy St. Louis, who interviewed Kansas education officials.

Kansas also emphasizes improved use of student data by teachers so they can provide earlier and more effective assistance to at-risk students. "The system is built on the notion that perpetual data feedback allows educators to serve as a rapid-response team that can aid students who are falling behind or making poor choices," St. Louis says.

"The programs we surveyed differ in the degree to which they are targeted at and tailored to minority student populations, as well as their overall comprehensiveness, level of state agency involvement and applicability to Wisconsin's current education system," wrote St. Louis and his co-authors Kelsey Hill, Daniel Moser and Sam Shannon. They wrote the report as part of the Workshop in Public Affairs taught by professor Andrew Reschovsky.

"Nevertheless, programs showing promise in states similar to Wisconsin, as well as other states, can provide DPI with a range of policy options that—whether adopted individually or in combination—could help the agency narrow Wisconsin's Black-White and Hispanic-White student achievement gaps."