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As Congress Debates Federal Education Law, The Achievement Gap Is A Big Concern

Ralph Alswang via Flickr Creative Commons

The White House says neither of the bills in Congress to rewrite the country’s chief federal K-12 education law would do enough to close the achievement gap nationwide.

In Wyoming’s lowest-performing schools, 48 percent of students score proficient in math, compared with 80 percent of students in other schools.

Nationwide, 29 percent of students at low-performing score proficient in math, compared with 65 percent at all other schools. A report released by the White House Monday shows similar gaps exist for reading and graduation rates—in Wyoming and around the country.

This week, the U.S. Senate will debate a bipartisan overhaul of the No Child Left Behind Act. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says he won’t support that bill until it includes stricter accountability measures to ensure that low-performing schools are identified and fixed.  

“We join numerous civil rights and business groups in urging that significant improvements be made to the bill to make it a law that will further equity, rather than moving backwards,” says Duncan. “The Senate bill is missing key pieces and we cannot support it as it currently stands.”

Some proponents of the current version of the bill would like to leave accountability questions up to states. The debate comes as Wyoming works to revamp its own statewide accountability system. Both Wyoming’s legislative Education Committee and the state’s teachers union support the bill.

Meanwhile, the U.S. House will soon debate its own education bill, which has less support than the Senate bill.  

The White House Report—titled ‘Giving Every Child a Fair Shot’ also shows gaps in graduation and proficiency between white students and students who are black or Hispanic. In Wyoming, 29 percent of Hispanic fourth-graders scored proficient in math. That’s compared with 52 percent of white fourth-graders.

On a call with reporters, White House Domestic Policy Director Cecelia Munoz did not say President Obama would veto the current version of the Senate bill, but plans to work with lawmakers to produce desired improvements.

“We have to ensure that every state develops an accountability system that’s structured to close troubling achievement gaps and opportunity gaps,” Munoz says. “Especially in our lowest performing 5 percent of schools, our schools where subgroups of students are not achieving at high levels, and our high schools where far too many students don’t earn a diploma.”

Last month, members of Wyoming’s Legislative Education Committee sent a letter to Wyoming’s U.S. senators, urging them to support the Senate bill.

The bill—known as the Every Child Achieves Act—is expected to be debated for more than a week.

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