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2011-12 WEAC Legislative Agenda

Closing Achievement Gaps

The Wisconsin Education Association Council believes in partnering with communities, families and schools to advocate for the resources that will help all children become productive 21st century citizens and to pursue and achieve their dreams regardless of gender, ethnicity, race, disability, or economic status.

The achievement gap is generally measured by a difference in standardized test scores in reading and math between different groups of students in a particular grade level. Large differences can lead to effects such as increased dropout rates or fewer high school graduates pursuing a post-secondary education. Due to a host of complex reasons largely rooted in poverty, Wisconsin has one of the largest achievement gaps in the nation between economically disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students, and between African–American and white students.

Achievement gaps affect the state as a whole. When students succeed, the benefits of economic growth and civic engagement are shared by everyone. When students do not succeed, however, the social and economic costs also are shared by everyone.

All across the state, teachers and education support professionals are dedicated to the success of their students. They are committed to using their skills and experience to offer practical solutions to improve our schools, leading to better outcomes for students. In Milwaukee, for instance, teachers and community members are using grant monies from the National Education Association to make a difference. Funds from the National Foundation for the Improvement of Education created “Focus Schools,” which address achievement gaps through targeted, teacher-led professional development that is based on needs identified by teachers and the school community.

In addition to meaningful professional development, educators know that smaller class sizes help to narrow achievement gaps. Wisconsin can take pride in its highly successful Student Achievement Guarantee in Education (SAGE) program which establishes a 15:1 student-teacher ratio in grades K-3 in participating schools. In addition to reducing class sizes, SAGE schools are expected to keep their doors open every day for extended hours, collaborate with community organizations to make educational and recreational opportunities available, develop rigorous academic curriculum, and provide professional development for teachers.

Unfortunately, SAGE funding levels have not kept pace with inflation. Originally set at $2,000 per pupil in 1996-97, it was not until 2007 that the Legislature increased the SAGE reimbursement rate for low-income pupils, which rose to $2,250. As a result of this virtual freeze in per-pupil funding, more and more school districts are finding it difficult to stay in the program.

WEAC therefore supports increasing the SAGE per-pupil reimbursement level from $2,250 to $2,500. Such an investment is needed to maintain school participation in this program, which better provides equal opportunities for a sound and basic education for low-income students, and is proven to boost student achievement and long-term success, such as through increased graduation.

The larger community, of course, is integral to school success. Parent and community involvement, community health, economic vitality and neighborhood safety are as important as any factor in helping students succeed. A school cannot do it alone. That is why WEAC supports creating a “community school” grant program to fund parent and community outreach, tutoring, literacy programs, mentoring, social services and after-school programs in school districts with high poverty–which brings community support to students as another strategy to help close achievement gaps. Under the program, school districts would be required to secure matching funds from the community through businesses, charities, foundations and other philanthropic organizations.

Addressing achievement gaps and their multiple causes should be one of our state’s highest priorities. Only when every child reaches his or her full potential will the democratic ideal be realized and the state fully benefit from the growth of all its citizens.

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