Mind the achievement gap: California’s disparities in education, explained

Source: Cal Matters

Few goals in education have been as frustrating and urgent as the effort to fix the deep, generational disparity in achievement between the haves and the have-nots in California schools.

It is an article of faith in the K-12 school system that every student — regardless of race, creed, wealth or color — can and should be academically successful. But in measures from standardized tests to dropout rates to college completion, the achievement gap has persisted in cities, rural communities and suburbs, a sign that opportunity is not yet equal for many children in California classrooms.

Over the last decade, prompted in part by budget constraints in the aftermath of the recession, California has initiated sweeping reforms in an attempt to channel more resources to high-needs students and to better level the educational playing field. These and other efforts have, to some extent, improved academic outcomes — but black, Latino and poor students still lag dramatically behind Asian American, white and wealthier students.

That challenge remains, not only a source of political tension, but also a looming economic problem for California.

Achievement gaps in earlier grades also play out as students leave the state’s public school system. Researchers with The Education Trust-West in 2017 traced racial, ethnic and income disparities in which students had access and participated in advanced coursework, such as AP classes that let high school students earn college credits early. More black and Latino high schoolers were taking AP courses, Ed Trust-West reported, but fewer than half of them were passing.

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Karla Fernandez

Communications Manager

Karla Fernandez (she/her/hers) joins Ed Trust–West as a Communications Manager with over 11 years of experience advancing social impact initiatives.

Karla started her career as a teacher at Chicago Public Schools and UIC College Prep. After teaching, Karla joined United Friends of the Children to support LA County’s youth in foster care as a college counselor. Through Leadership for Educational Equity, Karla also served as a Policy Advisor Fellow for the office of a Los Angeles Unified School Board Member. She solidified her interests in policy analysis and quantitative research during her time with the Price Center for Social Innovation, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, and the USC Presidential Working Group on Sustainability. Before joining The Education Trust–West, Karla was the Associate Director for the Southeast Los Angeles (SELA) Collaborative, a network of nonprofits advocating for communities in SELA.

Karla holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology from the University of Chicago, a Master of Public Policy from the USC Price School of Public Policy, and a Graduate Certificate in Policy Advocacy from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Karla is based out of southern California and is passionate about using data analysis, communications, and digital strategies for policy advocacy and social justice efforts.