Educational ‘achievement gap’ is hurting Oregon economy

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Educational ‘achievement gap’ hurting Oregon economy

6:10 p.m. PDT August 4, 2015

Although efforts continue to close the educational “achievement gap” in Oregon, children of color consistently fall far behind their white counterparts on key educational metrics.

That’s the conclusion of a recent report, which also found that Oregon’s economy it taking a significant hit.

If the achievement gap for Oregon’s adult population had been eliminated by 2003, the increase in economic activity in Oregon would have been $1.9 billion higher in 2013, the report states.

“Not only is education a path out of poverty for many underserved families, but these kids are our future innovators, entrepreneurs and employees; the drivers of regional competitiveness in a global economy,” said Sandra McDonough, president and CEO of the Portland Business Alliance.

“This report shows that closing the achievement gap will benefit not only individuals attaining better education outcomes, but also the state as a whole in terms of greater economic vitality.”

The Portland Business Alliance, Value of Jobs Coalition and Chalkboard Project released the results of the joint study titled, “Economics of the Achievement Gap: Oregon and the Portland Area,” on July 22.

The report looked at the economic impact created by the ongoing achievement gap for minority students in Oregon’s public schools. The analysis was based on various assessments, such as the eighth grade Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (OAKS) outcomes. The organizations involved worked with economists to analyze what the gap costs Oregon in terms of economic achievement and advances.

Their findings suggested that achievement can directly, and significantly, impact the state’s economy.

“The OAKS scores are a good indication of the achievement gap, though it is not exact,” said Andrew Dyke, one of the leading economists on the study.

Dyke and others said the reality the role of education plays in long-term earning capacity makes the imperative to close our state’s achievement gap even more important.

Another study by the secretary of state in 2013 shows achievement gaps are significant and consistent in Oregon with a notable effect on workforce preparedness for underserved populations.

According to that study, Hispanic, black and Native American eighth-graders, on average, were typically at least one grade level behind in math and reading.

“If the state fails in the effort to close the achievement gap, long-term workforce availability could be compromised, and that could impact Oregon’s ability to attract and retain quality jobs,” the report states.

The solution?

Sue Hildick, president of Chalkboard Project, said it centers on good quality teachers and accountability.

“In order to close these persistent achievement gaps and prepare all our students for the jobs of the future, all students need access to high-quality, culturally relevant, and engaging learning environments,” she said.

“This means a continued focus on recruiting and retaining the best teachers and leaders, diversifying the educator workforce, and maintaining a laser-like focus on accountability for better results statewide.”

Tonia Holowetzki of Chalkboard Project agreed.

She said that teachers are the most influential in-school factor on a student’s success. Though they may be dealing with various things outside of school, an effective teacher is shown to be the most crucial element within schools to a student’s achievements.

“We want to recruit and train the best teachers out there,” she said.

Holowetzki added that it takes support from teachers, administrators, and politicians to help minimize or close the gap.

“The classroom environment needs to evolve and change to be the best for the student,” she said.

She said there has been a lot of support from the state government, which has passed various bills to supply state funding for projects that center attention on training teachers and providing strong care for traditionally marginalized students.

“We see the possibilities,” she said. “But it’s going to take time.”

Though the gap may not be closed entirely in the near future, Holowetzki and others agreed that any progress to further eliminate the gap is important change.

npate@StatesmanJournal.com, (503) 399-6745, or follow on Twitter @Nataliempate

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