Pennsylvania has nearly the worst literacy gaps in the country – Pennsylvania Capital star | Team Cansler

By Dale Mezzacappa

Pennsylvania ranks near the top of the nation in educational gaps based on race and income level, according to a new report that finds a huge difference in access to quality education between black and white students.

The state also has a wide gap between students from low-income families and their more affluent peers, the study showed.

“We know that even within high-poverty schools, there is a racial gap,” said David Lapp, the director of policy research at Research for Action, a Philadelphia-based organization that focuses on issues related to educational equity and creates a dashboard has the odds. Such a gap is not as pronounced statewide as it is in Pennsylvania, he said.

According to the group’s state-by-state dashboard and a Pennsylvania study based on it, there are big racial differences.

Researchers compiled an average opportunity score to assess access to quality education. Pennsylvania scored 65 percent overall — 70 percent for white students, 53 percent for black students, and 58 percent for Hispanic students.

Among the 50 states, Pennsylvania ranked 49th in the black-white gap, 50th in the Hispanic-White gap, and 49th in the gap between students from low-income families and their more affluent peers.

“White students are offered greater access to educational opportunities compared to white students in most states, as well as blacks and Hispanics [are provided] fewer opportunities than other states,” said Justis Freeman, one of the report’s authors.

The so-called opportunity gap widened from 2015-16, when the group released its first dashboard, to 2017-18, the latest data collected by the Federal Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

While the concentration of Black and Hispanic students in schools with high levels of poverty appears to be a major factor creating gaps, “racial differences often exist even within subsets of schools with similar levels of poverty,” according to a Pennsylvania report that accompanied the publication of the updated dashboard.

In most areas that can be measured, “Pennsylvania is defined by educational inequality,” Lapp said.

Screenshot from Research for Action dashboard rankings based on “Opportunity Gaps” shows Pennsylvania at the top of the list for being among the most unfair (Research for Action/Chalkbeat Philadelphia).

Overall performance data for all students puts Pennsylvania in the top half of the states on the dashboard, but that ranking hides the big gaps based on race and income in both performance and opportunity, he said. The findings “shift the responsibility onto policymakers” to address the root causes of persistent and widespread educational inequality, he said.

Findings are based on federal data collected before COVID precautions closed campus. “This is the definitive basis for what we know about schools before the pandemic,” Lapp said.

Nationally, the dashboard showed that 63.6 percent of white students had access to quality education, compared to just 54.2 percent of black students and 59.5 percent of Hispanic students. While 64 percent of non-low-income students had access, only 57.9 percent of low-income students, as measured by eligibility for subsidized meals, had access.

Research for Action categorized quality education as access to three broad areas – educator credentials and experience, curriculum rigor, and school climate, as measured by data such as absenteeism and frequency of penalties such as suspension.

The three areas comprised 14 indicators.

The Pennsylvania report cites two factors that likely contributed to the state’s large gaps: Black and Hispanic students are disproportionately enrolled in high-poverty schools, while white students are disproportionately enrolled in low-poverty schools. When white students are enrolled in high-poverty schools, those schools tend to perform better on the Opportunity Index than those that primarily enroll black students.

The release of the updated dashboard comes as Pennsylvania awaits a decision on a challenge to its school funding system, resulting in the nation’s largest spending gaps between wealthy and poor counties.

Commonwealth Court Judge Renée Cohn Jubelirer is expected to make a decision before the end of the year after hearing testimonies from educators and experts during a four-month trial. Plaintiffs in this case include six school districts, several parents, and two statewide advocacy groups.

Dale Mezzacappa reports on K-12 schools and early childhood education in Philadelphia for Chalkbeat Philadelphia, where this story first appeared. Readers can email her at [email protected].

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