Dive Brief:

  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday released “America’s Opportunity Gaps: By the Numbers,” a report compiling data on opportunity gaps that hinder Black Americans and people of color in education, employment, entrepreneurship, criminal justice, health and wealth development. 
  • The research is meant to help the chamber as it seeks to promote “targeted, data-driven, and sustainable solutions” to expand equal opportunity through policy and the private sector, and the education portion of the research notes that the achievement gap begins shortly after birth with variance based on parental income.
  • According to the research cited in the report, Black students are twice as likely to attend high-poverty schools, average per-pupil spending in high-poverty non-white schools is $1,500 less than the national average, and 45% of Black students receive no formal postsecondary education.

Dive Insight:

The report also highlighted data showing just 20% of Black 4th-graders read at grade level compared to half of white students, and just 14% of Black 8th-graders are at grade level in math.

The education research highlighted in the Chamber of Commerce’s report is among an extensive body of data produced in the past decade as school districts have worked to improve equity in resources, access to courses, discipline and other areas.

The connection between discipline disparities and the achievement gap has gained significant attention in particular, with a study published last year in the journal AERA Open finding that a 10% increase in a school district’s Black-white discipline gap in grades 3-8 predicted an achievement gap 17% larger than the average Black-white achievement gap. The inverse held true, as well.

The overrepresentation of students of color, as well as those with disabilities, in disciplinary actions resulting in suspension or expulsion — even though the rate of actual misbehavior isn’t higher than that of white peers — has become known as the “school-to-prison pipeline,” so named for the tendency that these student populations are also funneled into the juvenile, and later adult, justice systems.

In recognition of this problem, many districts nationwide have set out to reform disciplinary practices and abandon “zero tolerance” measures that result in harsh punishments for minor infractions. Popular alternative disciplinary models have included restorative justice, which utilizes conflict resolution circles to build empathy and understanding, and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, which incorporates a data-driven intervention approach focused on clear behavioral expectations and positive messaging.

Research has also linked rising temperatures to educational achievement gaps, as high-poverty schools are more likely to have undermaintained air conditioning (or lack it entirely) as heat waves become more prevalent during the fall and spring. 

A study ​released last year by The Educational Opportunity Project at Stanford University concluded — after an examination of tests taken by white, Black and Hispanic students nationwide  that poverty is the common factor impacting U.S. achievement gaps.

Community school models offering wraparound services to mitigate the impacts of poverty have gained popularity in recent years and shown results as a means of combating this, but experts have argued schools can ultimately only do so much to address the root issues of achievement gaps, making the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s big picture view of opportunity gaps across several areas of the population all the more important as a tool to guide effective policy and investment.

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