Addressing the Achievement Gap

In 2011, the Junior League of Minneapolis made a strategic decision to focus its volunteer and advocacy efforts on the achievement gap. Specifically, the Junior League of Minneapolis provides projects and serves aimed at eliminating many of the underlying causes of the achievement gap that hinder the learning process for area students.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, Minnesota’s achievement gap is one of the largest in the nation.[i]  This statistic is largely the result of the large achievement gap in the City of Minneapolis, which, among white and non-white students, is the largest in the State of Minnesota.[ii]  The racial and economic disparities that exist in the Minneapolis schools impact the lives and future opportunities of the city’s youth on a daily basis.[iii]

In addition to its own projects and services, the Junior League of Minneapolis partners with organizations in the Minneapolis community that are already working to narrow the achievement gap. The Junior League of Minneapolis provides womanpower and networking opportunities so that these programs can reach their full potential. The Junior League of Minneapolis also implements advocacy efforts aimed at educating its members, the public and local and state governments regarding the many issues that contribute to the achievement gap. Through these efforts, the Junior League of Minneapolis trains its members to become active citizens dedicated to narrowing the achievement gap in their own neighborhoods, schools and businesses.

What Causes the Achievement Gap?

Widely recognized causes of the achievement gap include food insecurity and the lack of nutrition, inadequate family support systems, the lack of self-esteem among students and their families, and the absence of summer learning programs. In essence, the achievement gap can also be explained as a “resource gap,” since it is largely caused by the disparity in resources available to children of different income brackets, socioeconomic groups and races and ethnicities.[vii]

Specifically, consider the following:

  • The gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low-income students has grown by approximately 40 percent since the 1960s, and it is now double the testing gap between African-American and white students.[viii]
  • Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that more than 40 percent of the variation in average reading scores and 46 percent of the variation in average math scores across states is associated with variation in child poverty rates.[ix]
  • Children who skip breakfast and are undernourished are shown to have difficulties paying attention in school, are less alert, have a myriad of learning deficits, and are more depressed, anxious and even violent.[x]
  • Low-income students experience greater learning loss during the summer than their more privileged peers who are able to enjoy travel, summer camps and other enriching activities.[xi]
  • Children living in areas of concentrated poverty are more likely to live with parents who struggle to meet their material needs and are also more likely to experience harmful levels of stress and severe behavioral and emotional problems than children overall.  Students in schools in these communities score lower on standardized tests and are more likely to drop out of high school.[xii]
  • Children from low-income families often start kindergarten with limited language skills as well as social and emotional problems that inhibit learning. And those who start behind are much more likely to stay behind.[xiii]

Why the Achievement Gap Matters to the Twin Cities Community

High school graduates are, on average, more likely to be gainfully employed, more likely to become tax-paying citizens and less likely to be arrested [xiv]. Within the State of Minnesota, college graduates will become increasingly necessary, as within the next ten years, Minnesota businesses are expected to create up to 33 percent more jobs focused on science and technology that require advanced.[xv] The need for a quality education that prepares our students for the challenges of their futures is as great as ever.  Nevertheless, the enormity of the achievement gap in Minnesota suggests that many of our students are ill prepared to meet those challenges.

In 2011, the Minneapolis Public Schools reported that the achievement gap had narrowed for the first time in six years, with increases in reading scores for African American, Latino, Asian and American Indian students that outpaced the gains of their white peers. Despite this promising news, as stated previously, the achievement gap in Minneapolis remains the largest in the Twin Cities metro area and in the State of Minnesota; white students in Minneapolis are more than twice as likely to pass state reading and math tests than their African American, Latino and American Indian classmates, and the same is true for Asian students on reading exams. [xvi]

Many groups dedicated to narrowing the achievement gap in the Minneapolis area focus largely on in-school factors such as teacher qualifications, teacher compensation and standardized test scores. Other organizations focus on the causes of the achievement gap that occur outside the four walls of a school building (food insecurity, lack of parenting support systems, etc.), but theses causes are so great in number that no one organization can address all of the underlying causes of the achievement gap standing alone. In order to truly address the achievement gap and its underlying causes, organizations must work together toward a common goal.

The Junior League of Minneapolis’ Response to Addressing the Achievement Gap

In response to statistics regarding the achievement gap and needs expressed by well-respected local organizations, the Junior League of Minneapolis chose to address the achievement gap in Minneapolis and the surrounding areas by providing resources that increase educational opportunities and family support services so that all children can receive the support they need to succeed from birth through their post-secondary education. Specifically, the Junior League of Minneapolis seeks to provide “wraparound services” to address the many barriers to learning that are caused by the underlying issues that affect the achievement gap.

Wraparound Services

Wraparound services are community-based services that provide coordinated, individualized, holistic support to children and their families. The goal of delivering wraparound services is to address a child’s educational, behavioral and emotional needs in order to ensure that he or she is afforded every opportunity to succeed academically. At the same time, wraparound services are designed as communitywide approaches that aim to build capacity outside of school, in individual families and across the community more broadly.[xvii]  Examples of wraparound services could include: providing food and nutritional sources, parenting support programs and mentoring services aimed at improving a student’s self-esteem.

Building Community Partnerships

The Junior League of Minneapolis has formed strategic partnerships with successful community organizations aimed at eliminating many of the underlying causes of the achievement gap so that together we might impact the lives of local students in a more meaningful way. 

Some of the current organizations with which the Junior League of Minneapolis works include:  ACES (Athletes Committed to Educating Students), AchieveMpls, Andersen United Community School, Free Arts Minnesota,  GEMS/GISE (Minneapolis Public Schools), Minnesota Correctional Facility-Shakopee, Minnesota National Guard’s Beyond the Yellow Ribbon, Partnership Academy, Write to Thrive, Richard R. Greene Central Park School, Second Harvest Heartland and STEP-UP.

Partnering with these organizations and many others allows the Junior League of Minneapolis to collaboratively design community projects with centralized processes, a common agenda, shared measurement, and continuous communication.  As community organizations identify gaps in their abilities to serve their constituencies, they are able to express their needs to the Junior League of Minneapolis so that the Junior League of Minneapolis can help fill the gaps and allow the organizations to collaboratively serve the community.

[i] Williams, Chris. “Education Sec. Duncan says Minn. can do better.” Star Tribune [Minneapolis].  21 Jan. 2011.

[ii] AchieveMpls Online, April 2012.

[iii] Id.

[iv] Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics Online, 2011, U.S. Department of Education, 23 June 2011.

[v] Tavernise, Sabrina. “Education Gap Grows Between Rich and Poor, Studies Say.” New York Times [New York City]. 9 Feb. 2012.

[vi] Tavernise, Sabrina. “Education Gap Grows Between Rich and Poor, Studies Say.” New York Times [New York City]. 9 Feb. 2012.

[vii] Ladd, Helen, and Fiske, Edward B. “Class Matters. Why Won’t We Admit It?” New York Times [New York]. 11 Dec. 2011.

[viii] Tavernise, Sabrina. “Education Gap Grows Between Rich and Poor, Studies Say.” New York Times [New York City]. 9 Feb. 2012.

[ix] Id.

[x] Hyman, Mark.  “Back to School: How to Raise Healthier, Smarter, Fitter Children.”  8 Sept. 2011.

[xi] Ladd, Helen, and Fiske, Edward B. “Class Matters. Why Won’t We Admit It?” New York Times [New York]. 11 Dec. 2011.

[xii] Dell’Antonia, KJ, “More Children Living (and Lacking) in High-Poverty Areas.” New York Times [New York] 5 Apr. 2012.

[xiii] Ochshorn, Susan.  “Where the Achievement Gap is Born: A Letter to Cathie Black.”  The Huffington Post Online. 20 Dec. 2010.

[xiv] “Saving Futures, Saving Dollars: The Impact of Education on Crime Reduction and Earnings.” Alliance for Excellent Education.  August 2006.

[xv] MN STEM Online.

[xvi] Mitchell, Corey, Lemagie, Sarah, and Howatt, Glenn.  “Statewide math scores disappointing.” Star Tribune [Minneapolis].  15 Sept. 2011.

[xvii] “All Children Ready To Learn: Policy Recommendations for Wraparound Services In The Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”  29 Apr. 2011.