International and Racial Achievement Gap

Increasing the number of college educated people in a society can result in benefits both to society and to individuals.  Economists have argued that investment in human capital through education can contribute to a country’s economic growth by increasing earning and productivity (Cohn 1979; Schultz, 1961). Individuals with a college degree earn almost twice as much as individuals with a high school diploma. Because the K-12 school system is the pipeline to college, it is vitally important that US schools remain globally competitive. While high schools in Germany, Denmark, Finland and Norway are separated  for vocational and academic students and graduate nearly 100% of their students,  US high schools seek to serve all students in an integrated setting,  apply a single set of standards to all students, and graduate only 75% of their students (Lamb, 2008). In Connecticut 86% of white students graduate on time but only 60% of Latino students graduate on time (Education Trust, 2009). While nearly all eligible white high school graduates go directly to four-year colleges, less than half of the students of color who graduate from high school enroll in a four year college (Education Trust, 2009). Based on international and national assessment data, US schools are classified as “good” whereas schools in Canada, Hong, Kong, Singapore, South Korea are classified as “great”, and schools in Finland are classified as “excellent”. [Range of levels: poor, fair, good, great, excellent] These data suggest the educational outcomes of the US lag behind those of other countries.

College education has been characterized as a passport to the middle class (Lemann, 2000). But Connecticut falls short in providing the educational resources that would help its students earn this passport. Students in poverty represent nearly 30% of the school population in this state, English language learners constitute 4%, and students of color make up over 35%.  According to the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), commonly referred to as the Nation’s Report Card, 85% of Connecticut’s white students performed at or above the basic level in fourth grade reading compared to 54% and 51% of Black and Hispanic students, respectively.[1]  Fifty-two percent (52%) of white students performed at or above the proficient  level of performance while only  22% of African-American and 15% of Hispanic students achieved this level..  Only 29% of English language learners (ELL) in Connecticut scored at basic or higher compared to 78% of non-ELLs.  A paltry 6% of ELLs scored proficient or higher compared to 44% of non-ELLs.  Only five states and the District of Columbia did worse than Connecticut in terms of average White-Black scale score difference on the fourth grade NAEP reading assessment.  Only Minnesota and the District of Columbia did worse than Connecticut in terms of the White-Hispanic average test score gap in fourth grade reading. Connecticut is one of the top performing states in overall academic achievement, but an examination of differences between majority and minority groups suggests that Connecticut schools are offering limited learning opportunities to poor, non-white, and English-learning minority students.

The racial and socioeconomic achievement gap in Connecticut is not just a problem for the education system to solve. It is the product of systemic racial and socioeconomic inequalities in the state such as segregation of towns and neighborhoods; inequalities in housing, health services, and employment; and vast differences in average household earnings. Connecticut has the highest per capita income in the country, yet it has three of the poorest cities in the nation—Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport.[2]


Poverty and Racial Achievement Gap

Balfonz et al, Building a Grad Nation:  Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic, John HopkinsUniversity, 2010.

Education Watch State Report – Connecticut Education Trust, Washington, DC, 2009

Equity in Education:  A Transformational Approach, SERC, Middletown, CT, 2011.

Gauging the Gaps-A Deeper Look at Student Achievement, Education Trust, Washington, D.C., 2010

International Achievement Gap

Plucker, et al, Mind the Gap:  The Growing Excellence Gap in K-12 Education, Center for Evaluation and Public Policy, 2010.

Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education:  Lessons from PISA for the United States, OECD Publishing, 2011.

Wagner, Tony, The Global Achievement Gap, Bask Books, New York, 2008.



[2] Connecticut Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (2010). Dropouts to Diplomas: Closing the Attainment Gap in Connecticut High Schools.  

Identifying the Problem