Blue Ribbon Panel Takes Achievement Gap Report to Duncan

A blue-ribbon panel convened to study the issue of the academic achievement gap has released a report outlining the path the federal government and individual states need to take to make sure that each child gets quality primary and secondary education regardless of whether they happened to have won the so-called "zip code lottery."

The wide-reaching list of recommendations authored by The Equity and Excellence Commission, which was turned over to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, were unanimously adopted by members who came from all sides of the ideological and political divide.

The problem the panel was charged with tackling is a challenging one. According to the Christian Science Monitor, white students regularly outperform both their African-American and Hispanic peers in math. Furthermore, American students are also lagging those from other countries, with the latest international results showing them in 27th place in math in the world.

For starters, reform the funding systems that so often mean a child's access to education is determined by his or her ZIP code. Then elevate and reform the teaching profession, ensure access to high-quality preschool, meet the non-school needs of students from high-poverty communities, and shift the system of educational governance to improve equity.

All big – almost impossibly big – goals.

The recommendations, which are not binding and will need the action of both the President and Congress to be put in effect, include the call for more investment in early childhood education, which one of the issues that got a mention in the President Barack Obama's State of the Union address earlier this month. In addition, the report spends a lot of time focusing on the changes that need to be made to the way teachers in America are recruited, trained and compensated. Also tackled are incentive systems that would persuade the most highly-effective members of the teaching professions to take up positions in the most high-need schools.

Among a host of specific recommendations, the report cites ideas like more teacher residency programs to recruit and place effective teachers in high-needs communities, collaborative teaching teams, and research-driven professional development.

Christopher Edley, who co-chaired the commission said that states need to look at HR policies in place in the private sector to see the most effective ways to recruit, reward and retain high-performing personnel. He noted that the ineffective way that the public schools systems handle their employees contributes to the achievement gap by putting the most inexperienced and least effective teachers into the classrooms of under-performing students.

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