Community leaders and educators from across the city highlighted the key ways to close the achievement gap in Madison at a panel Wednesday.
The panelists presented their ideas on which issues needed to be addressed in Madison public schools. The panel was organized as a part of Ed Talks Wisconsin, a 10-day-long event intended to jumpstart discussion about renewing public education in the state.
Michael Johnson from Boys and Girls Club of Dane County CEO said closing the achievement gap will require multiple approaches, commitment, political will and the combined efforts of everyone in the community.
“We must coordinate our collective efforts to help those kids that need it the most,” Johnson said. “The students in our community deserve to have us working with one another.”
All panelists agreed reaching out to parents is one way to address the achievement gap.
Johnson advocated that implementing a parent outreach program in schools would better engage parents in the classroom.
Mayor Paul Soglin said it is important for school districts to address parental involvement because it is one of the essential ways to create successful education. He explained it is important to engage parents in school and make them feel they have significant say in the education of their child.
“It is not good enough to send a note home in a backpack,” Soglin said. “That is not engagement.”
Soglin also emphasized the importance of getting parents involved in their children’s education early. He cited efforts in other cities to engage parents started with talking to parents before their children are even born.
The community also needs to focus on specific needs of students, according to Soglin. It is a tremendous challenge to learn in schools today, he said. Many households do not have computers, and if that is not recognized, it can impede ability of students to succeed, he said.
Out-of-school time was another key issue that needed to be addressed by educators and the community.
According to Johnson, one of the ways to achieve this is by connecting students to positive adults in the community. He said mentoring, field trips and career exploration through internships are some ways to help students maximize out of school time in this way.
Luke Gangler, a James Madison Memorial High School student and panel respondent, stressed the importance of starting to implement some of the plans outlined by the panelists.
“We are never going to achieve equality unless we start implementing these efforts now,” Gangler said.
The panel created an important conversation, according to Jaime Ropski, University of Wisconsin sophomore and Students for Education Reform organizational health chair.
Ropski said the panelists had a lot of good ideas about how to close the achievement gap, but their plans need to meet in the middle.
“Everyone talked about collaborating but no one is collaborating,” Ropski said.
UW senior and SFER Operations Director Quyen Bui added the panelists discussed the many changes that needed to be made but provided no strategy for how to make those changes.
Johnson added if the community is serious about the issues facing the achievement gap, it needs to create a comprehensive plan to address them.