As University of Wisconsin students, we may take our institution for granted and we commonly forget a quality education is not always the easiest to come by. While all students have different educational experiences, certain factors have distanced students from opportunities to succeed.

The educational achievement gap can be defined as a disparity in academic performance between different demographics of students. Factors such as socioeconomic class and geographic location contribute to one’s ability to do well in school. Some students are held back from future success because of certain aspects of their personal and educational lives. Methods like standardized test scores or high school graduation rates can be used to identify the achievement gap.

There have been certain measures taken to help bridge this gap at both national and state levels. Nationally, the No Child Left Behind Act from the Bush era and the Every Student Succeeds Act from the Obama era both attempted to do so. At the state level, Wisconsin’s Achievement Gap Reduction program intends to minimize the gap as well — yet, a large disparity remains.

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Moreover, these problems aren’t equally dispersed across the nation or even across the state. Instead, certain communities are more significantly impacted by the educational divide. Wisconsin is one of the worst ranking states in the nation for having a prevalent achievement gap, and Madison and Milwaukee are the most severe cases. In order to solve this problem, we must examine the issue at a local level with individualized responses. While these larger aims have had good intentions, dismissing the localized facets of the issue hinder its resolution.

School districts alone will not be able to bridge the divide, as there are many circumstances that can impact a student’s performance or ability to learn. Out-of-school factors like housing insecurity, income inequality and community safety can all contribute to a student’s ability to succeed. That’s why this response must be comprehensive, looking beyond the limits of solely school-based solutions.

For these reasons, College Democrats of UW-Madison care strongly about finding several outlets to minimize the gap. Right now, socioeconomic status is beginning to contribute more significantly to the achievement gap. Students that drop out of high school are more likely to come from low-income families, so addressing income inequality is of high priority to Democrats. Additionally, supporting free-and-reduced lunch programs for low-income families is a priority with some proven success. Our children should not have to worry about where their next meal will come from.

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Within the schools, we need to ensure that all of our students are set up to succeed, and this may demand several reformative steps to take place. College Democrats of UW-Madison supports the expansion of early childhood education opportunities, as the success of students can be shaped in their early years. Other strategies for gap minimization include decreasing class sizes and providing tutoring opportunities. Furthermore, we also need to ensure that our schools strongest teachers are located in the schools with the greatest need. Instead of creating new charter schools or funding voucher programs, our priority should be in funding schools with the most significant achievement barriers. Finally, we must show our students that we believe in their ability to flourish.

Unfortunately, the education achievement gap will not diminish overnight, so we must make continual strides to achieve the change our students deserve. We must also increase our understanding of how these achievement gaps come to be so that we can better understand methods of prevention and mitigation. Increased research and policy analysis on the subject is critical. In the meantime, College Democrats of UW-Madison will continue to advocate for and support local leaders that will strive to make this goal a reality.

Cecelia McDermott ([email protected]) is a freshman majoring in political science and geography. She is also the press secretary of the College Democrats of UW-Madison.