The opportunity gap, also known as the education achievement gap is the disparity in academic success between groups of students – groups by race, student ability, family income, etc. A report published by the Center for American Progress – “The Economic Benefits of Closing the Educational Achievement Gaps” aims to explain why closing this gap is so important to our social and economic future in the U.S.
Nebraska’s population of children of color is growing, much like the population in the rest of the country. Last year’s Kids Count Commentary showed us that 38% of Nebraskans are expected to be some color other than White non-Hispanic by 2050. Currently, children of color are falling in to the opportunity gap in Nebraska.
One place this is especially evident is in 3rd grade reading proficiency. In Nebraska in in the 2013/14 school year, 21% of overall students scored below proficiency in reading, but when you look at students who are proficient by race disparities emerge.
We need to be very concerned about the 4,792 children that are missing the mark, especially since nearly half are non-white. If we fail to address the disparity in reading scores the impacts on our population will be widespread.
The report shows that closing the gap will results in faster economic growth and an increased GDP and a better workforce with increased productivity that would more than make up for the initial investment in education necessary to close the gap.
In order to close the opportunity gap, investments must be made in early childhood education, criminal justice system reform, raising minimum wage and increasing paid sick leave. A holistic approach must be taken to close the opportunity gap and in turn improve the economy. Nationwide, and here in Nebraska, we’re not just helping individual kids when we close the student opportunity gap. By making the correct investments now, we can ensure that future Nebraskans are able to reach their full potential and contribute to a robust economy, and that benefits all of us.