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Closing education achievement gap: blue-ribbon panel offers blueprint

Better teacher training, accessible early-childhood education, and school-finance reform are key components to closing the achievement gap between minority and white students, says a report.

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Principal Scott Steckler, rear, observes fourth-grade teacher Lora Johnson as she works with her students at George Cox Elementary in Gretna, La., in October 2012. A new report recommends better teacher training as a component to closing the achievement gap.

Ted Jackson/The Times-Picayune/AP

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How do you decrease the achievement gap and increase equity – and excellence – in America’s public schools?

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 Equity and Excellence Commission, which recently released its final report to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, has already achieved one somewhat remarkable goal: unanimous acceptance of the broad-reaching recommendations that the commission believes could turn around American public education.

Given that the commission members include union leaders; district, state, and federal education officials; civil rights leaders; and top thinkers from all sides of the education-reform debate, that is no small feat.

“This is a call to action that we can and we must and we should do better for our children, and for communities who have historically been denied opportunities … and in doing so, strengthen our country,” said Secretary Duncan, in a conference call with reporters Tuesday.

The report clearly lays out the scope, and importance, of the challenge: Math results that show the average African-American eighth-grader performing at the 19th percentile of white students, and the average Hispanic eighth-grader at the 26th percentile. International testing results rank US students 27th for math, and show just 1 in 4 American students performing on par with the average student in countries like Singapore and Finland.

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