The Women's Journal

PA School Achievement Gaps

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palc Heidi Gough jfm16By Dr. Heidi Gough

Director of Marketing and Communications

PA Leadership Charter School


One of the most common concerns parents have about their school, is its performance academically. All public schools (Charter, Cyber Charter, school districts) must show yearly improvements in student growth, achievement (graduation rates)  and close the achievement gap (

According to PSEA (The Pennsylvania State Education Association) Pennsylvania has one of the largest achievement gaps in the country. Anytime a school or a group of students begins to fail, an achievement gaps is created. These gaps have been observed in specific demographic groups – Caucasian/middle class, Latino, english language learners, African American, children with disabilities and low income families.

Whose responsibility is it to close these achievement gaps? The answer is varied and very diverse. Factors that take place in communities and the home can play a big part. PSEA reports;

“Students in poverty commonly live in communities with poor job markets, inadequate human resources and few educational resources such as museums and libraries. Students who live in poverty also have a substantially higher incidence of child health problems that cause learning problems. Finally, students in poverty have higher-than-average rates of mobility across schools and districts. All of these characteristics associated with poverty can impact student achievement”. 

“Students who live in homes where parents are rarely available for high-quality interactions, where television-watching is ubiquitous, or where parents do not communicate high expectations for academic achievement are unlikely to have the support they need to do their best in school. One study found that, on average, four-year-old children from “professional” families have already been exposed to 32 million more spoken words than children from families receiving public assistance”


Both of these statements evoke the emotion of “well what about the school, it’s their responsibility to educate my child.”

An additional answer to the question above is what is happening inside our schools. For several years studies and research have shown that the quality of school leadership, teacher experience and preparation, class size, safety and school funding all play a part in creating an achievement gap.

Schools are responsible for creating a collaborative learning environment for their students; this includes strong leadership and qualified teachers (in their field/grade). Teacher engagement is a must, if a teacher is disengaged it has a direct negative correlation with student achievement.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) has invested time and a considerable amount of resources to close the achievement gap in PA. PDE has created several tools, grants and information to help educational leaders, teachers, aides and school resource centers to assist with teaching the PA Academic Standards.

So in order to close the achievement gap in PA everyone must take responsibility and work together. Parents, Teacher and Leaders need to take a cohesive approach to a student’s education, everyone must be engaged. PDE must train its teaching professionals to a higher level and encourage creativity within its schools.  To close, the students in school today are tomorrow’s leaders, what we teach them now will resonate in the world that they will grow up in.