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The Achievement Gap

Closing the achievement gap is the civil rights issue of our time. Despite the promise of equal educational opportunity, the United States education system has largely failed to provide low-income and minority children access to the high-quality education they need to compete on a level playing field with their white, affluent peers.

Low-income students in urban communities are not achieving at the same levels of educational performance as their more affluent peers in suburbs. These differences in academic performance, known as the achievement gap, have serious implications for the future life opportunities of students and for our society at large. 

When we fail to educate all children, the outcome is predictable: third graders with poor skills become middle schoolers with third-grade skills, and eventually high school students without the ability to succeed in college or to compete in today's economy. The consequences of this failure are disastrous across the board: increased poverty, crime and incarceration, and decreased productivity and quality of life. The achievement gap in education is America's most vexing social problem—the modern frontier of the civil rights movement.

Did You Know?

  • According to Teach For America, fourth graders growing up in low-income communities are already, on average, three years behind their peers in high-income communities.
  • By 12th grade, these students have fallen four years behind their middle- and high-income peers.
  • Only about 50 percent of low-income students will graduate from high school by the time they are 18 years old.
  • At America's leading 150 colleges, 90 percent of incoming freshmen come from families with household incomes in the top 50 percent.
  • Only one in 10 low-income students will go on to graduate from college.

Achievement First firmly believes that the achievement gap can and must be closed. Our schools relentlessly focus on developing the academic and character skills necessary for every student to succeed in college and life, regardless of socio-economic background. Achievement First has developed clear goals that, once met, will mean the achievement gap has been closed:

  • After four years at an Achievement First school, 95 percent of our students will achieve proficiency in core subjects. Unfortunately, in the communities in which we are operating, the proficiency levels of middle schoolers can be as low as 50 percent.
  • Achievement First will completely close the achievement gap by ensuring that the performance of its fourth, eighth and 12th graders from low-income families is equal to or exceeds the state-wide performance levels of non-low-income students in the states in which we operate. As indicated above, this in many cases requires doubling the number of students at proficiency, many of whom start from a place where they are multiple grades behind.
  • At least 90 percent of Achievement First students will graduate from high school within five years of starting ninth grade. This compares to only 53 percent of African-American and 58 percent of Latino students who graduate nationally. In the districts in which we operate, the high school graduation rate can be even lower; Hartford, for example, has a graduation rate of only 29 percent.
  • At least 75 percent of Achievement First high school graduates will receive a college bachelor's degree within six years of graduating high school. This compares to college graduation rates for African-American and Latino adults of 18 percent and 11 percent, respectively.

Our Mission and Vision

Achievement First is a growing network of non-profit, high-performing, college-preparatory, K to 12 public charter schools in Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island. The mission of Achievement First is to deliver on the promise of equal educational opportunity for all of America's children. We believe that all children, regardless of race or economic status, can succeed if they have access to a great education. Achievement First schools provide all of our students with the academic and character skills they need to graduate from top colleges, to succeed in a competitive world and to serve as the next generation of leaders in our communities.

Achievement First was established in 2003 by the founders of Amistad Academy, a nationally acclaimed public charter school in New Haven, CT. Amistad Academy, which was founded in 1999 to prove that urban students can achieve at the same high levels as their suburban peers, enabled its students to achieve at such extraordinarily high levels that the founders were asked to use Amistad Academy's knowledge and best practices to have a greater impact. Achievement First has grown into a network that includes 30 public charter schools in five cities.

Achievement First will continue to create public charter schools that close the achievement gap, while also looking to partner with other like-minded, reform-oriented organizations and traditional school districts to maximize our collective impact. Our theory of change is that by creating the equivalent of an urban public school "district," Achievement First can serve as proof that closing the achievement gap is possible at district scale and inspire broader reform. Achievement First is focused on continuing to close the achievement gap and serving as an example for other public charter schools and traditional public school districts. We will continue our work until every child is given access to a great education and enjoys the real freedom that flows from that opportunity.

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