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Report: Academic Achievement Gap One of PA Education System's Greatest Challenges

Pennsylvania’s public schools are seeing declining test scores and increasing achievement gaps, according to a recent report from PennCAN, a statewide education advocacy group. Executive Director Jonathan Cetel said test scores declined for all grades according to state education data. More concerning, he said, is the widening achievement gap.

“Whether you’re talking about the gap between African American students and white students or the gap between low-income and high-income students, the reality is that we have two different systems of public education in Pennsylvania: a school system that is working really well for some kids and a school system that is failing to meet the needs of families,” said Cetel.

Funding and poverty are often brought up as reasons for struggling schools, but Cetel said that may not play a huge role.

“Even within a district like Pittsburgh Public Schools, you’re going to see some really high-performing, high-poverty schools,” he said, “so the first thing that shows you is that this is possible. With a great teaching and learning and a great leader you can overcome the barriers of poverty and have great results.”

But the system overall is fragmented, according to PennCAN.

“We have to be able to identify those districts and schools that are doing well and learn from them,” said Cetel. “That is really what the system hasn’t done. There’s 3,048 schools in the commonwealth, 500 districts – they’re not talking to each other, they’re not learning.”

The goal of the annual reports is to shed light on how public education is performing and open a dialogue on where the system can go in the future.

“You can’t find a solution until you’ve identified the problem,” said Cetel. “At PennCAN we’re very clear that the problem is achievement gaps and having a system that is not providing an excellent education for all and hoping that lawmakers and taxpayers can feel inspired to do something about it.”

The full report examines not only elementary through high school education, but also looks at graduation rates, how students fare on college entrance exams and college completion rates.