Understanding Root Causes of Inequities

It’s no secret that highly educated workers are in demand across the country. Nationally, workers with post-secondary degrees held 59% of the jobs in 2010, and that percentage is only expected to grow. By 2020, researchers estimate that 65% of all jobs in the United States will require some form of post-secondary education or training.

Despite these demands, our K-12 education systems are not adequately preparing all students for post-secondary degree attainment or training. Our research at the Nellie Mae Education Foundation finds that roughly half of New England high school graduates are college and career ready — meaning they graduate high school and enter a degree or certificate program without the need for remedial courses.

And for students of color and low-income students, the outcomes are far worse. A study prepared for the Nellie Mae Education by IMPAQ International, found that in 2015, 55% of white students in the region were college and career ready compared to only 39% of black students and 32% of Latino students. Additionally, only 32% of low-income students were college and career ready, compared to 62% of non-low-income students. With such disparate outcomes for these student subgroups, significant segments of New England’s population are being locked out of opportunities to obtain degrees and training that will better position them to compete in the new economy.

At the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, we believe that these outcomes are shaped by systemic racism that undergirds the systems designed to cull and sort students. All students, regardless of their background, race, or zip code, should have the opportunity to obtain an education that will prepare them for college and career.

Systems thinkers in education note that “every system is perfectly designed to achieve the results it gets.” After decades of education reform efforts to close achievement gaps, why do public education systems continue to produce such disparate results? What will it take for districts to design and maintain systems that ensure all students graduate ready for life after high school? We don’t have the answers to these questions, but we believe that a design that closes gaps in college and career readiness must be grounded in a nuanced understanding of what factors contribute to perpetuating the gaps — namely — racism and classism.

That’s why we are inviting districts from around New England to respond to a request for proposals that asks them to identify the systemic and school level barriers that perpetuate gaps in college and career readiness based on race, language, special education status, and income, and target interventions that appropriately address such barriers. To learn more about the grant fund, we invite you to read through the request for proposals.