“Good Life. Great Opportunity.” That’s Nebraska’s new brand, revealed by Governor Ricketts this week. How well does the new tagline speak to the state of K-12 education in the state?
The quality of one’s life improves with a high quality education. Today, more than ever, a good life requires a good education. Nebraskans know this. We also know an educated populous is the key to a strong economy and safe, vibrant communities.
Compared to many states, students in Nebraska perform well, but we still have room to improve. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, less than 50% of fourth graders in Nebraska are proficient in math or reading. For eighth graders, proficiency rates fall to less than 40%.
By improving the quality of education available to every child in Nebraska, we can protect and build upon the good life. First, we must recognize the need for improvement. Next, we can look to states like Indiana, Colorado and Minnesota, where student outcomes have improved dramatically in recent years following student-centered policy reform.
Every child deserves a high quality education and it starts with the opportunity to attend a great school. Unfortunately, many schools in Nebraska do not perform as well as they should. In the lowest performing schools in Nebraska, less than one in five students are proficient in math and reading.
Students in low performing schools have less opportunities to excel as they move through the education system, are less likely to attend and graduate from college, and less likely to find rewarding, high paying careers. Future opportunities, in other words, rely on the opportunities afforded by a great school from the start.
When a child’s race or income predicts the quality of schools available to him, it indicates a clear lack of equality of opportunity. In Nebraska, we have among the largest achievement gaps (the difference in student performance based on race and income) in the nation: white 4th graders are twice as likely to be proficient in reading and four and a half times more likely to be proficient in math than black 4th graders and two and a half times more likely to be proficient in math and reading than Latino 4th graders.
How can we work as a state to ensure opportunity for all Nebraskans? We can empower families with the opportunity to choose the best schools for their children, be it a traditional public school, a private school, or a public charter school. We can develop and empower great educators. And, by holding systems and adults accountable for always putting students first, we can ensure every child in Nebraska has the opportunity to realize the good life.