The No-Longer-Invisible Achievement Gap: Challenges for Foster Kids in Colorado

My parents sometimes drive me crazy. They won’t let me drink soda or jump on (or off) the bed, and they stubbornly refuse to allow me to live solely chocolate and bacon (hint of the day: combine the two for double the nutrition). Still, for all the frustrations parents can bring, I know I’m lucky to have them. Some kids are in much worse situations, and those kids face some serious hurdles.

Although many people know that foster children face enormous challenges, it’s rare to see those challenges quantified. Maybe that’s why this story in the Denver Post today is so impactful. The story highlights new research showing that foster kids are facing an even tougher road than we might have thought when it comes to education.

Here are the report’s key findings:

  • Fewer than 1 in 3 Colorado students who were in foster care during high school graduated within four years of entering 9th grade.
  • Although the on-time graduation rate for Colorado students as a whole has steadily improved, the rates for students in foster care remained stable and well below their non-foster care peers.
  • Approximately 1 in 11 students in foster care dropped out one or more times.
  • Students in foster care dropped out earlier in their educational careers than did other unique populations.

Those few bullet points have effectively erased what was previously seen as an “invisible achievement gap.” We’ve known for years about gaps between other student populations (particularly minority and white students), and now we see that there may be other, even wider chasms among our students that need to be bridged.

And so, faithful readers, this week starts with a new education problem for us to tackle—and it’s a big one. As I’ve opined many times before, every child deserves a great education and the opportunities that accompany it. The trick is figuring out how to make that happen.

For many disadvantaged students, the best answer is to give them a way out. Let them choose the school that will serve them best and set them on the road to success. That’s why I’ve been tirelessly fighting for school choice since I was… well, since I was five. You get the point.

For foster kids, though, things may be more complicated. While disadvantaged kids tend to have higher-than-average mobility rates (they move around and change schools more often), those rates are frequently even higher among foster kids who bounce from family to family and home to home.

Simple stability has to come before school choice can work its magic, and so the questions we face are twofold: how can we create more stable foundations for these kids and, once we’ve done that, how can we build upon those foundations to provide foster kids with the educational opportunities they need?

Any viable solution is going to involve addressing both of these questions. I don’t have the answers today, but I’ve officially got my thinkin’ cap on. I hope you do too—this one’s going to require a lot of cooperation.