The Critical Role of Learning Interventions:
Disrupting Educational Inequity
By Dr. William D. Gibson
We know and believe that education is a fundamental right that serves as a pathway to social and economic opportunities. It is a gateway to growth and upward mobility. However, children from historically underserved communities, particularly those belonging to racial and ethnic minority groups, often face significant barriers that hinder their academic progress.
Research has consistently shown that these students are more likely to fall behind in reading and math skills, with long-lasting implications on their educational attainment, economic mobility, and overall well-being. If we are serious about corrective action, this begs an important question: How do we address this issue and the far-reaching consequences of educational inequity?
A growing body of evidence indicates a persistent achievement gap among students, particularly children of color. According to data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), these students tend to lag behind their peers in reading and math skills, starting as early as preschool and continuing throughout their academic journey, with a widening gap exposed during the COVID-19 pandemic (1). With this decline, we must prioritize a strategic focus aimed to recapture learning loss.
Research reveals that if these disparities are not addressed by third grade, they can significantly diminish a student's likelihood of finishing high school, pursuing higher education, and gaining access to well-paying jobs. Studies by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and other organizations have shown a strong correlation between reading proficiency at the third-grade level and future academic success (2). Students who are unable to read proficiently by this critical milestone and who do not receive academic support face an uphill battle.
The ramifications of educational inequity extend far beyond the classroom. Limited access to quality education can perpetuate socioeconomic disparities, as students who struggle academically are less likely to acquire the skills necessary for economic mobility in adulthood. Where an individual lives—including the neighborhood—and whether or not students have access to high-quality books and resources across school districts, counties, and states, can have significant consequences. Research by economists Greg Duncan and Richard Murnane has shown that the income gap between college-educated and non-college-educated individuals has widened over the past few decades, emphasizing the crucial role of education in achieving economic success (3).
Moreover, educational disparities can perpetuate a cycle of poverty, as individuals with lower levels of education face higher rates of unemployment, lower earning potential, and reduced access to essential resources. By addressing the learning gaps early on and providing targeted interventions, we can disrupt this cycle and foster a more equitable society.
Learning interventions play a vital role in bridging the achievement gap and fostering educational equity. Evidence-based strategies such as high-quality early childhood education programs, targeted tutoring, and personalized instruction have shown promising results in improving reading and math skills among disadvantaged students. The National Center on Improving Literacy emphasizes the importance of evidence-based activities, strategies, and interventions that are tailored to individual needs and implemented consistently over time (4).
Furthermore, it is essential to address the systemic factors that contribute to educational inequity, including disparities in school funding, access to resources, and teacher quality. By investing in comprehensive approaches that combine effective interventions with equitable policies, we can create an environment that empowers all students to thrive academically. While the mission of our organization includes a deliberate focus on “improving educational equity and promoting a more just society,” we believe this begins through learning interventions and tutoring models that help address capacity issues within local schools and by providing programs that are easily implemented at home by caregivers. It takes a village, which includes families and members of the community.
Helping education through learning interventions—from strengthening foundational literacy skills to advancing student math performance—is critical. Closing the achievement gap and promoting educational equity is a collective responsibility that demands targeted interventions and systemic changes. By prioritizing early intervention programs, personalized instruction, and equitable educational policies, together we can provide students from historically marginalized communities, especially children of color, with the tools they need to succeed academically. Creating a level playing field in education not only benefits individual students but also strengthens our society, fostering greater economic mobility and social cohesion. We must work together to ensure that every child has an equal opportunity to realize their full potential.
For more information on the programs and services of Helping Education visit: https://helpingeducation.org/programs-services/.
- Reading and mathematics scores decline during COVID-19 pandemic. The Nation’s Report Card. Retrieved June 11, 2023 from https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/highlights/ltt/2022/
- Early Reading Research Confirmed: A Research Update on the Importance of Third-Grade Reading. (2013, November 30). The Annie E. Casey Foundation. https://www.aecf.org/resources/early-warning-confirmed
- Duncan, G. J., Murnane, R. J. (2014, March 28). Growing Income Inequity Threatens American Education. Education Week. https://www.edweek.org/leadership/opinion-growing-income-inequality-threatens-american-education/2014/03
- What do We Mean by Evidence-based? National Center on Improving Literacy. Retrieved June 11, 2023, from https://improvingliteracy.org/brief/what-do-we-mean-evidence-based