Lost Opportunities: Racial Inequities in Education

Excerpts from Lost Opportunity: A 50 State Report on the Opportunity to Learn In America (Schott Foundation for Public Education). Full report available at http://blackboysreport.org/otlwebsite/national/summary.


In 2008, Given Half a Chance: The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males, revealed that nationally, only 47 percent of America’s Black males were graduating from high school. As the Schott Foundation moved beyond the surface level outcome data, we discovered even larger resource disparities which, in many respects, explained the large outcome disparities. These inequities extended far beyond just dollars; the students were also less likely to have access to highly effective teachers, early childhood education, and college preparatory curriculum. In the states where Black males were more likely to have access to those critical resources, they performed better. Likewise, in the places where White males were denied access to these same key resources, like in Detroit and Indianapolis, their outcomes also suffered severely. Simply put, what we witness today in the achievement gap is the silhouette of a larger opportunity gap that is identifiable both by race and socio-economic status. The achievement gap is merely one of many symptoms of a larger systemic illness.


In its Lost Opportunity report, the Schott Foundation for Public Education establishes an “initial” metric for determining the Opportunity to Learn for students. The Schott Foundation provides a state-by-state comparison of both academic proficiency (as illustrated by the percentage of students scoring at or above proficient on the eighth grade National Assessment of Educational Progress – NAEP reading exam) and access to high-performing schools (as measured by the Schott Foundation’s Opportunity to Learn Index, or OTLI). Realizing if the U.S. is to provide every student a true opportunity to learn, the country must first ensure that all students, even the most disadvantaged, have access to the high-quality resources necessary for success. The Schott Foundation used resource models to identify the four core minimum resources that are necessary if a child – regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status – is to have a fair and substantive opportunity to learn:


High-quality early childhood education;

Highly qualified teachers and instructors in grades K-12;

College preparatory curricula that will prepare all youth for college, work and community; and

Equitable instructional resources.


Opportunity to Learn, Nationally


The report’s data indicate that, nationally, students from historically disadvantaged groups have just a 51 percent Opportunity to Learn, when compared to White, non-Latino students, as measured by the OTLI. The effects of these inequities are disproportionately concentrated in a few states. California and New York each account for 15 percent of the nation’s Opportunity to Learn inequity impact. Texas accounts for an additional 12 percent. Illinois, Michigan and Pennsylvania account for 5 percent each.


Opportunity to Learn, State-by-State


The interstate opportunity gap is stark. Looking at the 50 states and the District of Columbia, only eight states can be identified as providing both at least a moderately proficient and a high access education for all students. Sixteen states were found to provide a moderately proficient education for most students, but demonstrated low access when it came to providing that education to historically disadvantaged students. Disturbingly, 17 states were found to provide high-access, low-proficiency education to their students. While these states are to be recognized for breaking down the barriers between White students and Black and Latino students, and between high income students and low-income students, it cannot be missed that these states are doing so at the lowest common denominator. In many cases they provide an equal, yet very inferior education to students. Most disturbing are the nine states at the bottom, which show both low-proficiency and low-access public education ratings. Even with significant disparities in equity, these states are unable to provide even moderate quality education to any significant number of their students.


Moving Forward


The federal government must make access to a high-quality opportunity to learn a federally guaranteed right for every American. We cannot have equity without quality. And we cannot have true quality without real equity. The Lost Opportunity data should serve as an eye-opener for every federal, state and local policymaker and community advocate grappling with decisions on educational priorities.


The federal government should develop and implement a national opportunity to learn resource accountability system to track student access to core educational resources. To support this system, the following recommendations are presented:


• The federal government and community advocates should support, monitor and track states in the adoption and implementation of “Opportunity to Learn plans” for their states.


• The federal government and community advocates should take steps to use data systems to ensure that states and localities are achieving the highest return on investments from taxpayer dollars. With such data, policymakers, advocates and educators will be equipped with the information necessary to close the opportunity gap and improve public education for all students.


• A similar frame should be used to certify that charter and magnet schools are Opportunity to Learn schools; corporation and local businesses are opportunity to learn businesses; communities are building opportunity to learn environments; and families and parents are fostering opportunity to learn homes.


• Noting that President Obama has set a national goal for the United States to produce the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020, advocates called on the President to immediately establish a National Interagency Commission on the Opportunity to Learn to determine the necessary sustained investments, coordination and partnerships to ensure that

students in all states have a fair and substantive opportunity to learn by 2020.


• The Federal Government should establish an Opportunity to Learn Education Trust Fund to provide resources to states to support the implementation of the state’ Opportunity to Learn Resource Equity Plans and stabilize the implementation of the plans during economic down times. The nation now recognizes the strength of its public schools is directly and inextricably linked to its social, civic and economic strength. The U.S. will be a stronger nation and global citizen—economically and socially—with a better educated citizenry when all Americans have access to the pathways of success and opportunity. If every child is to have an opportunity for success, every student MUST first receive a true Opportunity to Learn.


For further recommendations, see the Opportunity to Learn Federal Recommendations

at www.schottfoundation.org.


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