Thursday, May 21, 2009

Opportunity to Learn: State Proficiency Comparisons

Figure 9 of the Lost Opportunity report highlights the educational quality disparities among states as measured by the states’ student performance, at the proficient or above level, on the National Assessment for Education Progress 8th Grade Reading exam. As the data indicates, where a child is born definitely influences the child’s educational possibilities. Students in states like Massachusetts, Vermont and New Jersey are clearly out pacing students in the District of Columbia and states like New Mexico, Louisiana, and Mississippi. This chart tells the tale of a union divided and unequal.

Opportunity to Learn: State Access Comparisons

The Lost Opportunity report combines the Opportunity to Learn probabilities for all disadvantaged groups for each state. Review of it reveals that a student’s Opportunity to Learn is best in states with small minority populations (with the exception of Louisiana) and worst in industrialized states with highly concentrated minority—predominately Black— populations.

The stark inequities and absence of real Opportunity to Learn in states such as Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and Ohio (states that are traditionally known as educationally strong) are particularly striking. While these states have rich resources intended to offer a world-class education to all students, resources are currently allocated in such a way as to deny students from historically disadvantaged groups the opportunities to learn that always have, and continue to be, extended to their White, non-Latino peers.

Opportunity to Learn Disparities Between States

Geographically, the interstate quality and access Opportunity to Learn disparities are vast. As the Lost Opportunity map indicates, with the exception of Virginia, the states where historically disadvantaged students have the most access to the nation’s best schools are in places where they are the least likely to be found in critical mass.

As the map indicates, southern and southwestern states, which have large Latino and Black populations, have essentially lowered the bar for all students and relegated their students to subpar educational systems. On average, the best schools in these states fall short of national and international standards. Northeastern and Midwestern states are achieving higher results but have policies or practices which essentially limit access to those districts and schools capable of producing high results to those who are not part of a historically disadvantaged group. Furthermore, the map also reveals the existence of an “opportunity denied belt” that runs from Michigan, to Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, and Texas, where the educational systems are subpar and disadvantaged students remain locked out of even their state’s subpar systems’ best schools.” Federal support, state action and community advocacy are needed to assist these states to address the policy, practice and resources challenges that are maintaining these geographic trends.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Opportunity To Learn's Economic Consequences

If we make the investments necessary to provide to all students the resources and educational methods that we know make an impact, including access to early childhood education, highly effective teachers, college preparatory curricula and equitable instructional resources, the social and civic benefits for American society will be great.

Simply bringing high school graduation rates for disadvantaged students up to those now achieved by the average White, non-Latino student will, for example, more than double the expected college graduation rates for Black, Latino and Native American students. Employment rates will increase as these students complete high school in greater numbers, and will increase further as they complete college. Expected incomes will rise even more markedly, transforming communities.

With more education and higher incomes, health risks will decline and longevity increase. Incarceration rates will fall, particularly in the Black community, where currently the lifetime chances of a young adult male without a high school diploma of serving more than two years in prison are 60 percent. And civic participation will increase, given better educated and healthier people in historically disadvantaged communities.

Obama Calls for the U.S. to be a Global Leader in Post-Secondary Education

President Barack Obama has established a national goal that by 2020 the United States will be a global leader in post-secondary education. This is a forward-thinking goal and is paramount to U.S. economic and national security well-being. To achieve it, America must produce 16 million more post-secondary credentialed and degree attained students than we otherwise would at our current rate. Achieving this goal will require more than a school-based or systemic tweak. It is only attainable if we are able to improve the educational access and outcomes for those who have been historically disadvantaged because of their race/ethnicity or family income. Without true opportunity for all, particularly for those from historically disadvantaged groups, we can never have a level playing field for learning, achievement, and long-term success.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Opportunity for Success

Even within historically disadvantaged groups, the opportunity to learn varies. Lost Opportunity: A 50 State Report on Opportunity to Learn in America highlights the percentages of American students, by race, ethnicity and income, enrolled in the top quarter of high schools in each state. Nearly one-third of White, non-Latino students are in those schools, where nearly all students graduate and where nearly all students score well on state tests. Fewer than 20 percent of students from historically disadvantaged groups are enrolled in those well-resourced, high-performing schools.

A Nation Still at Risk

More than 25 years ago, A Nation at Risk detailed the growing inequities and lack of opportunities in our public education system, highlighting the obstacles the United States would have to overcome if these problems were not immediately addressed. Yet, our achievement gap remains at disastrously high levels, as evidenced by the 2009 NAEP Long-Term Trend Data, which showed a 53-point gap in reading proficiency between Black and White 17-year-olds and a 33-point gap in math proficiency between Latino and White 17-year-olds. The United States is now paying a hefty price for its opportunity and achievement gap. McKinsey & Company recently estimated that closing the achievement gap between White students and their Black and Latino peers could increase the annual Gross Domestic Product by more than half a trillion dollars.

Collectively, policy makers have spent a great deal of time diagnosing the problem. While human resource and structural reforms are key components to closing the learning gap, just as important to the reform effort is accountability: the development and implementation of outcome and resource accountability standards which guarantee students the resources needed to have a fair and substantive opportunity to learn. Reform that is limited to terminating staff or restructuring individual schools may look like progress, but in a larger analysis only benefits a few. We are able to identify today individual high-poverty, high-minority schools where the students are performing well; however, we are not able to identify high-poverty, high-minority districts where students have access to high-quality educational opportunities. We need true reform that changes systems and affects all students, rather than approaches that save a few to make us feel better or allow us to “window dress” our systemic failures. Without access to real, system-wide, high-quality learning opportunities, we can never maximize the effectiveness of public education and achieve full participation in our democracy.

Under our current system, access to some of our nation’s districts or schools brings with it the virtual certainty of high school graduation and access to and success in postsecondary education. Access to other districts or schools within the same states, however, brings near certainty of an education that ends well short of a high school diploma, with little prospect for college or employment with livable wages and the near certain perpetuation of inter-generational poverty.

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.

Opportunity to Learn, Nationally

The data from Lost Opportunity: A 50 State Report on the Opportunity to Learn in America, indicates 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 Opportunity to Learn Index (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. New York’s share of the economic effect of inequity is nearly three times its percentage of the national population.

OTL Federal Policy Recommendations

Banks are not the only ones who need greater federal support. Educational access and opportunity for all children is the most important investment we can make. In a turbulent economy, there is one investment that always pays off...investing in the next generation. By ensuring all children equal access to high quality educational resources, we can return our economy, community and democracy to solid ground.

The Schott Foundation for Public Education has offered detailed federal policy recommendations designed to increase the federal role in ensuring that all children have an equitable opportunity to learn in a high-quality academic environment. The recommendations call for creating and tracking resource indicators at the state and district level, boosting federal supports for these resources, and for accountability measures.

The Opportunity to Learn Campaign is a five-year, multi-million dollar philanthropic strategy to increase resource accountability and ensure that race and ethnicity are no longer a significant predictor of educational resource access or outcomes.