Thursday, May 21, 2009
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.
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
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.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
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.
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.