Achievement follows from opportunities to learn, according to the authors of a new book and campaign launched in late April and called Closing the Opportunity Gap. Students’ learning and academic performance will improve, the authors explain, when policymakers commit to closing the nation’s opportunity gaps.
"Quite simply, children learn when they are supported with high expectations, quality teaching and deep engagement, and made to feel that they are entitled to good schooling; the richer those opportunities, the greater the learning. When those opportunities are denied or diminished, lower achievement is the foreseeable result," explained Stanford University Professor Prudence Carter, co-editor of Closing the Opportunity Gap with University of Colorado Boulder Professor Kevin Welner.
"We as a nation have already obtained any gains that might be garnered through high-stakes, test-centric teaching" said Professor Welner. "In fact, high expectations become a punitive false promise if combined with low resources, low opportunities, and a lack of support."
Professor Welner, along with Stanford University Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, one of the book’s 21 authors, announced the Closing the Opportunity Gap campaign at an April 27, 2013, news conference sponsored by the National Press Club. The new initiative is also working with the Schott Foundation’s Opportunity to Learn Campaign.
"Addressing achievement requires looking at inputs as much as outputs. What we’re proposing is a pivot for American education," said the Schott Foundation’s President Dr. John H. Jackson.
"Children have plenty of opportunities to fill in bubbles, but they lack opportunities to learn," said Professor Darling-Hammond. "When we create more equitable opportunities and gauge how well states and districts are creating those opportunities, we will join our best international competitors in showing strong academic progress."
At the news conference, Rep. Mike Honda of California’s 17th Congressional District provided introductory remarks, stressing the importance of closing opportunity gaps. Rep. Honda authored the legislation that created the federal Equity and Excellence Commission, which worked for two years and issued its groundbreaking report, "For Each and Every Child" in February 2013. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has indicated receptiveness to this report, which speaks clearly to the need to build opportunities to learn.
Closing the Opportunity Gap focuses
on many areas where opportunity can be created and gaps narrowed, including
- Provide high-quality early childhood education
- Provide funding and resources
- End segregation
- Focus on childhood health
- Create safe and well-maintained schools
- Improve policies on student discipline
- Change the focus on testing
- Address the needs of language minorities.
The opportunity divide in our nation’s education system touches on how we see ourselves as Americans. As Welner and Carter emphasize in the book, "While the nation’s leaders have concentrated almost exclusively on an achievement gap policy that measures and sanctions students, teachers and schools, they have ignored the vast opportunity gap—a gap that is even more at odds with American ideals."