While we speak easily about achievement gaps, we too easily forget the opportunity gaps behind unequal test scores. Check out the new Opportunity to Learn Campaign website, and consider the conditions necessary to provide for all children full opportunities to learn in their public schools. Providing equitable learning conditions society's responsibility.
Although the No Child Left Behind Act has documented serious achievement gaps through comparison of standardized test scores, the federal education law has been largely silent about alarming resource inequity across states, within states, and even within school districts. State school finance systems, still heavily reliant on local property taxes, only magnify disparities in family resources in an America where some children live in pockets of concentrated poverty and others in pockets of concentrated affluence.
The current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, currently called No Child Left behind, has merely overlaid a test-and-punish strategy on top of inequality. By mandating higher test scores while remaining silent about resource inequities, federal policy makers framed an agenda that can only be interpreted as an attack on educators themselves, passing the buck from Congress to the schools and demanding that teachers and children work harder and smarter and thereby compensate for society's structural injustices.
What are opportunity gaps?
What's new in work to end opportunity gaps?
Check out the new Opportunity to Learn Campaign website, just launched in the summer of 2010. This campaign is a broad alliance of civil rights, religious, and educational groups, all seeking justice through guaranteeing for all children basic conditions for learning. Here is a link to Fall 2010 Talking Points from this group.
On July 26, 2010, seven prominent civil rights organizations—the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under Law, the NAACP, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the National Council for Educating Black Children, the National Urban League, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, and the Schott Foundation for Public Education—released a powerful critique of the Administration's public education policy proposals. Called the Framework for Providing All Students an Opportunity to Learn through Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the piece "offer(s) critiques of federal efforts that would: distribute resources by competition in the midst of a severe recession; advance experimental proposals dwarfed by the scope of the challenges in low-income communities; and promote ineffective approaches for turning around low-performing schools and education systems.” For more information, and read this summary by Jan Resseger, the UCC's Minister for Public Education and Witness.
Important new resources:
Our valued partner in this important work is The Schott Foundation for Public Education, which has launched a national Opportunity to Learn Campaign. Here are important resources from that campaign:
- National Opportunity to Learn Campaign Video (2009)
- Lost Opportunity: A 50 State Report on the Opportunity to Learn in America (May 2009)
- National Opportunity to Learn Campaign Federal Recommendations (May 2009)
February 22, 2011: The Forum on Educational Accountability (FEA), a 153 member alliance of which the UCC's Justice & Witness Ministries is a member, released this statement, All Children Deserve the Opportunity to Learn. The statement calls on Congress to work with states to remedy pervasive disparities in school conditions and resources when it addresses the long overdue reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. FEA calls on Congress to recognize that closing opportunity gaps is key to closing achievement gaps.
The Forum for Education and Democracy has recently posted an excellent briefing, The Opportunity to Learn Agenda: Building Strong and Fair Public Schools Across America.
Zero-Basing Public Schools, Free-Basing Education Policy, by Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, is an excellent reflection on the need to close disparities in resource opportunities in Baltimore, even as RTTT penalties like firing the staff of struggling schools or closing struggling schools are being implemented.
The United Church of Christ Justice & Witness Ministries works closely with our partner, the Forum on Educational Accountability (FEA), to propose important changes that need to happen when the federal education law, now called No Child Left Behind, is reauthorized. One leg of the FEA's three part proposal for the law's overhaul is expanding the opportunity to learn.