'Opportunity Gap' expected to drive US education discussion

2013-04-27T00:00:00Z 'Opportunity Gap' expected to drive US education discussionLyndsey Layton The Washington Post Arizona Daily Star
April 27, 2013 12:00 am  • 

WASHINGTON - For more than a generation, educators and policymakers have been agonizing about America's achievement gap, the persistent chasm in academic performance between poor and privileged children.

A new book and a national campaign launched Thursday says the country must pay equal attention to the "opportunity gap" - which exists when poor and minority students and English-language learners lack the same access as affluent students to skilled teachers, quality curriculum and well-equipped schools.

Instead of placing a heavy emphasis on "outputs" of the educational system - test scores and graduation rates - the country must also focus on "inputs" or what it invests in schools, said Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University, one of 20 academics who joined together to write "Closing the Opportunity Gap."

"We're not saying don't pay attention to outcomes," Darling-Hammond said. "If you want to achieve the outcomes, and not just talk about them, you have to pay attention to inputs."

The book, funded by a grant from the Ford Foundation, argues that the accountability movement which began in earnest with the 2002 No Child Left Behind law placed too much emphasis on testing students and measuring outcomes.

Under that federal law, for the first time, schools were required to test students in math and reading in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, and to make progress each year in scores or face a series of escalating penalties.

"We've done a good job in the last decade of calling attention to the achievement gap," said Darling-Hammond, who has advised President Obama on education issues. "But what we haven't been doing is addressing some of the fundamental reasons for the achievement gap: the poverty and segregation sets up some kids to have less when they get to school, and then the funding inequities so that when they get to school, they don't have the resources and instructional supports that we want and need to them to have."

The campaign, funded by the Schott Foundation for Public Education, will encourage state policymakers to consider ways to ensure schools that serve low-income children have the same quality of teaching, curriculum and resources found in more affluent schools.

On StarNet: Find education-related resources and special reports at azstarnet.com/news/local/education

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