Is There an Opportunity Gap in Your District?

By Edwin C. Darden

In his early days as a boy on Earth, comic book hero Superman lifted tractors or accidentally threw objects into orbit because he didn’t know his own strength.

It’s much the same with school board members who do not fully recognize the power they wield to give kids in poverty a better chance to achieve. The source of strength is a purposeful change in policy and practice that embraces an intentional mission to erase the opportunity gap.

The opportunity gap is simply explained. It’s a comparative technique that challenges the all-too-common circumstance in which students in middle-class neighborhoods have more and better learning resources than youngsters in high-poverty areas -- within the same school district. We term it an “opportunity gap” because it shifts the focus from the achievement deficits students might arrive with to the role schools have to defeat those shortcomings.

Key learning adjuncts -- qualified and talented teachers and principals, facilities that are conducive to creative uses and 21st century technology, and access to advanced classrooms that accent critical thinking -- are all vital in driving school improvement. Those learning-related education resources also happen to be where school boards have Kryptonite-proof authority. Each action requires a vote. You can choose to treat such moments as perfunctory or consciously consider the equity impact and weigh carefully whether the decision is wise.

In this rare instance, money per se is not the central issue. Resource equity does not ask how much cash is doled out to each building. Instead, the inquiry is qualitative and distributive. Does the money buy good stuff? Is high-quality raw material shared in an equitable manner? What resulting education opportunities are available to low-income kids compared to those of their middle-class peers?

Sure, legal and social arguments can be made in favor of a resource equity framework. Yet, the strongest and most persuasive one is this: Nothing less than fundamental fairness is at stake. 

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