Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Disparity Between Rich and Poor Districts Create an Opportunity Gap

Regardless if part of a teacher preparation program or society as a whole, the adverse impact of the opportunity gap existing between richer and poorer school districts cannot be over-emphasized.  A district such as Scarsdale NY compared to East Harlem NY highlights and contrasts the real opportunities and threats to the learning for all mission resulting from an opportunity gap exacerbated by socioeconomic status (SES).  The reality that problems exist for families regardless of SES is indisputable.  However, the following may be helpful for understanding the real-life differences and opportunities provided for middle and upper SES students compared to lower SES students:
A study by UNICEF (2007) of the twenty-one richest nations in the world found the United States ranked last in almost every indicator of children’s well-being.  The United States had more children living in poverty (22%), had the worst record in child health and safety services, had the most children living in single-parent families, and had the lowest ranking in the positive health behaviors of its children.  Another analysis of poverty in America concluded that “disproportionately large numbers of American children remain poor” with 38% of children under 18 living in low-income families (Education Commission of the States, 2007).  Furthermore, the gap between the rich and the poor in the United States is widening.  Between 1979 and 2004, the after-tax income of the top 1% of the population nearly tripled, rising from $314,000 to nearly $868,000, for a total increase of $554,000 or 176% (with figures adjusted for inflation by using 2004 dollars throughout the analysis).  During that same timeframe, the average after-tax income of the middle fifth of the population rose a relatively modest 21%, or $8,500, reaching $48,400 in 2004.  Meanwhile, the average after-tax income of the poorest fifth of the population rose just 6%, or $800, during the past 25 years, reaching $14,700 in 2004 (Sherman & Aron-Dine, 2007).  Tax cuts enacted by the Bush administration in 2001 made the gap even more pronounced.  As a result of that legislation, in 2006, households in the bottom fifth of the income spectrum received tax cuts that averaged $20 and raised their after-tax incomes by an average of 0.3%, while households in the middle fifth of the income spectrum received tax cuts that averaged $740 and raised their after-tax incomes an average of 2.5%.  The top 1% of households, however, received tax cuts in 2006 that averaged $44,200 and increased their after-tax income by an average of 5.4% (Leiserson & Rohaly, 2006).  As one analysis concluded, “Income is now more concentrated at the top of the income spectrum than in all but two years since the mid-1930s” (Sherman & Aron-Dine, 2007).  From the liberal perspective, closing the student achievement gap required closing this cavernous and still growing gap between the poor and the middle class.  The disparity in achievement and academic potential between poor and middle-class students begins prior to children entering school and is only exacerbated during the school years (Lee & Burkham, 2002; Schemo, 2006; Steinberg, 1996; Rothstein, 2004).  Children of the poor are far more likely to attend lower-quality schools with substandard facilities, fewer resources, and less qualified teachers than their middle-class peers.  They return to homes and neighborhoods that are less likely to support student learning or communicate that learning is important (DuFour, DuFour, & Eaker, 2008, pp.49-50).  
The progressive perspective of this data is the problem does not originate in the schools but are societal conditions.  Such a perspective recognizes social conditions creating an opportunity gap are leading indicators in education and must therefore, be addressed if we ever want to truly mitigate the trailing indicator known as the achievement gap.  Mehlinger (1995) posits, “If America’s poor children could be provided the same conditions for growing up, including the same quality of schools, as those afforded to middle-class suburban youth, we would have no crisis (in education) at all” (p. 27).  Otherwise, the following describes what has been the result of the opportunity gap leading to a discrepancy in achievement:
A chilling editorial in U.S. News & World Report (Zuckerman, 2006) warned that education and family background are replacing race and gender as barriers to upward mobility.  Throughout most of the 20th century, young boys and girls could choose to drop out of school and would still have access to the middle class.  That possibility is increasingly remote in contemporary America.  Today a school dropout earns only 65 cents for every dollar earned by the high school graduate and only 33 cents for each dollar earned by those with a bachelor’s degree (United States Census Bureau, 2006a).  Those with an undergraduate degree are most likely to move up from the income bracket in which they started, but a student from the top income quartile has a 1 in 2 chance of earning a degree, while the chances of a student from the bottom quartile earning a bachelor’s degree are less than 1 in 10.  A child in a family earning under $35,000 has a 1 in 17 chance (Brooks, 2006).  The American dream is receding from reach for many of our children.  Education opens not only economic doors, but other doors as well (DuFour, DuFour, & Eaker, 2008, pp.60-61).
Readers are encouraged to reflect upon the life opportunities provided to them.  How did your family rank on the statistical continuum related to SES as noted above?  Regardless of your high school successes, if you were a child in a family earning under $35,000 would you have been able to attend a college requesting $30K-$40K per year for annual tuition
This is why the seven correlates of Effective Schools Research (Lezotte & Snyder, 2011) address leading indicators of learning.  Schools interdependently implementing Effective Schools Research optimize the mission of learning for all regardless of SES factors.  We all desire to make a difference for our future students.  Collaborative leadership remind us of a sound mission, provide a clear vision for growth, require our professional integrity and competency, and detail an action plan for sustained success, thereby optimizing opportunities to change students’ destinies! 
As part of the solution, last April New York State Governor Cuomo established the New NY Education Reform Commission to make recommendations for future educational reforms.  On January 2, 2013; the bipartisan Commission provided eight key recommendations:
1.      Provide high quality full-day pre-kindergarten for our most at-risk students;
2.      Create statewide models for “Community Schools” that use schools as a community hub to improve access to public, non-profit, and private services/resources, like health and social services, for students and their families;
3.      Transform and extend the school day and year to expand quality learning time for students, especially in underserved communities;
4.      Improve the teacher and principal pipeline to recruit and retain the most effective educators;
5.      Build better bridges from high school to college and careers with early college high schools and career technical education;
6.      Utilize all available classroom technologies to empower educators to meet the needs of a diverse student population and engage students as active participants in their own learning;
7.      Pursue efficiencies such as district consolidation, high school regionalization and shared services to increase student access to educational opportunities; and
8.      Increase transparency and accountability of district leadership by creating a performance management system.
A Final Action Plan is expected in Fall 2013.  In the interim, educators and stakeholders are encouraged to review the Commission’s recommendations.  Submitting your ideas is essential for addressing the complex and diverse issues potentially impacting sustained reform for optimal student success.

To cite:
Anderson, C.J. (January 4, 2013) The disparity between rich and poor districts create an
            opportunity gap [Web log post] Retrieved from

DuFour, R., DuFour, R., & Eaker, R. (2008). Revisiting professional learning communities at
            work: New insights for improving schools. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
Lezotte, L. W., & Snyder, K. M. (2011). What effective schools do: Re-envisioning the
            correlates. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
Marzano, R. & Waters, T.(2009).  District leadership that works. Bloomington, IN: Solution
            Tree Press
Reason, C. (2010). Leading a learning organization: The science of working with others.
            Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.