Executive Summary

In its Lost Opportunity report, the Schott Foundation for Public Education establishes an “initial” metric for determining the Opportunity to Learn for students. The Schott Foundation provides a state-by-state comparison of both academic proficiency (as illustrated by the percentage of students scoring at or above proficient on the eighth grade National Assessment of Educational Progress - NAEP reading exam) and access to high-performing  schools (as measured by the Schott Foundation’s Opportunity to Learn Index, or OTLI).  Realizing if the U.S. is to provide every student a true opportunity to learn, the country must first ensure that all students, even the most disadvantaged, have access to the high-quality resources necessary for success.  The Schott Foundation used resource models to identify the four core minimum resources that are necessary if a child – regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status – is to have a fair and substantive opportunity to learn:

  1. High-quality early childhood education; 
  2. Highly qualified teachers and instructors in grades K-12;
  3. College preparatory curricula that will prepare all youth for college, work and community; and
  4. Equitable instructional resources.

Opportunity to Learn, Nationally

The report’s data indicate that, nationally, students from historically disadvantaged groups have just a 51 percent Opportunity to Learn, when compared to White, non-Latino students, as measured by the OTLI. The effects of these inequities are disproportionately concentrated in a few states. California and New York each account for 15 percent of the nation’s Opportunity to Learn inequity impact. Texas accounts for an additional 12 percent. Illinois, Michigan and Pennsylvania account for 5 percent each. New York’s share of the economic effect of inequity is nearly three times its percentage of the national population.

Opportunity to Learn, State-by-State

The interstate opportunity gap is stark. Looking at the 50 states and the District of Columbia, only eight states can be identified as providing both at least a moderately proficient and a high access education for all students. Sixteen states were found to provide a moderately proficient education for most students, but demonstrated low access when it came to providing that education to historically disadvantaged students. Disturbingly, 17 states were found to provide high-access, low-proficiency education to their students. While these states are to be recognized for breaking down the barriers between White students and Black and Latino students, and between high income students and low-income students, it cannot be missed that these states are doing so at the lowest common denominator. In many cases they provide an equal, yet very inferior education to students. Most disturbing are the nine states at the bottom, which show both low-proficiency and low-access public education ratings. Even with significant disparities in equity, these states are unable to provide even moderate quality education to any significant number of their students.

Moving Forward

The federal government must make access to a high-quality opportunity to learn a federally guaranteed right for every American. We cannot have equity without quality. And we cannot have true quality without real equity. The Lost Opportunity data should serve as an eye-opener for every federal, state and local policymaker and community advocate grappling with decisions on educational priorities.

The federal government should develop and implement a national opportunity to learn resource accountability system to track student access to core educational resources. To support this system, the following recommendations are presented:

  • The federal government and community advocates should support, monitor and track states in the adoption and implementation of “Opportunity to Learn plans” for their states.
  • The federal government and community advocates should take steps to use data systems to ensure that states and localities are achieving the highest return on investments from taxpayer dollars. With such data, policymakers, advocates and educators will be equipped with the information necessary to close the opportunity gap and improve public education for all students.
  • A similar frame should be used to certify that charter and magnet schools. are Opportunity to Learn schools; corporation and local businesses are opportunity to learn businesses; communities are building opportunity to learn environments; and families and parents are fostering opportunity to learn homes.
  • Noting that President Obama has set a national goal for the United States to produce the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020, advocates called on the President to immediately establish a National Interagency Commission on the Opportunity to Learn to determine the necessary sustained investments, coordination and partnerships to ensure that students in all states have a fair and substantive opportunity to learn by 2020.
  • The Federal Government should establish an Opportunity to Learn Education Trust Fund to provide resources to states to support the implementation of the state’ Opportunity to Learn Resource Equity Plans and stabilize the implementation of the plans during economic down times.

The nation now recognizes the strength of its public schools is directly and inextricably linked to its social, civic and economic strength. The U.S. will be a stronger nation and global citizen—economically and socially—with a better-educated citizenry when all Americans have access to the pathways of success and opportunity. If every child is to have an opportunity for success, every student MUST first receive a true Opportunity to Learn.