We cannot have equity without quality. And we cannot have true quality without real equity. All children, regardless of skin color, ethnicity or socioeconomic status, deserve access to high-quality education and a fair and substantive Opportunity to Learn. They deserve access to: 1) high-quality early education; 2) highly qualified and skilled teachers and instructors in grades K-12; 3) college preparatory curricula that will prepare them for college, work and community; and 4) equitable instructional resources. And yet today, disadvantaged students—Black, Latino, Native American and low-income—have half the Opportunity to Learn as their White, non-Latino fellow students.
Moving forward, it should be the responsibility of every state to adopt Opportunity to Learn resource accountability plans and annual benchmarks. The federal government and philanthropic partners should play a significant role in supporting and monitoring the states in the implementation of these OTL Plans. And it should be our national goal to define true educational quality as more than just moderate proficiency on NAEP but as a higher goal of success in postsecondary education.
As a nation, we must recognize that the strength of our public schools is directly and unbreakably bound to our social, civic and economic strength. Access to a high-quality public education should be a guaranteed right that every American enjoys, regardless of his or her race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, or zip code.
In 1973, the U. S. Supreme Court in San Antonio v. Rodriguez was asked if education is a federally protected right and the court responded, “no”; leaving it to the states to protect the opportunity to learn for America’s children. Since that point, in over 40 states parents and advocates have spent millions of dollars and hours filing suits and leading campaigns to achieve equitable access to resources with little state-level legal, legislative or executive redress. When a group of parents from Ohio sought relief from the federal courts they were locked out. Why? Because education is not a federally protected right.
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.
Over 30 years of intrastate and interstate inequities and millions of lost children in our schools should have taught us that providing a fair and substantive opportunity to learn is a national interest. We cannot achieve President Obama’s goal of producing the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020 if we do not afford every child a high-quality Opportunity to Learn in K-12. We will be a stronger nation—economically and socially—when we have a better-educated citizenry, when all Americans have access to the pathways of success and opportunity. America’s greatest asset is found in the opportunities possible for each American. The ground that we lose globally and within each state is directly related to our ability to decrease the number of lost opportunities and make significant investments towards actualizing the individual value and innovation that every citizen brings to families, communities, the labor market, our democracy and nation. Simply stated, the success of our communities, democracy, economy and nation depends on the depth of federal, state, and local investments and partnerships to destroy the flowing American pipeline of lost opportunities. The federal government and states must take advantage of the present opportunity to reverse these trends before America’s opportunity is lost.