Opportunity Gaps - Challenge Map
Challenge Map


Opportunity Gaps

The Challenge

A significant challenge districts face is addressing opportunity gaps that leave underrepresented students behind, from access to Pre-K programs to summer learning opportunities. Many district leaders also identify opportunity gaps when looking at the demographics of students enrolled in rigorous, AP, or IB courses, as well as core courses like math and science. Technology serves as another difficult topic. Within some schools and districts there are gaps in access to technology tools and connectivity at home as well as at school. And while many schools strive to use technology to spur deeper learning, schools with large low-income populations sometimes struggle to use technology in creative ways in part because they struggle with traditional accountability measures. Additionally, some teachers in low-performing schools are under-prepared to provide high-quality learning experiences that integrate technology.

In the Words of District Leaders

One of our challenges is really the academic achievement gap that we're seeing with our under-represented groups, especially our black, Hispanic, low-income, special ed populations and English learners. I mean if you look at our district report card, we're a pretty high achieving school district but that just makes our gaps bigger because we have so many high flyers, that we've got a huge achievement gap that we're trying to work on.

“Where we see a big gap is the male female breakdown in English language arts honors placements. The students that are achieving at the highest level in English language arts females outnumber the males two to one. We were shocked that it was such a large discrepancy. We are starting to generate questions about our curriculum in the middle school, what’s it doing to appeal more to girls, what’s the reason for the large discrepancy?”

Ideas from the Field

  • Identifying talented students, particularly those in low-income or struggling schools, to improve access to gifted programs is a common approach to bridging opportunity gaps. One district has gone so far as to screen 100% of students to ensure that nobody is overlooked.
  • Kindergarten is another area districts are looking at from an equity perspective.  Initiatives includes moving to full-day kindergarten as well as innovative approaches to kindergarten readiness including partnering with private preschools, and collaborating with local hospitals
  • Removing barriers to advanced coursework and credit accrual by paying for IB/AP assessments and developing relationships with local colleges to cover costs for post-secondary courses is another approach. 


Check out the following research-based resources for more information about addressing opportunity gaps:

How to Close the Opportunity Gap– From the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education – Recommendations, at the level of students’ individual needs, at the level of in-school opportunities and resources, and at the level of communities and neighborhoods, for addressing factors that affect student opportunities to learn.

Closing Early Learning Opportunity Gaps under ESSA – From NCSL, research and policy summaries and links to resources related to early learning opportunity gaps.

Digital Equity Toolkit – From CoSN, the Digital Equity Initiative recognizes the school districts that are building meaningful community partnerships and creating tools to help district leaders get started in achieving digital equity.

A school targets the opportunity gap — not the achievement gap From the Washington Post, this short video shares the story of a school that is part of a project called Schools of Opportunity.

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