An Unwillingness to Invest: The Opportunity Gap
Not long ago, I spoke at a conference focused on the Achievement gap or as many call it the Opportunity Gap. I started my remarks stating ---"In regards to the Gap, we know the issues, we know the research, we know what to do in this country but there is no political will to get it done! Children do not vote nor do they contribute to political campaigns or lobby; therefore their needs hardly ever rise to the level of priority needed for elected officials to pay attention and act on their behalf."
Though some will argue that the US has come a long way, I dare say, our nation seems to be at a standstill in regard to having made real, tangible investments that not only safeguard the nation's children but as importantly propel them to success. For instance: every president along with most legislators and business leaders for over 20 years have placated to the need for the US to invest in the early years. Very few, if any have followed through with real visible tangible action. Public officials like to quote the research and mention the incredible value of early childhood care and education in their speeches. Children's advocates are excited during the country's state of the union and even our own Mass state of the state addresses to hear the words: 'children matter', 'early childhood education is a necessity', and even, 'we must rid our communities of the achievement gap'; within presidential and gubernatorial speeches. But guess what NO real funding has followed.
Decision makers and elected public officials seem to lack the willingness to act on what research has so well documented for decades now. What needs to be done is widely known and acknowledged:
· The need to respond to changing demographics-especially language diversity; can we get to a place where the ability to speak multi-languages and coming from a diverse background is seen as an opportunity—not deficit?
· The need to revisit the unintended consequences of testing and the impact of testing on children that do not test well or have a different learning style---How to go Beyond testing is a critical question—ensuring we are not teaching to high stakes tests-but rather truly developing strategies for assessing development and learning holistically.
· The need for policy and practice reform in schools—one size does not fit all—we cannot expect that children who have minimal resources will perform at the same level of those who do. And, children with special abilities must remain a priority. Equity must be a given if we are to meet the learning and development needs of every child.
· The need to truly acknowledge the value of starting in the early years with sufficient funding for holistic programs that address: social emotional development, learning, health, and the necessary environmental safety net all children require to become successful contributing residents and citizens. Investment in the early years is a necessity if this country is going to have the well prepared citizenry and workforce it needs.
So, then what is lacking:
- Political will that embraces and affirms meeting every child where they enter into this world.
- Proper financial investments.
- Sound policies that take into account what children and families need to thrive.
- Well prepared and well compensated workforce.
- A ready school system—I have never subscribed to getting children ready to learn-All children are born with ability to learn-the reality is not all children have the resources, environment, opportunity to develop.
- Societal acknowledgement-that every child is a valued resource.
Closing the Opportunity Gap in this country should be a no brainer! To borrow from NIKE--I say to those in positions of power: JUST DO IT!
Interested in learning more on this topic? Take a look at:
What America Must Do to Give Every Child an Even Chance, Edited by Prudence L. Carter and Kevin G. Welner; Re-examines the way we think about inequality in education, arguing that policy and reform efforts must focus on the denial of learning opportunities if we hope to see achievement gaps close in America's schools