Report: The Opportunity Gap in Education Is Growing

Students who live in disadvantaged areas should have access to the supports and resources they need to have a decent shot at a quality education. But the reality is much different. According to A Rotting Apple: Education Redlining in New York City by the Schott Foundation for Public Education, students of color who live in the lowest income areas of New York City  are actually less likely to receive the necessary support to give them that critical step-up.

“Unequal learning opportunities for poor students and students of color have become the status quo in New York City,” said John Jackson, president of the Schott Foundation. “The current policy landscape does very little to give these young people access to the supports, types of schools or qualified teachers that give them a substantive opportunity to learn.”

The “redlining” in the title refers to the old practice in which banks would draw boundaries around low-income areas where they would restrict loans. Many public education advocates see essentially the same practice being applied to the nation’s poorest schools regarding equitable funding.

“While the term ‘redlining’ might seem strong, given that it implies a deliberate attempt to deny certain communities access to educational opportunities,” Dr. Pedro Noguera of New York University writes in his introduction, “this report will show that evidence of blatant disparities amount to Apartheid-like separations that have been accepted in New York for too long.”

Education Redlining based its conclusions on an “Opportunity to Learn” Index that examines 500 NYC middle schools across the city’s 32 Community School Districts. The report identifies a series of inequalities between and within districts—that largely correlate to race and poverty level.

The study zeroes in on four key findings:

  • A Black or Hispanic student is nearly four times more likely to be enrolled in one of the city’s poorest high schools as an Asian or White student.
  • High-poverty districts have significantly fewer high-quality teachers.
  • Students from low-income families have little chance of being tested for eligibility for gifted and talented programs.
  • Any student who is eligible for free or reduced-price meals is most likely to be enrolled in one of the city’s lowest performing high schools.

New York City is the largest school district in the country and as the report points out, the city’s high-profile “reforms” that foster redlining may be duplicated in other urban areas. So what is going on in New York has major national significance.

Still, the profound shortage of educational opportunities for less-advantaged students is crippling communities across the nation, not just in cities. Linda Darling-Hammond, professor of Education at Stanford University, has pointed to the redlining on a national scale contained in some key proposals for ESEA reauthorization on Capitol Hill that do nothing to address core equity concerns. In a recent column for The Nation, Darling-Hammond wrote:

There is no plan in the current or proposed ESEA or in other federal legislation to stem the rapid slide of families into poverty, homelessness and food insecurity; to address the inequitable distribution of state and local funds to schools; to improve teaching and learning conditions in underfunded, high-poverty schools; or to recruit and train expert teachers who will stay in these schools and stop the revolving door of untrained novices who leave children further behind.

Nationally, low-income schools with high minority populations are three to ten times more likely to have unqualified teachers than students in more affluent, predominantly white schools – a deficit that has to be closed if disadvantaged students are to have access to more educational opportunities.

“This is a crisis of state, local and federal significance,” John Jackson says. “However because we know that it takes a village to abandon a child, in the face of the inability of federal, state and local leaders to generate the political will to address these issues, ultimately parents, students, teachers, faith leaders and the business and philanthropic community must lead through public will.”

Read the A Rotting Apple: Education Redlining in New York City

See Also: How Do We Increase Teacher Quality in Low-Income Schools?

Photo: Cindy Long