Focusing on the Opportunity Gap

by Guest Post on December 5, 2012

I was able to see Deb Delisle, the United States Department of Education Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education, speak at the Strive Network Convening, which I attended in September. Delisle participated in a panel discussion called “Investing for Impact: Lessons Learned in the Shift to Funding What Works.

Months later, I’m still thinking about what she said.

Delisle posited that when we discuss education reform and focus on closing the achievement gap, that we’re not asking the right question. She went on to say that the term closing the achievement gap really puts the onus or responsibility on what a child has done or hasn’t done. From her perspective the conversation should be reframed to focus on the opportunity gap or expectations gap. This refocuses the conversation to thinking about the extent to which we provide all children opportunities  or access to highly rigorous and personalized learning environments that will prepare them to be college and career ready.

That’s powerful stuff and gets to the heart of what I see us doing at EDWorks.

A few weeks after the Convening I led Delisle on her site visit to Reynoldsburg City Schools District schools, one of our partner districts.  She made this same statement at that visit and said she is on a one-woman mission to change the conversation in this direction.

As a result of what she said, I have already begun thinking about how our work and messaging can support her mission. Does changing the focus from achievement gap to the opportunity gap affect how you think about education reform? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments area.

Guest post by Michele Timmons, a former Manager of Partnership Development and Technical Assistance Coach for EDWorks.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Drew Schrader December 5, 2012 at 12:41 pm

Really like this post Michelle – I agree, Opportunity Gap is a great way to refocus ed conversations. Thanks!

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Michele Timmons December 5, 2012 at 9:44 pm

Thanks Drew. I have become very passionate about this approach. It completely makes sense. So many children don’t succeed because the systems aren’t set up to give them the opportunity to succeed – or – adults don’t believe they can succeed. Focusing on this shift has the potential to completely re-frame the conversation to a much more pro-active approach.

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Ed Jones December 6, 2012 at 7:52 pm

Hi, Michelle, yes, I actually think that’s always how I’ve seen it, though I’ve used the former term, too.

Is there an even better word? So many of our friends will take umbrage at the “expectations” gap, insisting that’s not the case; or will see “opportunity” gap as purely a money issue.

Either way, as you know, I’m focused on expanding the opportunities by “crowdsourcing” the expectations.

Let us know what else you come up with!

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RD Nordgren December 6, 2012 at 11:21 pm

Michele and Deb Delisle are right: it is our obligation to ensure that all children have the opportunity to learn. Of course, “opportunity” entails having their basic needs met prior to entry into kindergarten as well as when they’re not in school. What we must learn from the Finns is that we teach the whole child.

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