Opportunity Gaps in Education: What Are Schools Doing to Close Them?
Opportunity gaps exist across a spectrum of industries—including education. Unfortunately, these gaps in opportunity are present in the early learning environment and evolve into achievement gaps in little time. The issue is decades old and one that every state must face. That is why new policies are regularly being implemented to help schools with closing opportunity gaps in the classroom. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—passed in 2015 to replace the controversial No Child Left Behind—these policy options aim to give states helpful criteria to address and prevent opportunity gaps from negatively affecting future achievement. Below, we outline some of these education strategies.
ESSA Policy Options for Closing Opportunity Gaps in the Classroom1
Accountability and Reporting
States are encouraged to design their own accountability systems that include varied indicators of student and school performance. In other words, no one-size-fits-all standards should be used to measure achievement. Certain subgroups are looked at more closely to determine how students are performing, and reporting is conducted to support an early intervention strategy if needed. Suspensions and expulsions are also limited and monitored—and sometimes even prohibited. Instead, school districts are to provide safe and secure environments and implement restorative practices designed to promote social and emotional learning, particularly when it comes to early childhood education.
Funding and Resources
Expanding funding and resources is key to closing opportunity gaps in the classroom, and the new policies under ESSA promote this expansion and call for increased accessibility. And not only are funds and resources being made more available, but more attention is being paid to how funding affects schools and students so states can identify the districts and learners in need of further support. There is also an emphasis being placed on improving early learning programs through additional funding and grants for vulnerable populations.
Teaching and Learning
The tools and methods used to evaluate teachers and their effectiveness in the classroom are evolving, and states are encouraged to participate in the creation of these new systems. ESSA is looking more closely at the distribution of effective educators, as well, in order to help combat the development of opportunity gaps in specific areas. States are being instructed to consider providing professional development opportunities so that teachers can become more effective and make a greater impact on student learning and outcomes, particularly in early education settings.
A major initiative being promoted under ESSA is family and community engagement. For example, the Promise Neighborhoods program was established to significantly improve the educational and developmental outcomes of youth in distressed communities. The program also seeks to transform these communities so that children have access to good schools and strong family and community support systems.2 Increased support—from collective action of community members to educational institutions to nonprofits—improves student achievement and helps to close opportunity gaps.
Supporting English Learners
As part of Title I, states are required to track the performance of English Learners (ELs) and standardize their processes for identification and reclassification of ELs. The time dedicated to monitoring and tracking ELs after reclassification has been increased from two to four years to prevent regression in English language achievement. States are also encouraged to apply for National Professional Development (NPD) program grants that can support EL professional development in Pre-K–3 grade. In addition to providing activities designed to improve instruction for ELs, the NPD program also assists educators who are working with ELs to meet high professional standards.3
Learn About Important Education Topics at Walden
Exploring how to close opportunity gaps in the classroom is just one of the many topics you can study when you enroll in Walden’s MS in Education (MSEd) program. This advanced teaching degree is designed to give you a deeper understanding of the evolving education system, while improving your teaching strategies and credentials. Earning your master’s in education is also a great decision if you’re looking to advance your career and tap into a higher salary. And thanks to Walden’s online learning format, earning your MSEd is more convenient than ever before.
There’s no need to commute to class when you decide to enroll in the MS in Education online program at Walden. Instead, you can complete your MSEd degree coursework from wherever you have internet access. Plus, an online master’s program allows you to attend class at whatever time of day works best for you—a convenience that makes it possible to earn your advanced degree in education while you continue to teach full time. If you want to become a teacher who understands the shifting dynamics of the education system—and who can apply the best teaching strategies to make an impact on student achievement—Walden’s MSEd degree program is the right choice.
Walden University is an accredited institution offering a suite of education degree programs online, including an MS in Education (MSEd) program. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.
Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.
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