District Administration January 2020 - 4

OnTopic

Tequilla Brownie

By Matt Zalaznick

How to close education's
'opportunity gap'
Some students do too much work
that's way below grade level

If we ever hope to break cycles of
generational poverty by ending the
achievement gap in U.S. education, we
must first close the opportunity gap that
some students still face, says Tequilla
Brownie, executive vice president with
nonprofit consulting firm The New
Teacher Project (TNTP).
"Some students simply aren't given
an opportunity to engage in the type
of rigorous academic work that will
prepare them for lifelong success," says
Brownie, who works with educators
and communities nationwide to solve
the issue.
In identifying the major factors
behind what TNTP calls "the
opportunity myth," the organization's
research also sheds light on strategies
educators can use to ensure that
students of color and those from
low-income backgrounds reach their
full potential. Brownie is a former
educator in Tennessee's Memphis City
Schools (now merged into Shelby
County Schools), and has spoken at
DA's CAO Summits.

DAmag.me/brownie

4 | January 2020

What are some of the root causes of
the opportunity gap?
First, it's when students are not given
access to grade-appropriate assignments.
Yes, some students are behind grade
level, but we've found that some are
never given a chance to do grade-level
work. Our research shows that when
given a chance to do grade-level work,
students succeed at a greater rate than
what people might have expected.
The second is strong instruction; it's
whether students or teachers are doing
the cognitive lifting. Imagine being in
a classroom where the teacher asks a
question and before the students can
grapple with it, the teacher writes the
answer on the board.
It sounds like the gap results from some
educators having lower expectations.
When we ask teachers if they believe
in college-ready standards, the majority say "yes." But there's a disconnect.
Teachers don't expect students to be
able to do the work.
When we survey students, the majority-over 70%-have a career path
in mind. They have goals, and they
know they need education beyond high
school. They know there's a path for
them, but schools are not leaning
into that.
Is it fair to say that some students are
disproportionately affected?
We have to acknowledge, as a country,
which students are getting access to
grade-appropriate assignments. Too

often, not enough students are, and
overwhelmingly that number comprises
students of color, students from lowincome families, students who have mild
to moderate learning disabilities, and
English language learners-irrespective
of their previous performance.
This is on all of us-every adult in
the chain. We need to be making different choices with the time and resources
that we have.
So how do district leaders start to close
the opportunity gap?
You need to know, with evidence, that
your teachers are giving students gradeappropriate work. The way to verify that
is not just walking into a classroom for
a five-minute observation. You have to
look at the work and the assignments
students are being given.
And it's not all about funding, right?
When we talk about the achievement
gap, it's as if there's something wrong
with black and brown students and students in poverty. That's not the case.
This is as much about educators making a conscious decision to upend the
opportunity myth. We can upend it by
making different decisions with the time
and resources that we have now. That's
not to say we don't need additional funding, but we would actually begin to see
a shift if we started making different
choices right now. DA
Matt Zalaznick is senior writer.
DistrictAdministration.com


http://www.DAmag.me/brownie http://www.DistrictAdministration.com

District Administration January 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of District Administration January 2020

District Administration January 2020 - Cover1
District Administration January 2020 - Cover2
District Administration January 2020 - 1
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