The Edvocate’s Guide to the Opportunity Gap
The opportunity gap is an educational concept that explains how race, SES, domestic situations, or other variables work together to facilitate anti-intellectual sentiments and behaviors in certain learners’ segments. This, in turn, leads to low educational and skills attainment, which can perpetuate the cycle of generational poverty that caused the opportunity gap to begin with. It can become a never-ending cycle that affects generations.
Closely related to the achievement gap and learning gap, the term opportunity gap refers to how various factors contribute to or exacerbate lower educational aspirations, achievement, and attainment for certain learners.
Generally speaking, the opportunity gap refers to inputs—the unequal or inequitable distribution of resources and opportunities—while the achievement gap refers to outputs—the unequal or inequitable distribution of educational results and benefits. Learning gap refers to the performance of personal learners—i.e., the disparity between what a learner has learned and what learners are expected to learn at a particular age or grade level.
Opportunity gaps can take a broad variety of forms—too many to explain here comprehensively. The following, however, are a few factors that can give rise to opportunity gaps:
Learners from lower-income households may not have the financial resources that give learners from higher-income households an advantage in performing well in school, scoring high on standardized tests, and aspiring to and succeeding in college.
Minority learners may be subject to prejudice or bias that denies them equal and equitable access to learning opportunities. For instance, learners of color tend to be disproportionately represented in lower-level classes and special-education programs. Their educational achievement, graduation rates, and college enrollment rates are usually lower than those of their white peers.
Learners raised by parents who have not earned a college degree or who may not value a college education may lack the familial encouragement and support available to other learners. These learners may not be encouraged to take college-preparatory classes, for example, or their parents may struggle with the nuances of navigating the college-admissions process.
Learners raised in a non-English-speaking family or culture could experience limited educational opportunities if their fluency and literacy acquisition is delayed. If classes are taught exclusively in English, if educational contents are printed in English, or enriching educational programs are conducted in English or mandate English fluency, learners who are learning or struggling with English may be denied participation in these opportunities.
Poor schools and communities may suffer from less-efficient teaching, overcrowded schools, dilapidated facilities, programs, all of which can contribute to low educational performance.
Small schools located in isolated rural areas may not offer the same diversity of educational opportunities—such as several world-language classes or co-curricular programs like science fairs, debate competitions, robotics clubs, or theatrical performances, for example—that are available to learners in larger schools. Rural learners may also have less access to libraries, cultural institutions, and other learning opportunities because they do not exist in the area, or there are no free or low-cost public transit services.
A lack of internet connectivity and new learning technologies in rural schools, inner-city schools, and lower-income communities can place learners at a disadvantage when acquiring technological skills, taking computer-based tests, or accessing knowledge and learning opportunities online.