Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Closing the Opportunity Gap

A Missouri University study Featured this week in EdNews finds that out of 46 countries studied, the US has the fourth-highest Education Opportunity Gap—defined as the difference between high and low socio-economic status students and their access to qualified teachers.

The study says, and is based on the premise, that students with similar backgrounds, even low-income, achieve significantly higher when taught by highly qualified teachers.

Other findings included:

• 29.7 percent of U.S. eighth grade math teachers did not major in mathematics or mathematics education; the international average is 13.2 percent.
• 60.3 percent of U.S. eighth graders are taught mathematics by teachers with full certification, who were mathematics or mathematics education majors and had at least three years of teaching experience; nearly 40 percent of U.S.

eighth graders do not have access to highly qualified teachers.
• In the United States, 67.6 percent of high-socioeconomic status students are taught by highly qualified teachers, compared with 53.2 percent of low-socioeconomic status students. This opportunity gap of 14.4 percent is significantly larger than the international average of 2.5 percent.

This article made me think of a book report I did Sophomore year of high school on Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, about a man who wakes up from a trance to find the wealth gap virtually closed by socialist practices. I know, I will really create a huge uproar by even mentioning that word, but hear me out!

The book espouses a fix that many agree will not work, and will certainly not work in a government construct, and is a “utopian fiction” genre popular at the time as a vehicle showing the best and purest outcomes of a particular ideology. But the book is poised at the confluence of the 19th and 20th centuries largely to demonstrate that the wealth gap emerging between the two centuries is a drasic problem and inherently wrong. It influenced a climate of change that we know today as a social justice movement (not socialist), and we take from that a great desire to, at every level, alleviate poverty, hunger and homelessness. I also wrote a research paper on why the socialist movement failed in the US after the WPA and the end of the depression.

My point is two-fold. I believe that closing that gap (as ever-present) comes from expanding choices, not by limiting them, and that choice offered in the beginning—that is to say, as a person is beginning the education that influences their future and livelihood—does the most to keep people out of poverty and generational poverty. A good education means a good workforce, a better economy, and quite literally the ability to make choices for their own destinies.

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