Opportunity Gap - Overview


The achievement gap between White students and Black and Latino students correlates to the OPPORTUNITY GAP—disparity in access to quality schools and the resources needed for academic success, such as early childhood education, highly prepared and effective teachers, college preparatory curricula, and equitable instructional resources.

For the past two decades, our nation’s leaders have focused on “output” standards and testing to close the achievement gaps that separate different student groups. This only looks at one side of the equation for success. It is essential to hold public officials accountable for “input” standards, assuring that all students, regardless of where they live, have access to the resources they need to have a fair and substantive opportunity to learn. If we close the opportunity gap, we can close the achievement gap.

The Schott Foundation’s report, Lost Opportunity, finds that, nationally, students from historically disadvantaged groups have just a 51 percent Opportunity to Learn, when compared to White, non-Latino students. The effects of these inequities are disproportionately concentrated in a few states: California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas. Detailed state-level reports, including data on inequities among groups and the social and economic consequences, are available at : 

Understanding the Opportunity Gap

New data now available from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights shines additional light on disparities in educational resources and opportunities. The Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) covers some 7,000 districts and more than 72,000 schools. View the data at: ocrdata.ed.gov

The data show whether students in different schools and districts have equal access to experienced teachers, rigorous coursework and other indicators of quality education. For example, 3,000 schools serving some 500,000 high school students offer no Algebra 2 classes, and more than 2 million students in 7,300 schools had no access to calculus classes.

Opportunity gaps remain large among different student groups

• Schools serving mostly African-American students are twice as likely to have teachers with one or two years of experience than are schools within the same district that serve mostly White students.

• Students with limited English proficiency make up 6 percent of the high school population (in grades 9-12), but are 15 percent of the students for whom algebra is the highest-level math course taken by the final year of their high school career.

• Only 22 percent of local education agencies (LEAs) reported that they operated pre-K programs targeting children from low-income families.

Source: U.S. Department of Education; Civil Rights Data Collection

ProPublica: Not all states are equal in closing opportunity gaps

The independent news service ProPublica reviewed the U.S. Department of Education database as part of an exhaustive analysis of states’ efforts to close opportunity gaps. ProPublica found that family economic differences typically are reflected in the classroom, with students from wealthy families taking many more advanced courses.

ProPublica created a user-friendly tool that allows you to see whether your state—and your school—are providing equal access to quality education. View the tool here.


Based on ProPublica's analysis, here is a sample of how states compare to the national average for the percentage of students who take at least one Advance Placement course:

National Average 18%
Arkansas 25%
Wisconsin 18%
Pennsylvania 16%
New York 16%
Massachusetts 15%
Missouri 10%