By Arif Shaikh
A UCLA report released today reveals a “national opportunity gap” in education, with California lagging behind most other states in student outcomes and fundamental learning conditions.
The report, issued by UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access (IDEA) and the University of California All-Campus Consortium on Research for Diversity (UC ACCORD), finds that systematic inadequacies and inequalities in the public education system leave California students from all backgrounds unable to compete with their counterparts in most other parts of the country.
In addition to the gap between learning opportunities in California and other states, the “2007 Educational Opportunity Report: The Racial Opportunity Gap” and its supplemental studies examine the gap in learning opportunities between different California public schools and between the state’s racial groups.
In August 2007, responding to research findings that white and Asian students in California consistently outperform their African American and Latino peers, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell called for a statewide focus on understanding and eliminating this racial inequality gap.
The new report seeks to address this issue by providing two supplemental studies that focus on the specific problems faced by African American and Lat-ino students. These additional studies show that educational obstacles are greatest for California’s African American and Latino students, who are frequently enrolled in schools with fewer qualified teachers and educational resources than their peers.
“These research results demonstrate that closing the opportunities gap faced by African American and Latino students will have tremendous benefits for the state as a whole,” said UCLA education professor Jeannie Oakes, co-director of IDEA and director of UC ACCORD.
The research also reveals a “restricted flow” through the “mathematics pipeline.” The progress of California students through the middle school and high school math curriculum is hampered by students’ lack of access to small class size, rigorous coursework and well-trained teachers, according to the report. This restricted flow makes the No Child Left Behind Act goal of universal proficiency in math by 2014 nearly impossible to reach for most California schools.
Finally, the report reveals worse educational outcomes for California’s class of 2006 than for previous classes. The consequences of poor learning conditions were greater for young people in the class of 2006 because they were the first to face the California High School Exit Exam’s “diploma penalty.” California graduated a smaller proportion of its ninth-grade cohort in 2006 than in any year since 1997.
“The statistics shown in this report suggest that solving educational inequity requires a two-pronged strategy one that improves California’s education infrastructure overall and at the same time targets resources and support to students concentrated in the much smaller proportion of middle and high schools that suffer from an even greater lack of essential educational resources,” said UCLA education professor John Rogers, co-director of IDEA.