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Opportunity Gap

**Darling-Hammond, L. (2010). The anatomy of inequality: How the opportunity gap is constructed. In J. Banks (Ed.), The flat world and education: How America’s commitment to equity will determine our future (pp. 27-65). New York: Teachers’ College Press. Available for purchase at

This chapter examines how the opportunity gap—defined here as the accumulated differences in access to educational resources vital to learning—is created in America’s public school system. The author highlights numerous obstacles to achieving an equitable education system for all students: poverty,  inadequate social supports, limited early childhood opportunities, re-segregation; unequal access to quality and certified teachers; low-quality curricula; differential placements in advanced and college preparatory classes, tracking of students, and dysfunctional teaching and learning environments.  In addition to equalizing resources, the author emphasizes the importance of cultivating supportive teaching and learning environments and maintaining high expectations for all students.

The following chapters from the book Updraft/Downdraft will serve as a framework for our Session II discussions on opportunity gaps. The book’s central thesis is that institutional forces drive some students toward post-secondary success and others toward the high school diploma as a terminal degree. The book provides tools to help schools identify and address these inequities through an analysis of “artifacts.” We will ground our own discussion in similar artifacts that our district leaders are using to identify, analyze, and monitor opportunity gaps in their districts. Longstanding Collaborative members may recognize these chapters from a prior meeting in Fresno (March, 2009) that focused on equity and access for English learners.

Crawford, M. & Dougherty, E. (2003). Updraft/downdraft. In M. Crawford & E. Dougherty, Updraft/downdraft: Secondary schools in the crosswinds of reform (pp. 11-28). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education. Available for purchase at

Chapter 2 highlights research on secondary school teaching and learning in order to identify critical resources that put “updraft” groups of students on track for success and leave “downdraft” students with limited access to high-quality teachers and instructional time. The authors explain how adults’ subliminal perceptions of students based on characteristics such as race, class, gender, and demeanor can result in the sorting of students into updraft and downdraft tracks. Updraft students from privileged backgrounds tend to experience nurturing schooling environments that foster higher order skills and expectations of college and career readiness. Conversely, downdraft students are more often exposed to a curriculum that promotes basic and repetitive skills and learn to barter good behavior and conformity for lessened academic demands from teachers.

Crawford, M. & Dougherty, E. (2003). What are artifacts and why use them? In M. Crawford & E. Dougherty, Updraft/downdraft: Secondary schools in the crosswinds of reform (pp. 29-38). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education. Available for purchase at

Chapter 3 identifies school and classroom artifacts that can be collected and analyzed to monitor conditions which drive the updraft and downdraft effects. In addition to familiar data sources, such as test scores and graduation rates, artifacts include master schedules, school calendars, course syllabi, student schedules, teacher-made assignments, and scored student work. The authors argue that examining these artifacts can help schools gain a fresh perspective on their policies, practices, and culture; better align human resources with student outcome goals; identify conditions that support or constrain teaching quality; and generally foster more equitable infrastructures for teaching and learning.

**This document is considered a priority reading.