Why Educational Disparities Persist

By Michael Kachitsa

Drawn from a book that has been 30 years in the making, this excerpt outlines three explanations for why deep disparities in educational opportunities and outcomes persist for so many of our nation’s children despite more than six decades of education equity reforms. These lessons from the past undergird the book’s argument overall, informing both our vision for a more equitable and effective education system and a comprehensive theory of change for how that vision might be realized.

In this excerpt, we emphasize the need for a systemic rather than piecemeal approach to closing gaps and improving outcomes for all, examine the importance of implementation and contextual factors that often determine the success of any improvement effort, and recognize the abiding influence of the growing inequalities in the broader community and the need for schools and communities to work together if real progress is to be attained. Throughout the volume, we integrate findings from research with practical knowledge and examples from the field to connect many of the improvement ideas and efforts currently in play in school systems and policy circles across the country.—Jennifer O’Day and Marshall S. Smith

It has been said that implementation is 90 percent of impact. The same intervention applied in one school, locale, or state may yield quite different results when employed in another. Problems of inadequate resources, weak commitment, or poor fit are often cited to explain disappointing outcomes. This situation is not unique to education; in fact, the field of implementation science, which grew out of concerns about the limited uptake of evidence-based practices in medicine, seeks to apply research on implementation patterns and strategies to improve their application and use across a wide range of social domains. “Implementation varied” is probably the most commonly reported finding across decades of policy and program evaluations.

Yet implementation considerations generally get short shrift when policy makers and administrators are considering options and calculating expected impact. Decades of implementation research have yielded an extensive array of implementation lessons that could be applied to considerations for equity-oriented policies. Here we focus on three that are integral to our vision of how a more equitable education system would need to operate.

Source – SSIR