Open Opportunity – Massachusetts: Coming together to advance racial equity and prepare underserved youth to thrive
Equality of opportunity is, and has been, on the decline. Racial and economic segregation has intensified educational gaps between rich and poor students, and between white students and students of color. The results of these inequities are pervasive in our education system and beyond. Black and Latino individuals, and other racial and ethnic minorities, are underrepresented in leadership, underserved in schools, and confronted with large gaps in opportunity and outcomes when compared to their white peers.
Yet, there is a fundamental difference between public perception and this reality. While 90 percent of New Englanders believe it’s important for students to have the same opportunity to succeed—even if it means some students will receive more resources than others—60 percent are unaware of existing opportunity gaps and their root causes. The reality is that in Massachusetts, Latino children are five times more likely to live in poverty than white children. And while the median net worth of white families in the Greater Boston area is $247,500, it is only $8 for Black families. The systemic racism that perpetuates these wealth gaps also leads to disparities in students’ school success, and by fourth grade, less than 1 in 3 Black and Latino students are reading at grade level.
How can we begin dismantling the structures that reinforce these inequities? Should we rethink our approach to teaching and learning? Can we shift public perception to meet the reality of the disparities in our state?
To find those answers, we’ve teamed up with more than 40 like-minded local organizations to form Open Opportunity – Massachusetts. This cross-sector network represents communities, schools, labor, business, nonprofits, and government agencies focused on improving student outcomes and achieving sustainable change. Together, we hope to transform our education system by tearing down the barriers that segregate students and their families by race and class.
This is no small task and something we certainly can’t do ourselves. In too many past reform efforts, plans have been designed from the top down and dictated by those in positions of power. But to make real change, reforms must be driven by communities themselves. So this initiative focuses on connecting organizations that are already doing important work in their communities. By removing the barriers for these groups to collaborate we can support a locally driven approach to advancing equity.
Within Open Opportunity – Massachusetts, our first step as a group was to build a consensus around four areas that we think will have the most impact. We will focus on building thriving families by expanding access to essential services for housing stability, workforce development, and child and elder care; educating the whole child by creating a broader education ecosystem that supports each student holistically through partnerships between families, schools and communities; empowering educators by focusing on increasing teacher diversity and promoting culturally and linguistically sustaining practices and; shifting the public narrative by sharing the realities around opportunity to help support policies that advance racial equity.
The group’s first initiative is Campus Without Walls, where students have access to high-quality instruction that goes beyond the limits of a traditional school building or school day. The COVID-19 school closures have highlighted the power of technology to break down the silos of traditional brick-and-mortar schools to promote greater equity, access, and opportunity for all students.
Without action, the inequities that plague our system will continue to grow. Open Opportunity – Massachusetts is an effort to tackle this head-on, through community-driven reforms. We believe that together, we can work toward a future that gives each and every student the opportunities they deserve.
Learn more by visiting the new Open Opportunity – Massachusetts website: www.openopportunityma.org