Americans have long had a deep and abiding belief that education is the engine of opportunity in the United States. Schools, we believe, provide an opportunity for children—no matter their sex, their race, where their parents come from, or how meager their resources—to learn, to flourish, and to achieve the American Dream. There is truth to this belief: education in America has helped provide opportunities for millions of U.S. children, many of whom were not born and raised in advantaged conditions. But this truth is tempered by a large body of evidence demonstrating large racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and, in some cases, gender disparities in educational success. This suggests that historically not all children in the United States have had equal access to the American Dream. Our educational system has provided opportunity, but has not always provide it equally.
The goal of the Educational Opportunity Monitoring Project is to use the best available data to clarify patterns and trends in the equality of educational opportunities and outcomes in the United States. Patterns of educational inequality have changed over time; they vary among states and school districts; they take different forms among students at different ages; and their trends in different population groups are not the same. Some aspects of educational inequality have been improving; others have worsened. A detailed understanding of these patterns and trends is essential both for understanding the causes of educational inequalities and for designing strategies to eliminate them.
Dimensions of Educational Opportunity
The Educational Opportunity Monitoring Project focuses on two dimensions of educational equity: patterns of educational opportunity and experiences and patterns of educational progress and outcomes.
Key features of educational opportunity and experiences include children’s access to developmentally-appropriate and stimulating environments in early childhood; access to high-quality pre-schools, elementary schools, and high schools, staffed by skilled teachers; exposure to rigorous, expansive curricula; and affordable and useful college options. Educational opportunity can be difficult to measure, both because “school quality” is not simply defined or quantified and because the United States has not collected systematic data on the quality of education children have access to and receive. In lieu of ideal data on educational opportunity and experiences, the Project will document patterns and trends in a set of related features of education, including patterns of segregation, school funding, pupil-teacher ratios, and teacher characteristics.
Information about the patterns and trends in some of these indicators of equal educational opportunity and outcomes will be available on this site. The Project focuses particularly on the ways that educational opportunity and outcomes differ by race/ethnicity, family socioeconomic background, and gender, and how these patterns vary among children of different ages, in different places, and how they are changing over time. The Educational Opportunity Monitoring Project and this website are works in progress: as more data become available, more information will be added.