Gorski Reaching and Teaching Students in Poverty Chapter 6 The Opportunity Gap

Gorski, P. C. (2013). Reaching and teaching students in poverty: Strategies for erasing the opportunity gap. New York: Teachers College Press.

Chapter 6: The Achievement –er, Opportunity-Gap in School

Principles of Equity Literacy discussed in this chapter:

Principle 1: The right to equitable educational opportunity is universal

Principle 5: We cannot understand the relationship between poverty and education without understanding biases and inequities experienced by people in poverty.

Principle 6: Test scores are inadequate measures of equity.

Principle 10: The inalienable right to equitable educational opportunity includes the right to high expectations, higher-order pedagogies, and engaging curricula.

Summary: In this chapter, Gorski makes the case that systemic inequalities contribute to the disparity in students’ performance and outcomes not because they can’t achieve as their peers but because their access to opportunity is inequitable. This means that although education is perceived to be the “great equalizer,” it’s not.

The Great Un-Equalizer

Students in poverty has less access to preschool, well-funded schools, adequately resourced schools, shadow education, school support services, affirming school environments, high academic expectations, well-paid, certified, and experienced teachers, student-centered, higher-order curricula and pedagogies, opportunities for family involvement, and instructional technologies.


Access to Preschool

Access to Well-Funded Schools

Access to Adequately Resourced Schools

  • “For example, whereas students in the wealthier school have fields where they can play, music classes with orchestral instruments, and a fully equipped science lab, the youth assigned to the poorer school have no fields, only keyboards in their music classes, and no science lab at all” (p. 93). (MY THOUGHTS – What examples would be in PDS?)
  • “Additionally, because parents and guardians from more affluent families are more likely than their lower-income peers to have the time, resources, and paid leve, if necessary, to volunteer in their children’s schools, they can help create time for teachers and other school workers to spend some of their energies on grant-writing and other activities that might increase their students’ access to learning resources and opportunities” (p. 93). (MY THOUGHTS – What comparisons can I make here to PDS? Equal but not equitable?)

Access to Shadow Education

  • “The term shadow education refers to informal educational programs designed either to remediate or support formal schooling (Buchmann, Condron, & Roscigno, 2010)” (p. 94). (MY THOUGHTS – What would shadow education be for PDS? Time, attending conferences, basic needs – food, rent, sleep, technology, car, gas money, professional clothes, CTs, pressures on schools and from schools, participating in after school activities, understanding social/cultural norms of professionalism in teaching – what if they are different than social/cultural norms of growing up)
  • “Unfortunately, as Jenny Stuber (2010) found in her study of students’ access to extracurricular activities in college, the discrepancy can continue into higher education, for those who can afford postsecondary schooling” (p. 95). (MY THOUGHTS – Rationale for resources, connect to criticism of PDS and privilege, connect to studies on need for diversity in teaching force)
  • “Certainly we never intend to mistake gaps in opportunity for gaps in intelligence or ability. Is it possible, though, that we sometimes are susceptible to false impressions, confusing the fruits of access, such as the academic boosts shadow education provides to students whose families can afford it, with intellectual superiority?” (p. 95). (MY THOUGHTS – Do we do that?)

Access to School Support Services

Access to Affirming School Environments

  • “The challenge for individual educators is that although we might be trying as hard as we can to be affirming and provide that safe, equitable learning environment, we are not always aware of, or we do not always see, the ways in which students are being invalidated or experiencing bias” (p. 97).
  • “Teachers, too, who choose or who are assigned to work in high-poverty schools often face these discouraging conditions and yet persist in their commitments to do all they can do to facilitate equitable learning environments for their students. That’s why teachers are my heroes” (p. 98). (MY THOUGHTS – Definitely a parallel here to our PSTs and our CTs, and us TE who chose to work in these environments)

Access to High Academic Expectations

  • “Sometimes, though – and I find this fascinating – low expectations actually can emanate from good intentions, such as when we desire not to put too much pressure on students whom we worry are overburdened in other areas of their lives” (p. 98). (MY THOUGHTS – Do we do that on our PSTs?)

Access to Well-Paid, Certified, and Experienced Teachers

  • “Unfortunately, most teachers with an opportunity to leave high-poverty schools for a job in a low-poverty school choose to do just that. This often leaves schools in the most economically repressed communities struggling to hire and retain fully certified, experienced teachers” (p. 100). (MY THOUGHTS – Think about how this affects us as we put PSTs in these schools. We also face issues of split classes, no substitutes, putting struggling teachers in with our CTs).
  • “This, of course, means that low-income students, on average, do not enjoy the same level of access to certified and experienced teachers as their wealthier peers, which is among the best-documented educational inequities in the United States (Chambers, Levin, & Shambaugh, 2010; Orfield, Frankenberg, & Siegel-Hawley, 2010). In fact, not only are teachers in predominately low-income schools more likely than their colleagues at wealthier schools to be uncertified in the subjects they teach (Rouse & Barrow, 2006), they also have less education on average (Cooper, 2010). Again, a lack of certification or lesser amounts of formal teacher education are not necessarily worthy long measures of the effectiveness of individual teachers, but their cumulative effects for poor and working class students are, at the very least, notable” (p. 101).
  • “Palardy’s (2008) study uncovered other, slightly messier inequities as well. He explained, for instance, that, ‘Compared with teachers at high social class schools, teachers at low social class schools were rated by students as being of lower quality, were confronted with significantly greater levels of class disruptions, were less likely to coordinate their curriculum with other teachers in the school, had a lower sense of control over their work environment, and had a lesser locus of control’ (p. 31)” (p. 101).
  • “It might be tempting to see these results as an implication of the teachers themselves. However, these conditions, as far as I can tell, are not the results of inattentive teachers, but rather, in many cases, of disaffected teachers who share with their students the difficulties of being in underresourced (SIC) schools. Remember, too, that teachers in low-income schools are more likely to have imposed upon them the kinds of curricular and pedagogical models, like direct instruction, that stifle their creativity” (p. 101).

Access to Student-Centered, Higher-Order Curricula and Pedagogies

  • Gorski identifies higher-order thinking activities as being (from highest to lowest): applying, problem-solving, reflecting, critiquing, creating, analyzing, connecting, and interpreting; and he identifies lower-order thinking activities as being (from highest to lowest) recalling, recording, observing, recounting, generalizing, memorizing, and reciting. These are from a figure – Figure 6.2. Higher- and Lower-Order Thinking Activities on p. 102. (MY THOUGHTS – What activities do we ask Residents to engage in? and are they HOT activities? I could do a content analysis of the syllabi of all TR courses)
  • “We must remember that, due to the AYP aspect of No Child Left Behind and other federal mandates, teachers in low-income schools often feel heightened pressures to teach to the test or rely heavily on direct instruction, sometimes based on orders from their administrators” (p. 103).
  • “Teachers who teach predominantly low-income students also contend with larger class sizes than their colleagues at higher-income schools (Barton, 2004), which could make them feel more uneasy about implementing higher-order pedagogies than, say, their colleagues who teach 12 students at a time at the wealthiest independent schools in the United States” (p. 103).

Access to Opportunities for Family Involvement

  • “In fact, in one of her groundbreaking studies, Annette Lareau (1994) found, upon comparing families from two 1st-grade classes (one in a low-income neighborhood and the other in a middle class neighborhood), that, likely because you work multiple jobs you have less free time and less time flexibility than middle class parents” (p. 104). (MY THOUGHTS – This is applicable to our residents who work multiple jobs. They have less ‘thinking’ time and less flexible time to meet for group projects. I remember that was a distinct issue for classroom management group assignments.)

Access to Instructional Technologies

  • “The term digital divide usually refers to inequities in physical access to computers and the Internet among various groups of people. For example, poor and working class students have lower levels of access to computers and the Internet at home than their wealthier peers. Despite considerable progress over the past 10 years toward eliminating the digital divide at school, gaps persist there, too (Thomas, 2008), as low-income schools continue, on average, to stock classrooms and computer labs with fewer computers per student than wealthier schools” (p. 104).
  • “When we consider the matter from the point of view of a broader notion of ‘access,’ as those in the digital equity movement have attempted to do, we find that computer and Internet technology use in high-poverty schools tends to mirror other pedagogical trends” (p. 105). (MY THOUGHTS – I think this applies to us as well. My note in the margin says, ‘Time for us.’ I’m trying to remember what my connection was here with that expression.)
  • “As a result, whereas teachers in high-poverty schools are most likely to use computer and Internet technologies for record-keeping and administrative tasks, their colleagues in low-poverty schools are most likely to use them for creating new learning materials and otherwise strengthening their instruction (Valadez & Duran, 2007)” (p. 105).


The Problem with NCLB, Vouchers, and School “Choice”

  • “Of course, many of these inequities  (access to equitable healthcare, for instance) are beyond schools’ control. As a result, the most vulnerable schools often are punished again and again for the implications of the very inequities that hamper them and their students (Toutkoushian & Curtis, 2005)” (p. 106).



  • “The idea, remember, is not necessarily to feel guilty or fully responsible for the existence of these inequities, but instead to ask ourselves what they mean for us and our students within our spheres of influence. At the very least, they should help us better understand why some low-income students might feel disengaged from school or why, on average, they might seem so far behind their wealthier peers academically. They should remind us that it’s not their fault. The odds are stacked against students whose families are in generational poverty. They might remind us to ask ourselves what we’re willing to do to make sure we aren’t reproducing these disadvantages in our own classrooms and schools” (p. 107).





Barton, P. E. (2004). Why does the gap persist? Educational Leadership, 62(3), 8-13.

Buchmann, C., Condron, D. J., & Roscigno, V. J. (2010). Shadow education, American style: Test preparation, the SAT, and college enrollment. Social Forces, 89(2), 435-462.

Chambers, J. G., Levin, J. D., & Shambaugh, L. (2010). Exploring weighted student formulas as a policy for improving equity for distributing resources to schools: A case study of two California schools. Economics of Education Review, 29(2), 283-300.

Cooper, C. E. (2010). Family poverty, school-based parental involvement, and policy-focused protective factors in kindergarten. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 25, 480-492.

Lareau, A. (1994). Parent involvement in schooling: A dissenting view. In C. Fagano & B. Z. Werber (Eds.), School, family, and community interaction: A view from the firing lines (pp. 61-73). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Orfield, G., Frankenberg, E., & Siegel-Hawley, G. (2010). Integrated schools: Finding a new path. Educational Leadership, 68(3), 22-27.

Palardy, G. J. (2008). Differential school effects among low, middle, and high social class composition schools: A multiple group, multilevel latent growth curve analysis. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 19(1), 21-49.

Rouse, C. E., & Barrow, L. (2006). U.S. elementary and secondary schools: Equalizing opportunity or replacing the status quo? The Future of Children, 16(2), 99-123.

Stuber, J. M. (2010). Class, culture, and participation in the collegiate extra-curriculum. Sociological Forum, 24(4), 877-900.

Thomas, D. (2008). The digital divide: What schools in low socioeconomic areas must teach. The Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin, 74(4), 12-17.

Toutkoushian, R. K., & Curtis, T. (2005). Effects of socioeconomic factors on public high school outcomes and rankings. Journal of Educational Research, 98(5), 259-271.

Valadez, J. R., & Duran, R. (2007). Redefining the digital divide: Beyond access to computers and the Internet. The High School Journal, 90(3), 31-44.