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Education Opportunity Gaps

November 10, 2021
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Executive Summary

An individual’s access to early education, school resources, advanced classes, and experienced teachers may affect educational achievements such as test scores, graduation rates, and future income levels. Social factors that may influence access to educational opportunities include  race, gender, socioeconomic status, internet access, parental education, English-speaking abilities, and location. While socioeconomic status is a major predictor of achievement gaps, opportunity gaps exist between racial groups even when controlling for family wealth. Because opportunity gaps can arise early in life, programs that focus on early childhood education tend to be very effective at closing long-term achievement gaps. 


  • In addition to demographic factors, school-level characteristics such as teacher experience and educational resource availability are associated with achievement gaps in education.
    • Students of minority groups, low socio-economic status, and residing in low economic communities have less internet and computer access, in addition to arts, music, and advanced STEM classes, than their non-minoritized peers.
  • Black, Hispanic, and Native American students are more likely than white students to attend schools where 20% or more of the teachers are first year teachers. Across U.S. school districts, 23% have large differences in average teacher salaries (greater than $5,000) between schools with the highest and lowest percentage of Black and Hispanic students.
  • High achieving early learners that are economically disadvantaged have test scores that decrease over time, and tend to have worse eventual socioeconomic and life outcomes (e.g., higher incarceration rates).
  • Expanding access to early childhood programs like Head Start is a proven way to close achievement gaps.


  • Research investigating interventions and solutions for closing racial achievement gaps is difficult because the long timeframes involved make intentionally designed experiments difficult to implement.
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