The Opportunity Myth

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How can so many students be graduating from high school unprepared to meet their goals for college and careers?

Three years ago, we set out to answer that question. We suspected that we could gain a better understanding of students’ daily experiences by observing those experiences in action, looking closely at the work students were doing, and most importantly, by asking students directly. We hypothesized that a clearer picture of students’ daily experiences could point the way toward changes to policy and practice that would bridge the gap between what students need and what they’re getting every day in their classrooms.

We partnered with five diverse school systems, rural and urban, district and charter, to listen to students’ views on their educational experiences and observe how those experiences played out, in real time, in their classrooms. While “student experiences” include many things within and outside school, we chose to focus on a set of in-school elements that offered a window into what students were doing in their classes and how they perceived that time.

Above all, we wanted to understand students’ aspirations for themselves, what kind of lives they wanted to lead, and how school was preparing them to live those lives—or letting them down.

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