The Teacher Collaborative Takes on The Opportunity Myth

At the Teacher Collaborative, we bring together teachers from across the Commonwealth who are passionate about addressing the most complex challenges of their work. That’s why when we read The Opportunity Myth, a report by TNTP exploring how well schools are preparing students to reach their aspirations for themselves, we decided to gather educators to discuss, think, and respond to the findings. 

In following 5,000 students in five diverse school systems, TNTP found that while more than 90 percent of students say they want to go to college, most are not being prepared for to meet that goal. Almost across the board, students are receiving assignments that are far below grade level; they’re not deeply engaged in their schoolwork most of the time; and many are not being given a chance to reach a higher bar. And while this proves true for students of all backgrounds, students from low-income families, students of color, students with mild to moderate disabilities, and English language learners bear a heavier brunt of the disadvantage.

TNTP is clear that it isn’t on the shoulders of teachers alone to address these issues, but teachers must be part of the conversation. We wanted to know how teachers would respond to these findings, whether the research would ring true with what they see every day, and if so, how they would mobilize to address it. 

To find out, we got a room full of educators together to talk. Like all Teacher Collaborative events, it was a diverse group: Teachers, school leaders, and administrators came in school-based teams from district, charter, private, and parochial schools, representing communities from Greater Boston to Cape Cod and western Massachusetts. Members of TNTP’s team joined us to talk through the research, answer questions, and listen in on the discussion. To the 30 educators in the room, we posed the question: How do we ensure that all students have access to school experiences that set them up to meet their aspirations?

The teachers spent the day digging into that question, and what it would mean in their schools and classrooms. At a high level, here’s what they had to say:

  1. Raising the rigor of assignments requires more time and opportunity dedicated to this and deeper teacher collaboration. 

  2. Scaffolding is critical, but it’s a difficult skill and teachers need support to do it effectively.

  3. Struggle is important—but how, when, and how much? 

  4. For true engagement, students need to see themselves in the materials—and they need to see the world beyond their classrooms and communities. 

  5. High expectations are essential, but it isn’t easy to change the narrative once students have been labeled.

  6. System-level change is required to truly shift expectations. 

In the next blog post in this series, we’ll share more on what the teachers had to say about each of these themes—and how they’re laying the groundwork for an exciting Co-Lab, launching in the fall!

Maria Fenwick