Understanding MassCore: The Opportunity Myth



The Opportunity Myth

In the final installment of our series about MassCore, Jill Shah interviews Orin Gutlerner, the Shah Family Foundation’s Director of Education, about the challenges of scaling rigorous and engaging curriculum and teaching practices. Prior to joining the foundation, Orin spent over 20 years as a teacher, teacher educator, and school leader.

In this interview, Jill and Orin dissect a report called “The Opportunity Myth,” which was recently issued by the education non-profit, TNTP. Diving deeply into the classroom practices of five diverse school districts, TNTP’s researchers analyzed many thousands of lessons, assignments, student work samples, and student and teacher surveys. They attempted to connect the dots between teachers’ expectations for students; the work that is assigned and graded; the instructional methods that are deployed; and the degree to which students felt inspired and challenged by their classes. The research attempted to answer the question of whether K-12 schools are fulfilling the fundamental promise that if students put in the effort and succeed with their work, they will be prepared for higher education.

The short answer: we are not keeping this promise. Not even close.

The Opportunity Myth finds that our nation’s public schools are consistently failing to challenge students with learning tasks and teaching methods that are appropriately rigorous for their grade level. The report also illustrates that the gap between what students should be learning and doing in school versus what they are actually engaged in is even wider in classrooms that serve a majority of students of color.

unnamed (4).jpg

Jill and Orin dig into several questions and lessons from The Opportunity Myth that are relevant to the Boston Public School’s efforts to adopt the MassCore framework for high school graduation:

  • Beyond just requiring “more rigorous” courses, what kind of support do teachers need to ensure that these classes are actually challenging and interesting for students?

  • What role do teachers’ expectations for students play in these efforts--and how are those expectations shaped by race and bias?

  • What kind of changes are needed in the way that we prepare new teachers?

We have been excited to see how much energy and appetite there is in our community for trying to understand and support BPS’ work on high school graduation requirements. We plan to continue this conversation with future blogs and podcasts on other topics that are relevant to the district’s work to transform high schools, including the alternative education network, school counseling and student supports, and career pathway programming.