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How Schools of Opportunity Illustrate Learning Research

BOULDER, CO (March 26, 2023)—Academic research has long pointed to the benefits of practices such as detracking and culturally sustaining teaching that add challenges, supports, and relevance to students’ learning experiences. But educators and school leaders crave concrete examples of these reforms, to illustrate how to move forward in their schools.

The National Education Policy Center’s Schools of Opportunity Project recognized schools that close opportunity gaps for students by adopting these and other research-based approaches. After the project went into hiatus at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the lessons from the program were collected into a book, Schools of Opportunity: 10 Research-Based Models of Equity in Action. Each of the book’s chapters focuses on one of the criteria used to select Schools of Opportunity honorees.

In a policy memo released today by NEPC, How the Practices of Schools of Opportunity Illustrate Recent Research on Learning, Adam York and Kate Somerville of the University of Colorado Boulder share examples of schools excelling in two of the key criteria of the project, to demonstrate the positive connections between those school practices and recent research on human learning.

One of these criteria involves the restrictive impact of tracking on school culture, and the need to create a supportive learning culture by closely examining and revising practices that may have been long-standing in tracked courses. The other criterion focuses on the benefits that emerge from developing a challenging, culturally relevant curriculum.

The new policy memo shows how school leaders and policymakers can look to recognized Schools of Opportunity as guides for how to proactively reframe learning goals and outcome measures. Rather than approaching student needs with a singular remedy, these schools recognize the need to blend overlapping supports to allow for the greatest learning potential. The need to support students holistically is also a key lesson from recent research on learning and human development. York and Somerville conclude with a discussion of the implications of their analysis for education policy.

Find How the Practices of Schools of Opportunity Illustrate Recent Research on Learning, by Adam York and Kate Somerville, at:


This policy memo was made possible in part by funding from the Stuart Foundation (

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, sponsors research, produces policy briefs, and publishes expert third-party reviews of think tank reports. NEPC publications are written in accessible language and are intended for a broad audience that includes academic experts, policymakers, the media, and the general public. Our mission is to provide high-quality information in support of democratic deliberation about education policy. We are guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence and support a multiracial society that is inclusive, kind, and just. Visit us at: