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Inequality in Education

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Education is not only a pathway for progress but also an opportunity source through which young individuals obtain knowledge, skills, and experiences crucial to securing excellent jobs and successful futures. However, the education system in the United States is highly unequal. Students with immigrant origins and those from minority backgrounds and economically disadvantaged families tend to attain fewer certificates and degrees, abandon school earlier, and portray lower academic skills compared to their privileged counterparts as Gamoran (2001) denotes. Identifying and addressing these inequalities requires research that pinpoints specific in-school inequalities and out-of-school inequalities that enhance the perpetuation of the problem in American school systems and appropriate ways of eradicating it. Based on the findings of various studies, the solution to the disparate rankings and numbers is not the provision of additional funding but the implementation of better policies.

A common misconception is that equal learning opportunities exist currently, and as such, the persistent low performance and academic achievements of minority students emanates from their culture, genes, and lack of sufficient will and effort in their education. This notion cannot be further from the truth as these outcomes of minority children are the products of the unequal access to essential educational resources, such as quality curriculum and skilled instructors, as well as their race and social class. Compared to other nations in the industrialized world, the United States educational system is one of the most unequal systems whereby students often acquire discordant learning opportunities, depending in their social status. Moreover, contrary to Asian and European countries that normally fund their schools equally and centrally, the expenditure of the affluent ten percent of school districts in the U.S. is almost ten time more than that of the poorest ten percent. Despite the existence of such significant differences in teacher quality, class sizes, funding, and curriculum, the prevalent perception is that if the students do not attain commendable academic achievements, it is a result of their own doing.

People in the U.S. tend to forget that segregated schools that received insufficient funding from the federal government still existed as late as the 1960s. The culmination of the segregation of schools was followed by measures to foster equality in funding of learning institutions. This increase in funding resulted in a significant discordance in the national student achievement. For instance, on major national tests, the gap in performance between white students and minority students declined substantially between 1970 and 1990, particularly for elementary schools. Even so, the educational experiences and outcomes for minority students have continued to be considerably unequal and divest. Based on the research by Darling-Hammond (2001), approximately two-thirds of students falling in the minority category still learn in schools that have a predominant population of minorities, with a significant portion of these schools situated in central cities and receiving considerably lower funding than schools in suburban districts.

Recent studies also show that schools that serve a student population that is predominantly of minority origin not only lack sufficient learning resources but also have fewer curriculum offerings and qualified teachers (Darling-Hammond, 2001). As such, the inequitable structures of school financing impose disproportionate harm on minority students and those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. There is a resounding distinction between public schools that serve minority students in the urban settings and those that serves students from well-off families in the suburban areas. The spending in the latter is twice as much for every student for a demographic with fewer cases of special needs. An excellent example is the lack of computer applications for teaching computer topics and lack of usable dissecting kits and laboratory tables and apparatus in schools that serve minority students while students in schools located in the suburban areas enjoy well-connected and sufficient computers and science laboratories almost equipped to the same level as those in certain industries.

Even in situations whereby there is a significant portion of minority and low-income students in schools un urban districts, they still have inadequate instructional resources. The tracking systems implemented in these schools worsen the inequalities through their segregation of numerous minority and low-income students. The combination of these policies in schools ensure that the minority students and those from economically disadvantaged households only have access to lower-quality and insufficient curriculum materials, computers, books, and laboratories. It is intriguing that a considerable portion of schools that offer learning opportunities to minority and low-income students even lack the Science and Math courses required for joining college and university. Such students also face other challenges in their schools in the form of less experienced and skilled teachers, large-size classes, and limited access to high-quality resources in their curriculum.

It is possible to spend unwisely or in ways that are unproductive or ineffective. This assertion is the reason why many people do not believe that increased funding is the solution to eradicating in-school inequalities perpetrated by the schools. Nonetheless, recent studies evince that money spent appropriately can make a significant difference in the reduction of in-school inequalities (Domina, Penner, and Penner, 2017). The findings of a significant portion of research indicate that four factors consistently impact the academic achievement of students. These factors include operating smaller class sizes, hiring highly qualified teachers, smaller schools where the students are well-known, and implementing a challenging curriculum (Weir, 2016). Minority students and those from low-income families are less likely to benefit from any of these resources compared to the majority of white children.

Notwithstanding, directing the increased funds allocated toward the implementation of smaller class sizes, recruitment and payment of highly qualified teachers, formulation of smaller schools where the students are well-known, and incorporation of a challenging curriculum will go a long way in reducing the in-school inequalities. According to the research undertaken by Rice (2003), the preparation and qualification of teachers results in a colossal difference in the students’ learning. The qualification or expertise of a teacher as assessed by the presence of a master’s degree, scores on the licensing examination, and their experience is the most prominent determinant of the academic achievement of students. Moreover, the substantial disparities in the academic achievements of white and black students emanate almost entirely from the discordances in the qualifications of their teachers and policies employed by the schools. As such, implementing a strategy that ensures schools serving predominantly minority students and those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds have highly qualified instructors will reduce the in-school inequalities significantly.

Out-of-school Inequalities

Albeit many schools in the U.S. are based on a system of internal factors that are supposedly unrelated to external elements, factors, such as gender, educational outcomes, class, and race affect the availability and perpetuation of equal leaning opportunities in schools. As a result, these educational institutions end up promoting norms and values influenced by the cultural practices and experiences of dominant groups that ultimately accord some students more advantage than others (Carter, 2003). These implicit values and norms are already visible in different levels of education in the United States. For instance, some schools foster the participation of students in various daily activities aimed at developing writing and reading skills and group socialization instead of grading or ranking of test scores. The study undertaken by Croizet et al (2017) found that the implementation of such learning methods usually favored students from high-income families as they had environments that accommodated and advocated for such learning mechanisms.

Since the adopted academic norms and values closely resemble the cultural and social practices employed by more advantaged families, the schools end up reinforcing or perpetuating bias in favor of the students from these backgrounds. The consequences of this misalignment of academic implicit values and norms, as well as family cultural convictions and practices is twofold. First, middle-class students who are conversant with these values and norms tend to be more at ease in these class settings. They go to school already equipped with the requisite cultural capital that accords them an added advantage in classroom compared to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. This advantage is evident in the form of the way the students relay personal sentiments, utilize specific linguistic posture, portray restricted bodily posture, and communicate their vast knowledge of conventional and contemporary art forms. Second, high-end cultural practices and beliefs imbue symbolic gratification in the students so that when they easily comprehend and cope with the education system, they are contemplated to be motivated and smart. On the other hand, the students from low-income households are considered to be indolent and unmotivated when they struggle to meet the school’s expectations.

The imposition of the cultural practices of the affluent in the school systems goes beyond the school to the government in terms of funding. Since the schools in the suburban areas tend to possess and utilize high-quality learning materials and hire highly qualified teachers, their expenditure is substantially more compared to those in urban areas and local communities serving minority students and those from low-income families, they influence the allocation of funds by the federal government. As a result, the government ends up providing more funds to the schools in the suburban areas with predominantly white students and less funds to those that serve low-income and minority students. This trend ends up making the schools reinforce the inequalities that already exist in terms of learning opportunities and access to highly qualified teachers and sufficient and high-quality curriculum and learning resources. They also reinforce school inequality through the proper management and spending of the allocated funds to provide the students with the best learning opportunities and resources.

The influence of outsiders, such as parents is another vital external or out-of-school factor that fosters inequality in schools. For instance, schools in the suburban areas have an extremely vibrant and influential Parents Teachers Association. As such, the schools are often forced to implement the recommendations of the majority of the patients, for example, a suggestion that prohibits children of color from attending the schools or those with sexual orientations they contemplate to be unacceptable. This influence can also originate from the school district. Decisions made by the school district that are bias to a particular race, gender, culture, or sexual orientation can result in the limitation of learning opportunities for the affected students. Since the schools depend on their respective school districts to a large extent in terms of funding, curriculum, ranking, and recommendations to parents and the relevant authorities, they end up implementing these deliberations knowing too well that they will foster inequalities.

Notwithstanding, paying special attention to at-risk school districts and schools in terms of monitoring them and fostering significant progress is essential to curbing out-of-school factors that promote inequalities in schools. Many schools that promote biases and inequalities often adopt their discriminatory policies from the cultural and social practices of the surrounding neighborhoods, especially those that are high-income or well-off. It is equally prominent to denote that a significant portion of schools and their students commence from a position of considerable disadvantage that has existed for decades. It therefore follows that the federal government, local authorities, and the education sector should incorporate policies that favor at-risk school districts and educational institutions when formulating and implementing curricula and programs that offer the students better and extra learning opportunities and resources. Examples of these programs and mechanisms include art programs, after-school mentoring and guidance programs, remedial classes, and high-quality hiring programs for instructors. The incorporation of these policies will ensure that advisors, policymakers, and schools in the United States achieve great strides in formulating and sustaining an equitable education system for all the students.

At the moment, American schools located in the suburban regions or high-income region not only see but also enjoy the benefits of the revenues of higher taxes. As such, the students in these schools have access to high-end learning materials, qualified teachers, and a challenging curriculum contrary to their counterparts on lower-income areas that have to cope with fewer learning resources. This trend is perpetuated by the uneven or unequal distribution of resources across all school systems in the United States. Nonetheless, ensuring that the resource allotment to every school in the U.S. will go a long way in preventing external factors from perpetuating inequality in schools. Since all schools will have sufficient resources, challenging curricula, and highly qualified teachers, the impact of external factors will be minimized in terms of reinforcing policies that foster inequality in schools.

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