Inequality in the American Public-School System

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In this paper I am going to discuss the inequality in the American public-school system. The American public-school system favors to the middle to upper class, and non-minority students. Some examples that support my thesis statement are, school funding is dictated by local property taxes, who started public schools being funded by property taxes, lower class students and teachers have less resources, two-thirds of minority students attend schools that are mostly minority and are funded below the schools in the neighboring suburban districts, and schools in higher poverty area have less teachers

School funding being dictated by local property taxes makes the public-school system to be very unequal. This fact alone shows that the school system favors the middle to upper-class over the lower-class students. With the federal government only spending about 8 to 9 percent of school budgets nationally, and it mostly being through Head Start and reduced lunch programs, the lower-class students do not get the funding that the middle to upper-class students get.

In higher poverty areas where the home values are low, and they collect less taxes they can’t raise as much money for the school system as the homes in lower poverty areas. With not being able to raise an adequate amount of money for the school system it makes the students in the lower- class schools not get as good of an education as the students in the higher-class schools. Also due to school funding being dictated by local property taxes the inner-city schools do not have the new buildings, sponsored sports teams, and all other extracurricular activates that would be funded by their community.

The Puritans of Massachusetts are who first started public schools, and they are also the ones who decided to use property tax to fund them. The Massachusetts Act of 1642 said that parents were to see to it that their children knew how to read and write, however when that law was ignored, they passed the Massachusetts School Law of 1647, which said that every town with 50 households or more had to hire someone to teach children to read and write. This public education was paid for by a property tax law passed the year before, in 1650 Connecticut followed with a law requiring towns to teach local students using the same kind of funding. Nationwide most states-maintained funding patterns that ignored the need for additional funding in high-poverty districts, these funding patterns are called “flat” or regressive”.

Eleven states allocated additional funding to those schools in high-poverty, which was just half the number of schools making an extra effort to help poverty a decade ago. In Utah the poor districts receive 25% less funding per child than the schools in the richer districts. In New York there is a threefold difference in spending per-student than there is in Idaho, New York spends $18,500 per child and Idaho spends $6,300. The United States is one of the only countries that allows the economics of local areas to determine the quality of local schools. With school funding being dictated by local property taxes the lower-class students and teachers have less resources than the upper-class students.

The students in the upper-class schools have updated books, tablets, and computers with enough for each student to have one, while the lower-class students have old out dated books, no tablets, and old computers, and not enough so students have to share. The teachers in the upper-class schools have all the proper teaching resources like smart boards while the teachers in the lower-class do not. With the students in the lower-class schools having to share computers, each student doesn’t get as much time to work on computer projects. Having outdated books puts the student’s education behind the students in upper-class schools.

The schools in lower-class communities have less teachers than the schools in the upper- class communities. This problem goes back to funding, since the funding to have the proper number of teachers is not there the lower-class schools cannot have the proper number of teachers. Having less teachers makes for larger classes, which gives students with less one on one time with their teachers. Teachers in these lower-class schools will often get frustrated and leave, making students frequently have substitutes. In lower-class schools’ students are put on a tracking system, this system is not just based on there academic abilities, but also neatness, politeness, and obedience. The teachers who run this tracking system are some of the worst teachers. It is said that the students on this tracking system are “running on track but falling behind” and those students on it will never catch up.

Schools like Summit Prep School do not have a tracking system, because they believe that every student should be held to the same high standards. In schools that use this tracking system students in the same grade are taught different levels of the same course, when the students in the lower level courses see an opportunity to advance it is very likely they won’t take it. In the public-school systems teachers are tenured, which means basically no matter what they do, and no matter how bad of a teacher they are cannot be fired. In the documentary “Waiting for Superman” a camera as put in a student backpack to monitor teacher activity, the camera captured teachers not teacher, reading newspapers, and one teacher even put a student’s head into a toilet. The principal of that school did fire those teachers, however due to the tenured he had to rehire them. In the state of New York when they have a program for bad teachers, these teachers will sit in a room with each other not doing anything and still getting paid, the state spend millions of dollars on this program every year.

Over two thousand students in high school dropout. Most people blame this on the neighborhoods failing the schools, but it’s the schools failing the neighborhood. By the time students reach middle school and high school they are so far behind they are unable to catch up. Some students go into their sophomore year with a reading level of a third grader. High schools start out with over a thousand freshmen, and by the time that class makes it to their senior year only a few hundred of them actually graduate.

For example, my sister received an email from her second-grade daughters teacher stating that the students in will no longer be receiving nightly homework, or even spelling tests anymore, instead they will just receive a packet of work that is due at the end of every month. These students not receiving spelling tests anymore will already put them behind in reading and writing. In the documentary “Waiting for Superman” they also show schools with a lottery system, this means students in lower-class communities who want to get a better education can be entered in a lottery to get into a better school. With these lotteries there are only a certain number of spots open, and students’ names are basically drawn out of a hat, and if your name isn’t drawn you do not get into the better school.

With these kind of lottery systems, it makes it even harder for the students in bad school’s districts to get a better education even when they want to. The documentary also showed a little girl whose mother put paid to have her in a better school than the ones in her community, but when her mother lost her job and was behind on her payments to them, the school would not allow the little girl to attend her graduation ceremony. In my personal opinion I feel that schools should all have the equal amount of funding no matter what neighborhood they are located in. But I also believe that even with better funding it will not help all of the issues that the public-school system has.

More funding will not make teachers do their jobs better, Michelle Rhee tried to offer teachers more money for doing a better teaching job, but the teachers refused it. Teachers are hired to teach children, not to sit around reading newspapers during class, if more money in their pockets don’t motivate them, than better funding for the schools they teach in certainly will not. The lottery systems in my opinion are a horrible idea, the students who try to get in those schools are the ones trying to get a better education for themselves, and not be just another statistic of their neighborhood.

If the schools who are offering up the lottery system are taking in new students, they need to make sure they have enough room for all the students that apply to go there. The younger children who apply to those schools and do not get in don’t understand why other students got in and they didn’t, and it is very upsetting to them, and their parents as well who want a better education for their child. Tenured is something I believe that teachers should have to earn, not just be given after a certain amount of time. Having the tenured gives the teachers the opportunity to do whatever they want, whether that is teaching the children or not. If students have to pass tests to make it to the next grade level, then teachers should have to pass some kind of test to make tenured.

Their students should be interviewed to see how well of a teacher they are, and they should have someone on the board of education coming to observe how well they teach their classes. If the state of New York would get rid of the program they have for bad teachers that they spend millions of dollars on each year they could be putting that money into better teachers or even trying to make the schools better. Each school should be holding their students to the same high standards as the Summit Prep School.

The tracking system is clearly not working if the students are so far behind that they will never be able to catch up. Students also should not be tracked based on their neatness, politeness, and obedience, those are things they should be learning at home. If the school does have a tracking system, then the students should be tracked on things they would be learning in school. If the public-school system would put a little more effort in making sure the students are getting the education they need, then maybe there wouldn’t be so many students dropping out of high school, because they are so far behind and get frustrated and quit.

Students in the same grade should be learning the same material throughout every subject, by not doing that the school system is setting children up to fail. These examples show that the American public-school system favors the middle to upper-class, and non-minority students. School funding is dictated by local property taxes, students in lower-class schools do not have the resources they need to get a good education, and the teachers in those schools do not have updated resources to teach, and the schools in lower- class communities have less teachers than the schools in the upper-class communities.


  1. William H. Schmidt (2012), Inequality in the American Education System The Huffington Post https://www.huffingtonpost.com/william-h-schmidt/educational-inequality-system_b_1679243.html
  2. Michelle Chen (2018), How Unequal School Funding Punishes Poor Kids The Nation Waiting for Superman Documentary
  3. Alana Semuels (2016), Good School, Rich School; Bad School, Poor School The Atlantic https://www.theatlantic.com/busniess/archive/2016/08/property-taxes-and-unequal-schools/497333/

Cite this paper

Inequality in the American Public-School System. (2021, Jul 29). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/inequality-in-the-american-public-school-system/

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