Inequality in the American School System 

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In the United States, inequality in the school system has been an issue discussed for many years. In the past, inequality in the American school system was based on gender and race. Today, income is the main cause for inequality in schools. Typically, schools in higher-income districts have better access to educational supplementary services. They can easily access the best counselors, psychologists, and educational resources, like books and laptops. On the other hand, schools in poor neighborhoods have limited access to the same services which significantly undermine their performance. Inequality in the American school system persists because the socio-economic status of the child’s background determines what type of school he or she attends as well as the resources and supplementary support he or she gets. Income inequality within the American education system impacts teacher quality, funding policies, and government educational and immigration policies in determining the level of education a child receives in America.

Impoverished communities continue to struggle under America’s widening income gap and it is no surprise that it disrupts the American school system as well. Residential segregation is on the rise and has left low-income families to occupy destitute neighborhoods while affluent families settle into classier ones (Duncan and Murnane 12). Therefore, America’s children end up studying in different schools. Schools in richer neighborhoods tend to have better resources and good facilities compared to the schools in poorer neighborhoods. High-income parents tend to have more time to discuss issues pertaining to their children’s lives and matters of education. They have better chances of hiring private tutors, psychologists, and counselors to help their children (Duncan and Murnane 12).

Families that are wealthy have a variety of choices when it comes to selecting the best resources for their children. They have more money to spend on supplementary education, beyond what is generally provided in schools. This leads to a difference in the educational progress and outcome of children. Thus children from disadvantaged families will score lower grades while richer students score higher. Educational improvements are reliant on bridging the disparity in income that poor communities have in comparison to the rich. However, an alternative would be to acquire expert teachers who have the correct lesson plans needed for a child’s mind to flourish, regardless of economic status.

Exceptional teachers produce exceptional students yet students from poorer families are less likely to find them in their classrooms. It is to be expected that teachers will have preferences for where they want to work as would any person. Teachers look for schools that have a lower proportion of underachieving students, neighborhoods with higher income residents, and higher pay (Duncan and Murnane 13). As stated earlier, lower income parents typically have less time to interact with their child’s education due to their economic situations. Often times they work two or more jobs to support a household, so it comes as no surprise that they cannot readily provide supplementary educational services for their children like the rich can.

This can make it tough for a teacher and a student to succeed as education continues at home and is not supposed to end after the bell rings. Poorer districts also have extremely large class sizes in schools. This is especially evident for minority students who on average have larger school sizes, sometimes double the sizes of white schools (Darling 3). Larger schools and classes tend to create underperforming students because children are not provided with enough attention. Skilled teachers would also receive less pay in these areas. In Connecticut for example, Bridgeport District’s public schools fall victim to this trend. Teachers living in Connecticut prefer working in other districts like Fairfield, Stratford, and Greenwich where they can make $25,000 – $30,000 more than they can earn in Bridgeport (Harris and Hussey).

An unskilled teacher crafts a less challenging curriculum and has little to no understanding on how to relate to students or engage them. A skilled teacher costs more, therefore experienced teachers teach in schools in richer areas while less experienced ones teach in poorer neighborhoods. It is unfortunate that skilled teachers cost more because when a qualified teacher is gifted to a lower income community the achievement gaps between the rich and the poor lessens (Darling 4). Poor districts have less money to spend on teachers and other educational resources, but funding from the state and federal governments can also propel a lower tiered school forward providing them with the ability to gain the same resources.

Funding policies in America however are based too heavily on budget and do not go far enough to identify the neediest students and neighborhoods that require their help. States typically vary in funding by three models. The three models are Foundation Grants, Guaranteed Tax Base, and Centralized Funding. Thirty-seven states as of 2015 use the Foundation Grant approach (Chingos and Blagg 8). Foundation Funding is used in New Jersey and supplements funding with money the state provides with the largest amounts going to lower income districts (Chingos and Blagg 14). This model is good at equalizing the spread between communities, but its downfall comes with budgetary cuts (Chingos and Blagg 8).

Foundation Funding is heavily used across the United States and continues to affect the plight of very needy students in our society because once budgetary cuts are made lower income neighborhoods are severely affected. Funding in mainly high-income districts can account for money lost with property taxes but lower level districts are left to suffer as the budgetary cuts impact them the most (Chingos and Blagg 8). Michigan on the other hand uses the Centralized Funding method. It works like the foundation grant, but the districts cannot raise funds above a minimum amount for expenses (Chingos and Blagg 16). In this system every district has a set property tax determined by the state keeping the per-student spending across the districts roughly the same (Chingos and Blagg 16).

The downfall to this is that wealthier districts are not allowed to raise their own money and that is not fair to those students either. Other states like Texas use the Foundation Funding Model along with other methods like the Guaranteed Tax Base Model to equalize their funding (Chingos and Blagg 15). The advantage of the Guaranteed Tax Base model is that districts with revenues from its tax base can raise more money with a match from the state giving them an incentive to do so since each dollar spent will garnish more money for them by the state (Chingos and Blagg 8). While states can increase funding for low income districts it is not always consistent due to budgets and the disproportionate income richer neighborhoods gain from property taxes.

This variation creates inequality: “a policy that targets state funding based on property wealth will benefit a different set of districts” (Chingos and Blagg 12). Policies should focus on other qualities, like student ability and needs, but most states typically use property wealth as the determining factor for funding. This is sometimes counterintuitive because urban areas that include cities can generate enormous gains from their property wealth and still have the neediest students (Chingos and Blagg 4). Funding must be reworked in some way, such as reducing educational budgetary risks and directing money to the neediest students in our society. The United States Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos believes the fix for this is educational choice.

School choice programs effectively reduce income and growth from low income districts and the public sector. Only 8 million kids out of 74 million actually use school choice programs and 5 million attend private schools (Willingham par. 15). Based on this statistic a reasonable person can see that it is actually benefiting no one at all. In fact, 5 million of those 8 million students are in private schools and students in private schools typically come from higher income households.

Supporters however say that students and their parents receive more options from school choice as they do not have to stick to only one district (Willingham par. 17). While this may be true, it effectively disperses students out of their communities, which will bring their communities down because it reduces their involvement in them. A reasonable person knows giving smart people and money to destitute communities will allow them to bounce back, and America should not want to abandon them. The most common tool of school choice programs are voucher programs. A voucher program allows a state to take money that would have been used in the public system for a student and direct it for payment to a private school (Willingham par. 11).

However, these schools may be handpicked and there would be rules on what schools qualify (Willingham par. 11). If this is true, the power of decision falls on the state and the government instead of the people. Lastly, this policy would reduce jobs within the public sector because it would be taking away money used to fund it. This effectively increases income disparity and lessens growth. Ultimately it allows the gap for educational inequality to expand. Still, there are other students with low income in American society where no level of funding or teaching will aid them, only government policy and understanding can.

Immigrant students have a disadvantage in the American education system as they often have families with little to no income and live in fear of deportation. However, they could be the key in strengthening poorer districts. Every child in the United States, regardless of their or their parent’s immigration status has the right to a free public education in a safe and supportive environment (Nation Education Association 2007) (Olivos and Mendoza 340). Education inequality is particularly noticeable with regards to Latino students in the United States.

On average, Latino students who perform poorly in school share the characteristic of having immigrant status (Olivos and Mendoza 350). Just like low income Americans, immigrant students’ success is woven into their relationships with their parents and communities who often have little income. Unfortunately, state and federal policy makers have made it remarkably difficult for these children, responding to public pressures to “control” our borders (Olivos and Mendoza 350). It is a dark world for immigrant students growing up in America. They will go to school and not talk about their status because of the fear of deportation.

This is likely to stem from their families. Parents view school personnel as government agents or ICE officials (Olivos and Mendoza 350). Having levels of fear like this can obviously deter a child’s mind from learning and focusing more on their real life situations. Fear of being separated from their families or seeing a loved one deported keeps their attention away from education. That plight was shared by Claudia and Andrea De La Vega, who immigrated to this country as young children after their father secured a job in the States. He was never awarded legal citizenship. Claudia and Andrea were affected by the policies which govern access to educational funding sources. Immigrants do not have a Social Security number and it can hinder them from receiving any type of aid or loans for school (Mcinerny par. 3).

This was true until DACA (Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals) came to light. DACA is an important policy and equalizes the playing field but its future is unclear under the Trump Administration. This policy gave people like Claudia and Angela hope and support for retrieving loans used for schooling, and help in securing jobs they qualified for. Removal of this policy would be disastrous for the economy as people like the De La Vega’s contribute directly to it from their paychecks, taxes, and their future. Students like the De La Vega sisters help build strong economies and strong neighborhoods, which in turn shrinks the gap of income inequality within their impoverished districts.

In conclusion, inequality in the American school system continues to persist. Pinpointing and funding the least advantaged schools across our nation cannot solve the problem alone. Expert teachers, supplementary resources, and effective government policies are also required. Schools from higher income neighborhoods have the best teachers and can easily access additional resources. Children from these “good” schools get a better quality education from expert teachers in better facilities and children from poorer schools do not. Policies like DACA, which help immigrant students succeed and finish school, are being dismantled by the Trump administration. Voucher programs threaten to collapse the public sector stemming from ideas which come directly from the head of the Educational Department. The future of the American school system looks bleak due to inequality in income, imprudent funding, along with malicious policies and decision makings, none of which help forgotten communities. To fix the inequality in American schools, we must fix American inequality.

Works Cited

  1. Chingos, M., and Kristin Blagg. ‘Making Sense of State School Funding Policy.’ Urban Institute, Nov. 2017, https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/94961/making-sense-of-state-school-funding-policy_0.pdf. Accessed on 03 Oct. 2018.
  2. Darling-Hammond, Linda. ‘Closing the Achievement Gap.’ A Tale Of Two Schools The Challenge, PBS, 1998, https://www.pbs.org/weta/twoschools/thechallenge/gap/. Accessed on 05 Oct. 2018.
  3. Duncan, Greg J., and Richard J. Murnane. ‘Growing Income Inequality Threatens American Education.’ Phi Delta Kappan, Mar. 2014, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/274998271_Growing_Income_Inequality_Threatens_American_Education. Accessed on 03 Oct. 2018.
  4. Harris, Elizabeth A., and Kristin Hussey. ‘In Connecticut, A Wealth Gap Divides Neighboring Schools’. The New York Times, 11 Sept. 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/12/nyregion/in-connecticut-a-wealth-gap-divides-neighboring-schools.html. Accessed on 03 Oct. 2018
  5. Mcinerny, Claire. “As DACA Winds Down, DREAMers Turn Toward Different Futures.” nprEd, 10 Nov. 2017, https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2017/11/10/562847611/as-daca-winds-down-dreamers-turn-toward-different-futures. Accessed on 30 Sept. 2018.
  6. Olivos, Edward M. and Marcela Mendoza. ‘Immigration and Educational Inequality: Examining Latino Immigrant Parents’ Engagement in U.S. Public Schools.’ Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies, 2010, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/233213141_Immigration_and_Educational_Inequality_Examining_Latino_Immigrant_Parents’_Engagement_in_US_Public_Schools. Accessed on 05 Oct. 2018.
  7. Willingham, AJ. “How to make sense of the school choice debate.” cnn, 24 May. 2017, https://www.cnn.com/2017/05/24/us/school-choice-debate-betsy-devos/index.html. Accessed on 10 Oct. 2018.

Cite this paper

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

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