Inequality in American Education

Posted by Hunter H. Michigan
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In this article I discuss inequalities that plague American education.

Are you a male? White? Rich? If you are, there’s a good chance that you had a more pleasant experience in high school compared to someone that isn’t. How do these inequalities manifest themselves? While some inequalities are because of the doings in the economy, others are created with prejudices such as racism and sexism. I identify these inequalities and show what they do to education as well as how these inequalities are made because of American beliefs, values, and prejudices.

It's only a one letter difference from x to y, how different can the two sexes really be? As it turns out, they can be very different, and these differences are first realized in secondary school. Stereotypically, it is seen as girls tend to be quiet and hardworking, and that boys are the inverse, being assertive and do not concentrate. This stereotype is true at these very early ages, and is explained to cause greater divides in boys and girls in school, as shown in an article by Claudia Buchmann et al.. In this article, Claudia Buchmann, Thomas A. DiPrete, and Anne McDaniel try to explain the gender inequalities in school and its extent on social standards later in life. It is shown that “twice as many boys as girls have difficulty paying attention in kindergarten, and girls more often demonstrate persistence in completing tasks and an eagerness to learn. These advantages in orientation to learning and other social skills grow during the early elementary school years and plausibly account for a portion of the more rapid reading gains that girls achieve during this period” (Buchmann et al. 322). This shows that there is an inequality in education in terms of how well each gender typically does in subjects, and this inequality is created from the bias and stereotype of the behavior of girls and boys during school. Another example of a gender inequality in education from this article is about grades. It is shown that “girls get better grades in those [math related] classes” (Gallagher & Kaufman 2005). Female high school graduates are more likely to have taken biology and chemistry courses than males (Xie & Shauman 2003). Girls have also come to outpace boys in the number of college preparatory courses and Advanced Placement examinations they take (Bae et al. 2000, Freeman 2004)” (Buchmann et al. 323). Here, it seems that the hard working stereotype of females is becoming realized because this stereotype is deeply ingrained in American values, and is even still becoming more reinforced in american society as females begin to overtake males in the secondary school level.

Another way to see the superiority of females in school is to look to the College Board’s Advanced Placement program and their Participation and Performance Data. There is a data audit by the College Board performed every year which shows many different perspectives on who took the exams and why. In the exams taken in May of 2017, the total exams taken by females was 1,394,974, (The College Board) which is twenty three percent greater than males. In comparison to exams in 1997, female participation has increased. In the 1997 exam year, the total exams taken by females was only fourteen percent greater than males; a nine percent increase of women taking exams over men (The College Board). With this greater discrepancy in females taking exams, it is proved that a stereotype created by American beliefs can cause a reinforced mindset of those under the stereotype. Once this reinforced mindset is made, the stereotype is realized to be no longer just a stereotype, but rather factual. More specifically—from The College Board’s individual AP class data—there is evidence of women overtaking men in subjects that are usually male dominated such as math. From the same Participation and Performance data, it can be seen that there has been a ten percent increase in women taking the AP Calculus BC exam and a six percent increase in women taking the AP Calculus AB exam in comparison to men from 1997 to 2017 (The College Board). Here, it is seen that American beliefs can influence education in the sense that with the stereotype of women being more attentive and hardworking in school becomes more conspicuous the longer it is an American belief.

As the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, how does that affect education? The effects of a widening economic gap for education are actually quite large, as seen in Greg J. Duncan and Richard J. Murnane’s article “Growing Income Inequality Threatens American Education”. In their article, they explain how this widening inequality is not only harmful to the classroom, but also to the parents teaching their children. They state that “the gap between the average reading and mathematics skills of students from low- and high-income families increased substantially … amounting to nearly 125 SAT-type points” (Duncan para. 11)—125 SAT points is about a ten percent difference, which can cause you to go from a scholarship at UofM to just making it in at MSU. How does this disparity in SAT scores happen, however? It is caused from the fact that as the poor get poorer and the rich richer, more time can be given to enriching the intelligence of a child when working is merely optional, which isn't an option for someone who is poor. In total, it is said that “Between birth and age six, children from high-income families spend an average of 1,300 more hours [54 days!] in novel contexts than children from low-income families” (Qtd. in Duncan). When a person has more wealth, their child will most likely be smarter, which reflects an inequality in education, since not all people have enough income to enrich their children. Is working to the bone towards the American dream more important than helping your child learn and succeed? That scholarship to UofM says otherwise.

Accompanying this, there is also the idea of being with like minded people, which widens the gap further. Since people want to be with people like themselves, “high-income families buy homes in neighborhoods where less-affluent families cannot afford to live, and poor families are increasingly surrounded by neighbors who are poor as well” (Duncan para. 21), which causes the children in school to be with peers of the same income level. Since people tend to become like those around them, “the weak cognitive skills and behavioral issues of many low-income children have a negative effect on their classmates’ learning” (Duncan para. 22); one bad apple spoils the bunch. People have the value of associating themselves with people like them, which it creates a segregation of schools based on income that compromises the ability of poorer families to have their children go to schools that are aided by the wealthier families. The American belief of associating with like people creates inequalities in education on the basis of wealth and time.

Differences in race can cause someone to be treated differently, harmed, or even killed. How does this affect education for those on the minority side? As it turns out, it affects education a lot. In an article by Saeed Ahmed in the CNN, he shows what these inequalities are and why they’re prevalent. For example, it is 3.8 times more likely for black students to be suspended, there are less advanced classes in schools that have greater minorities, and there tends to be less qualified teachers in schools with greater amounts of minorities (Ahmed). Why does this happen? Well, de facto segregation is the paramount reason because of the fact that this segregation affects housing, that in turn affects where people go to school. As whites go to one neighborhood and African Americans another, they go to different schools with their peers that experience the same disadvantages. The effects of this are shown in an article by Richard Rothstein—a fellow at the Thurgood Marshall Institute of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. He states that “school segregation mostly reflects neighborhood segregation. In urban areas, low-income white students are more likely to be integrated into middle-class neighborhoods and less likely to attend school predominantly with other disadvantaged students, [and] young African Americans (from 13 to 28 years old) are now ten times as likely to live in poor neighborhoods” (Rothstein). This shows that while there is neighborhood segregation, there will be segregation in education, creating these inequalities. The root of segregation in housing, however, is beliefs of racism that continue today.

Racism causes this segregation in housing because of the fact that there is still a considerable amount of racism that is still in the United States today. An article from Harvard illustrates how and why racism is still prevalent in the United States, and continues to affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people every day. In this article, it is shown that “Race or racial ideology runs deep in our history and culture. In certain ways, it's at the core of our political culture. Our identities are shaped by race” (Fieseler), which explains why it is so difficult to remove the idea of racism from our country because of the fact that it is so ingrained in our society today. Indeed, “Racial ideologies are fundamentally judgments about who is worthy, who is decent, who belongs, and who doesn't. Inclusion and exclusion” (qtd in Fieseler). Since racism is a lens that affects the perception of people, it affects education because admissions and applications “... are areas where people are called to make judgments of other people. So it's inevitable that racial issues come up in those contexts” (Fieseler). This judgement of people causes a tendency to live away from those one has a bias or prejudice against, which prompts the children of those families to go to different schools where they receive different qualities of education, proving how American beliefs can cause educational inequality.

In conclusion, there are many factors that cause educational inequality in America, and they are synthesized from American beliefs. These inequalities can affect the quality and quantity of education one gets, which can alter the course of their whole life. Between race, sex, and income a person’s education could be orders of magnitude worse than others, just because of the color of the skin or the family they were born into. Even though these beliefs affect education on a much smaller scale than in times’ past, there is still a large discrepancy in educational opportunity today.

Ahmed, Saeed. "Racial disparities persist in U.S. schools, study finds." CNN, edited by Meredith Artley, CNN, 7 June 2016. Accessed 19 Nov. 2017.

Buchmann, Claudia, Thomas A. DiPrete, and Anne McDaniel. "Gender Inequalities in Education." Annual Reviews, vol. 34, no. 319, 3 Apr. 2017, pp. 319-32. Accessed 8 Nov. 2017.

Carter, Prudence L., and Sean F. Reardon. "Inequality Matters." William T. Grant Foundation, Sept. 2014, pp. 1-16. Accessed 8 Nov. 2017.

The College Board. collegeboard, The College Board, 2017, https://www.collegeboard.org/. Accessed 8 Nov. 2017.

Duncan, Greg J., and Richard J. Murnane. "Growing Income Inequality Threatens American Education." Phi Delta Kappa, 28 Mar. 2014, pp. 1+. Accessed 12 Nov. 2017.

Fieseler, Robert, Michael Baran, and James Herron. "Exposing Bias: Race and Racism in America." https://www.extension.harvard.edu/inside-extension/exposing-bias-race-racism-america, Harvard, Oct. 2016. Accessed 7 Dec. 2017.

Gnaulati, Enrico. "Why Girls Tend to Get Better Grades Than Boys Do." The Atlantic, edited by Jeffery Goldberg, The Atlantic, 18 Sept. 2014, https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/09/why-girls-get-better-grades-than-boys-do/380318/. Accessed 11 Nov. 2017.

Quintana, Stephen M et al. "Ethnic and Racial Disparities in Education: Psychology's Contributions to Understanding and Reducing Disparities." American Psychological Association, 3 Aug. 2012, pp. 1-94, www.apa,org/ed/resources/racial-disparities.pdf. Accessed 8 Nov. 2017.

Rothstein, Richard. "Modern Segregation." Economic Policy Institute, edited by Eric Shansby, EPI, 6 Mar. 2014. Accessed 21 Nov. 2017.

Shields, Liam, Anne Newman, and Debra Satz. "Equality of Educational Opportunity." The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, vol. 1, no. 1, 31 May 2017. Accessed 8 Nov. 2017.

Published on Feb 28, 2018
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