Education stands as one of the bedrocks of society. Specifically, it is the force that provides society with the basis for its development, gives society a base of able workers, and allows for proper political participation. It has been noted by many strategists and analysts that in order for individuals to advance economically, they need to be exposed to proper education. With this in mind, there is a major problem with education. Inequality is currently overrunning the system. Specifically, there are problems relating to race and to income. People of color and poor people are often abandoned when it comes to education, left to their own devices in schools that tend to fail to them. This is a major social condition issue. At current, the problem can be identified quantitatively by looking at the metrics. People of color and poor people are testing poorer, are graduating at lower rates, and are not able to access the opportunities that tend to go along with education. It is apparent that many of the bigger macroeconomic problems in the American economy—including unemployment, wealth inequality, and the like—are linked to inequality in education. This is why the problem has garnered interest and demanded action by the people who have the ability to fix the issue.
Given how complex this social problem happens to be, it is difficult to nail down a singular cause of the issue. In terms of the economic side of the issue, one can point to the fact that in communities with low incomes and lower wealth ratios, it is true that there is less of a tax base to provide the things that these young people need in their schools. In order to run effective schools, one needs the money to pay good teachers. One also needs the money to purchase computers and other technology that can allow students to develop the skills they need for the modern world. It is difficult to do this in a county where the tax base is not as good as in other counties. Specifically, this problem can be explained by the source of the funding for these schools. School funding often comes from the property taxes collected in the district. This means that in places where there are large portions of homeowners with nice, valuable homes, there is more money to be spent on schools. In places where poorer people live, home values have gone down, and on top of that, more people are apt to rent in these instances.
In terms of the origins of racial inequality in education, one would need to go back more than a hundred years. In the Antebellum period after slavery, freed men wanted their children to have the opportunity to learn. However, those with the power did not want to provide this, as they feared that they might lose control over the social norms of the time. With this in mind, there is a deeply embedded culture in many places that does not value public education because of the racial implications of this investment. More recently, problems have come with divestment from public schools by white flight. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Brown ruling, schools were integrated throughout the South. Many parents responded by sending their children to segregation academies, which were set up in order to offer safe havens to white parents who did not want their kids to attend newly integrated schools (Figlio & Page, 2002). With this in mind, many of these schools have been abandoned, largely because the parents did not see the value of investing in schools through tax money when they were already paying for their own kids to go to school elsewhere.
There has been many potential approaches to fixing the problem. Some have proposed school vouchers, which would give certain students a chance to leave public schools and attend private schools on government money (Orfield & Frankenberg, 2013). However, this solution tends to only leave public schools worse off, taking public money and funneling it to private schools and religious schools (Figlio & Page, 2002). In addition, some have suggested further investments from the federal government. The federal government has been more willing to invest money in certain innovative programs, encouraging schools to innovate. These programs have been better received, since they utilize much more public money in order to invest in young people. In addition, there have been private efforts to improve education. Specifically, programs like Teach For America have helped to put good, interested teachers in areas where it has traditionally been hard to get good teachers going. These efforts have been successful, but as with most non-profits, the ability to have a strong impact is somewhat limited.
This problem will continue to be an issue in the future. The reason for this is because the problem is quite large, and it implicates many different public biases. To eradicate this issue would require society to grapple with its issues of racism. To grapple with these issues would require there to be some movement among people who are not currently interested in investing public money in poor individuals. Simply put, there are many barriers, and there does not appear to be the political will in the current environment to change these things. Even though the Democratic Party has made it a priority to invest in public education, there is much push-back at the local and state levels of many states. With large numbers of states falling into the local control of conservative lawmakers, it appears that these problems will continue and potentially get worse in some of these areas, especially as things like school vouchers take hold.
- Figlio, D. N., & Page, M. E. (2002). School choice and the distributional effects of ability tracking: does separation increase inequality?. Journal of Urban Economics, 51(3), 497-514.
- Orfield, G., & Frankenberg, E. (2013). Educational delusions?: Why choice can deepen inequality and how to make schools fair. Univ of California Press.