You are on page 1of 7

Jane Wong

5/15/2014
English 131
Major Paper 2

The education inequality in American public schools has resulted in a wide achievement gap
across the country. Part of this can be attributed to socioeconomic factors, which may be
manifested in several different ways, including family income, parent education level, and parent
occupations. Family annual income is perhaps the broadest category, which has far reaching
affects in many areas of students lives.

In regards to school districts, this can lead to

concentrated, poorer residential areas being formed. This affects the student body and social
capital of the schools in which students attend. Also, parent education level can have a profound
impact on their investment and involvement in student learning. Parents with higher levels of
education tend to put greater value on educational achievement and attainment. Furthermore,
parent occupation status can greatly affect the academic aspirations of their children. In this
paper I intend to further discuss why the achievement gap persists today, despite the previously
tried methods of putting more money into funding. I also would like to discuss some possible
solutions to close the gap and their effectiveness.
Parent education level and occupation are typically closely correlated, since an individuals
education level has great influence on the kinds of occupations that are open to them. As parents
are usually present as role models for their children, many students will look to their parents for
guidance in regards to their future. As researched by the Coleman Report, and summarized by
Shelly Nelsons research group: a father's education and occupation positively influence his
son's educational attainment and occupational statusthe relationship between family

background and a son's occupational status was mediated by the son's educational attainment.
(Nelson). Clearly, education is the main factor that will determine whether or not children can
fall into the same socioeconomic status as their parents.

Parents who rank higher in

socioeconomic status typically achieved it through greater levels of academic attainment and
achievement. Its likely that the home environment that they raise their children in, therefore,
place a higher value on those same ideas. The children may be motivated more to do better in
school, or to go to college and get a degree. In comparison to students with working class
parents, there may be little home incentive for them to do so. Of course, this is not applicable to
everyone and there can be instances in which the opposite happens. Perhaps a low income
student is motivated to change the socioeconomic status that they were born into, and pursue
greater educational attainment and achievement. However, successful completion of their goal is
made much more difficult by the lack of resources that they have access to.
Before students have started taking classes, their familys annual income may have already
played a great role in determining the education they will receive. The financial reasoning for
this situation can be explained by the following: Because a large proportion of school funding is
linked to local property taxes, there is considerable variation in per-pupil expenditures across
school districts. Thus, students who live in areas with lower property values often attend schools
with less funding. (Nelson). Having a large concentration of low income students in the student
body changes a schools social status, and certainly has an effect on the environment of the
classroom. The biggest result is that less funding means less freedom for a school to put its
resources where they matters most, which is in the quality of the education that theyre
providing: Like many other school principals, our principal is so caught up in basic operational
and maintenance issues that she often doesn't have time to do her most important job --

overseeing improvements in the quality of pedagogy, curriculum, and school climate.


(Weissbourd 76). Richard Weissbourd here was discussing a low income school that he helped
found. There are varying levels of need, when it comes to funding. Some schools have enough
monetary resources to keep the basics, but they feel like they dont have enough money to
promote student learning improve student achievement. However, there are many low income
schools who cant afford to get enough teachers, let alone work on spending money to change
curriculum. Some suggest creating a more diverse student body, and selecting students from
different residential areas to change the demographics.

Perhaps by being around peers of

different socioeconomic status, those of lower income levels will have greater access to social
capital. However, those potentially positive effects on individual learning can be indirectly
negated by family income level, as Weissbourd and his colleagues explained: affluent parents
are pouring money into activities and tutors outside school that boost their kids' education
prospects. I have heard about parents obtaining SAT tutors for their kids as early as 5th grade and
spending up to $35,000 a year on tutors who help their children with courses. (Weissbourd 77).
Even if students from high and low economic status mingle in the same school, its quite likely
that wealthier parents will be seeking to supplement their childrens education with materials
outside of school. The achievement gap, in regards to both standardized testing scores and in
general school performance, would continue to exist.
Indeed, there has been a lot of debate amongst experts, not only about the specific causes of the
achievement gap and education inequality, but also how to remedy the situation. The question of
potential courses of action has been particularly contested. Although it seems intuitive, simply
giving more monetary funding to underprivileged schools isnt the universal cure for the
achievement gap. Greg Duncan and his colleagues discussed why initiatives of providing extra

money to low income schools have failed to produce significant results: This is because none
focuses directly on improving what matters most in education: the quality and consistency of the
instruction and other learning experiences provided to students. (Duncan). The researchers
studied several secondary school campuses in which a particular set of programs have
significantly helped to increase their overall student performance. They observed that there was
an increased focus on providing individual coaching for teachers to create a strong literacy
curriculum, for instance: In fact, schools were encouraged to develop college-ready standards
that exceeded basic graduation requirements and emphasized higher-order skills such as critical
thinking. (Bloom). Instead of lowering or generalizing standards so that more students could
qualify to graduate, the schools raised their students.

Also, some of the smaller schools

developed focused curriculums around themes, like business. The schools that employed the
above mentioned changes to the curriculum and standards experienced increases in graduation
rates and student performance. Furthermore, they encouraged feedback from students to help
direct extra classroom instruction where it was needed most. There was also time set aside
during the school day to collaborate and discuss teaching strategies with other instructors. For
example, a group of them would meet each week to ensure that instruction in specific literacy
strategies was clear and consistent. They also developed lesson plans that are tailored to build
skills of students that are falling behind.
This methodology improves teaching quality by having instructors fulfill the needs of their
students and ensure that the curriculum meets standards. It provides continuous support and
accountability for instructors, and fosters student feedback and teamwork amongst teachers.
This program is very individualized and detailed, and targets curricular adjustments to fit the
needs of students. Furthermore, the isolation of one teacher in a classroom can be altered by

having those consistent meetings to share their knowledge. This can help to motivate them more,
since its entirely possible for teachers in low income and low achieving schools to get
discouraged by poor student performance. Having a support system of other teachers working
together can certainly be beneficial. Fixing problem areas in student understanding and working
to improve uniform learning for all students will lead to better articulation and quality of
teaching. Efficient and successful teaching of the curriculum on the part of the instructors can
lead to students closing the achievement gap with their peers as quickly as possible.
Another common method for schools to try and meet the needs of their students is the tracking
system. This allows teachers to modify their methods of instruction to suit the abilities of
students. However, many times this results in falling curriculum standards due to previous
underachievement, and it continues to widen the achievement gap year after year. As discussed
by Christopher Jencks and his associates: Tracks and curriculum are by definition segregated in
terms of academic ability. This almost inevitably means they are also segregated, albeit to a
lesser extent, in terms of social class and race. (Jencks 34). While race itself may not directly
effect a students education, the social and cultural norms of that background may contribute to a
students academic performance.
In the U.S, race and class are closely linked, which can be due to various other cultural and
historical factors. However, in regards to education, a students race is associated with their test
scores and track placement. A disproportionate amount of students in low tracks are from a
racial minority, particularly Hispanic or African American.

This could have a cultural

explanation: Tracing its theoretical lineage to Max Weber's work on religious ethnic groups,
cultural explanations suggest that different racial, ethnic, or immigrant groups, with varying
cultural value systems, promote or discourage academic and economic success. (Tarasawa).

Other than being affected by their low socioeconomic background, ethnic minority students may
tend to embody the ideals of their parents culture, which contributes to their intrinsic motivation
for academic attainment and achievement. Ethnic groups that might not traditionally value
education as highly, may not actively encourage their children to realize their full potential in
school. This only adds to the inequality problem, with race being another historic barrier to the
success of underprivileged minority students. It can cement these students placement into lower
tracks, and therefore limiting their access to better quality education.
The tracking system is also susceptible to influence by factors outside of academic ability.
Socioeconomic status has a hand in many aspects of education and curriculum: track
assignment is influenced by a variety of factors other than academic ability, such as resource
limitations, organizational constraints, parental influence, and teacher recommendations.
(Nelson). This results in a large amount of students with lower socioeconomic backgrounds
being placed into lower tracks. This can also potentially affect future educational attainment,
because more advantaged students may be looking towards college as a financially viable option.
Therefore, being in a higher level, college preparatory track can provide them with more in depth
academic instruction. These students can learn from teachers who have a greater skill set, and
can present them with more intricate material. A lack of resources, along with little teacher
motivation, can cause lower tracks to provide poorer-quality education.

Lower teacher

expectations may develop, and lead to more general learning goals because of the large number
of students in the program. This could cause standards to drop even more. As such, schools
implementing a tracking program to amend the achievement gap actually may further limit the
educational opportunities of underprivileged students.

Works Cited

Duncan, Greg J. and Richard J. Murnane. How Public Schools Can Fight Back Against
Inequality. Education. The Atlantic, 14 Feb 2014. Web. 7 May 2014.
<http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/02/how-public-schools-can-fightback-against-inequality/283669/>.
Jencks, Christopher et al. Inequality: A Reassessment of the Effect of Family and Schooling in
America. New York: Basic Books, Inc, 1972. Print.
Nelson, Shelley L., and Jennifer Catherine Lee. "Socioeconomic Inequality In Education."
Encyclopedia of the Life Course and Human Development. Ed. Deborah Carr. Vol. 1:
Childhood and Adolescence. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2009. 462-467. Gale
Virtual Reference Library. Web. 6 May 2014.
Tarasawa, Beth. "Racial Inequality In Education." Encyclopedia of the Life Course and Human
Development. Ed. Deborah Carr. Vol. 1: Childhood and Adolescence. Detroit: Macmillan
Reference USA, 2009. 383-388. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 18 May 2014.
Weissbourd, Richard, and Trevor Dodge. Senseless Extravagance, Shocking Gaps. Educational
Leadership. 69.5 (2012): 74-78. Academic Search Complete. Web. 6 May 2014.
Bloom, Howard S. et al. Transforming the High School Experience: How New York Citys New
Small Schools Are Boosting Student Achievement and Graduation Rates. MDRC. N.p.
June 2010. Web. 20 May 2014. <http://www.mdrc.org/sites/default/files/full_589.pdf>.