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How the Education System Creates Inequality

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WRITTEN BY ERICA ABBOTT

Wealth and economic inequality directly affect public education. Students are put at a disadvantage based on fissures in the education system, in addition to simply being a victim of circumstance.

The White House has developed strategies to reform the educational system, including higher standards and assessments, smarter data systems and detailed attention to low-performing schools, according to their website about K-12 education. Other strategies include reformation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, redesigning high schools, investing in teachers and more.

“All of these major institutions of society, like education, doesn’t operate on its own,” Vontrese Deeds Pamphile, a doctoral student in management and organizations and sociology at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, said. “So it touches everything else like the economy, housing, everything kind of comes together so it’s just one slice of the pie but it’s a very important slice because that’s where the majority of time is spent, especially in childhood.”

Disparities also exist between races and ethnicities. A study from the National Center for Education Statistics found that, in regards to public education graduation rates in the year 2011-12, 85 percent of white students graduate on time with a regular diploma, compared to 68 percent of black students and 76 percent Latino students.

In Oxford Journals’ The Punishment Gap: School Suspension and Racial Disparities in Achievement,” as cited by Journalist’s Resource, authors found that black and Latino students were more likely to be suspended, schools with a higher concentration of black students had higher rates of suspension, in addition to this staggering statistic: “Even after controlling for socioeconomic status, special education and gender, black students were predicted to be almost three times more likely to be suspended than white students.”

But can education itself fix these racial and economic disparities? The American dream may romanticize that idea but it’s not the reality for everyone.

“Everybody in this country can go to a public school where they live and people can take advantage of [working] hard and [taking] advantage of a free public education and then working hard enough, hopefully have an opportunity to expand their education,” Cheryl Logan, chief academic supports officer for the School District of Philadelphia, said. “So that’s pretty much essentially how that works for us here in this country in that the more education you have, the more earning potential you have by every measure that’s out there.”

Education reform needs to be sustainable in order for any progress to be made and it needs to include strategies for improving every other factor that perpetuates inequalities.

In UNESCO’s “Educating For A Sustainable Future,” they reiterate the fact that education is a force for change. However, they point out that education cannot solve every issue related to inequality.

Education, to be certain, is not the whole answer to every problem,” the study says. “But education, in its broadest sense, must be a vital part of all efforts to imagine and create new relations among people and to foster greater respect for the needs of the environment.”

One thing is certain: education can serve as a catalyst for change and investments throughout a child’s life can greatly reduce the chances of being a victim of inequality.