Life, Liberty, and Minor Complaints: Education inequality

Though US education is improving, the education gap between poor and wealthy students remains an issue.

The United States has long been one of the top spenders on education in the world, and we currently spend more than any other nation per-student, while our teachers spend more time in the classroom than any other country. One would think this massive amount of spending would result in the best-educated students in the world; however, it’s no secret that the United States lags behind the rest of the world when it comes to providing quality education to students, particularly those from low-income families.

The gap in education between wealthy students and poor students has always been a problem in the United States, and unfortunately, as the middle class shrinks and the wealth gap widens, the education gap widens with it. The disparity in the quality of education between students is, more than anything else, the fundamental root of greater inequality within our country. The style of education students receive sets the tone for the rest of their life. Their postsecondary options, career opportunities, financial status, and even criminal records are heavily influenced by the quality of education they receive.

The quality of education a student receives, unfortunately, is usually based on their location and financial status. This leaves wealthy students and poor students in fundamentally different learning environments with different curricula, teachers, technology, and extracurricular activities. For example, low-income schools are less likely to have a college-preparatory curriculum or AP classes which takes away the opportunity for students to go above and beyond their peers. Even if they are testing at the same levels, low-income students are less likely to take advanced classes than their wealthy, suburban counterparts.

The difference between poor, inner-city schools and wealthy, suburban schools can also be exemplified in the relationship between students and administration. At BSM, for example, students have a large degree of freedom, comfortable classrooms, and mostly good teachers. However, students in many inner-city schools are treated like criminals in the way they have to pass through metal detectors and be searched on their way into school, and once they enter the classroom, they are packed into a crowded, uncomfortable room with a teacher who probably has little job security and is backed by an administration that cares more about zero-tolerance disciplinary actions than fostering a supportive educational environment.

This negative, unsupportive environment only puts these already-disadvantaged students at a bigger disadvantage. Because many of these students grow up in poverty, they are more likely to have unstable homes or be victims of abuse, which further impairs their ability to thrive in school. If you take these disadvantaged students and throw them into underfunded schools with teachers who don’t want to be there, it’s no surprise that so many of them end up going to prison instead of college.

The lack of resources and freedom available to teachers, especially those in low-income school districts, causes them to not really be seen as professionals. A skilled teacher can accept a job at a low-income school, and before they know it, they’ve lost all freedom over what they teach and are left with a crowded classroom and dated curriculum. This has been shown to bring down the morale of teachers as they feel like they can’t control their jobs, and in turn, the students are even less motivated to go to school.

Additionally, teachers in America are grossly underpaid, and I believe teachers should make as much money as some of the most-skilled professionals we have. It’s simple; if we care about our students, we must do everything we can to make sure the best of the best are taking care of them. We would be justifiably outraged if doctors only made $40,000 per year, and I think it’s a shame that we allow our teachers to make that little money. Studies show that paying teachers more results in higher-skilled teachers and better outcomes for students.

We can clearly see this when comparing other countries’ education systems to that of the United States. Taking a look at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s educational rankings, we can clearly see that countries like Finland, Germany, and South Korea, who pay their teachers significantly more, have some of the most effective education systems in the world. Additionally, these countries all tend to do education differently than we do in the United States. Most students in these high-performing countries actually have shorter school days with less homework compared to schools in the US.

The main reason for this is that schools in these countries are more focused on cooperation and team-building skills than the old-school style of schooling in America where every student is on their own competing against every other student to be the best. The truth is, this isn’t how society functions anymore. Schools in America were made this way in the 1800s to train factory workers for industrial jobs; however, most jobs in America today are based on one’s ability to work with others and create new ideas.

Unfortunately for America, the education system is lagging, students everywhere are getting left behind, and it’s clear that without significant policy changes, things are only going to get worse for our students.