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Racial Inequality Persists

March 28, 2014

The NYTimes reported on a recent study completed by the USDOE that found “Racial minorities are more likely than white students to be suspended from school, to have less access to rigorous math and science classes, and to be taught by lower-paid teachers with less experience…” This is no surprise to anyone who has worked in or followed public education for the past four decades, and neither the NCLB and RTTT initiatives nor the “reform” initiatives will begin to address this disparity. The report highlights the high suspension rates for black prekindergarten students (you read that right— SUSPENSIONS for PREKINDERGARTEN students), the lack of offerings in algebra, biology, calculus, chemistry, geometry and physics at the high school level, and higher concentrations of first year teachers.

And what is the President proposing to address this problem?

In his budget request to Congress, President Obama has proposed a new phase of his administration’s Race to the Top competitive grant program, which would give $300 million in incentives to states and districts that put in place programs intended to close some of the educational gaps identified in the data.

Now to the average person on the street, $300,000,000 sounds like a lot of money… but if all the money went to NYC is wouldn’t come close to narrowing the ago between per pupil expenditures on the largely minority city students and students attending schools in nearby suburbs… And when $300,000,000 is spent across the country it will have even less of an effect. Indeed, assuming a single teacher’s total compensation package is $50,000, the $300,000,000 would only fund 6,000 teachers, hardly enough to make up for the program deficiencies highlighted in the article.

The real solution to the RACIAL inequality is addressing INCOME inequality. The NYTimes Economix section featured an article by Nancy Folbre titled “Helping Low-Income Children Succeed”. The best way to do this? $$$$$. In the article Folbre notes that as school expenditures diminish, middle class and affluent parents are backfilling the gaps:

Parents today spend more money on “child enrichment expenditures,” like private schools, extracurricular activities and home-learning materials, than ever before. Low-income families simply can’t keep up. In 1972-73, the poorest quintile of families spent, on average, about 24 percent as much as the richest 20 percent in this category. By 2005-06, they spent only 15 percent as much.

Folbre cites research findings that indicate that supplementing parents’ incomes can have a beneficial impact on their children’s performance in school. She then writes:

This finding defuses the claim that education reform alone can eliminate disparities. Vast differences in per capita student spending across school districts, and the institutional weaknesses of large bureaucracies, have greatly reduced the potentially equalizing impact of public education. These problems… need to be addressed in unison.

She suggest that “…simplistic recommendations like “just spend more” or “just promote charter schools,” will not work by themselves. Instead schools need to “…bridge the public and private sectors, increase spending in cost-effective ways and, most importantly, improve the quality of educational instruction for low-income students.”

Racial equality and income equality are intertwined, and they need to be addressed in unison and they need to be addressed soon…. a country that accepts high suspension rates in prekindergarten and vastly disparate spending for schools cannot remain egalitarian for long.


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