My heart breaks for American students. There is no good answer to the question of how to navigate our education system. Public schools are suffering, private schools are inaccessible to many, and those who make it to university walk out with so much debt it’s a wonder they make ends meet.
As adults, we owe the youth of our nation so much, and if we are to progress as a nation, that debt includes equal educational opportunities. In the 1960s, the future of education was beginning to look bright and promising, thanks to desegregation and the Civil Rights Movement. However, somewhere between the ‘80s and now, we lost all our momentum and once again began to fail our children.
Start at Home
A study conducted by the Educational Testing Service found that four factors outside of the control of a school had a significant correlation to a student’s testing score. Students who came from single-parent homes, were not read to daily as a children while 5 or younger, and eighth graders who watched more than 5 hours of TV or were absent from school more than three times a month had lower test scores than their peers who didn’t.
These factors may be present for a myriad of reasons, such as drug or alcohol addiction among parents. With drug related deaths on the rise, students are more likely to experience an unstable home environment resulting in absentee parents or misallocated finances. Without adequate support from parents and the financial resources necessary to be a successful student, children may be fighting a losing battle.
Academic success favors the wealthy. With the ability to pay for AP tests, dual enrollment, personal tutoring, or private education, students who come from financially stable homes are able to buy advantages in the academic world. The ETS also found that for every additional $10,000 of family income, students will score an average of 10 points higher on the SAT, which affects their post-secondary education options.
Good Habits Begin Early
The education gap may culminate with the SAT, but it certainly doesn’t start there. According to Concordia University, research has shown that “children from low-income families typically enter preschool with reading and math skills that lag far behind those of their peers.” By middle school, this gap has grown significantly, and it will only continue to widen.
The academic future of low-income and underprivileged students may be improved by trying to close the gap early. While it may be impossible for teachers to influence at-home factors, the classroom is well within their realm.
Intentional curriculum may be a key in closing the education gap in early learners. By providing young students, particularly preschoolers, with structured lessons for a small portion of their time, the education gap may begin to diminish. The sooner students start on the same level, the longer they can stay there, and the better it is for the future of our nation.
Foster Diversity and Inclusion
Helping students to excel at compatible levels will lead to diminished segregation among learning levels. When students are divided into AP, honors, remedial, or “normal” classes, they’re more likely to perform to what’s expected of them. That is, AP students will retain more and reach higher than students in general classes.
Some populations have called for the abolition of private schools, stating that creating elitist education that can only be bought is shortchanging the nation as a whole. If these institutions were to be eliminated, public schools would be inundated with a wider range of experiences.
Short-term, parents may feel that their children will suffer for not having a privately funded, potentially higher-quality education. Long-term, however, public schools may stand to gain as parents with more time and money to give become invested in improving the public education system, rather than paying to bypass it.
We All Need to Cooperate
Closing the education gap is obviously complicated. There are few concrete answers, but what is clear is that any progress will come as a result of working together. Improving a child’s future may not be as easy as just worrying about their small world; there are greater socioeconomic factors that need to be addressed to improve the wealth of knowledge for all.
Avery Phillips is a magical unicorn of a human being who loves everything human. She’s a fiery socialist and would love to talk about it. Tweet her @A_taylorian or comment below.