The Truth About the American Achievement Gap in Education
How we can enhance educational equity across the country.
While the U.S. is a world leader in so many developments, equity in education for all races is an area in which we are still sorely lacking. Communities across the country suffer from a massive problem — due to socioeconomic circumstances, policy flaws and political issues alike, children don't have the same opportunities everywhere. In even the most notable towns and cities, this problem affects so many young lives — and futures.
Equity and Access in Education
Even today, millions of children across the country face barriers when it comes to school. Low-income students miss school more often than other kids for various reasons. Some may not have proper transportation, while others need to help provide for their families financially. They then fall behind as achievement gaps take place.
In large cities, public schools are often underfunded. Urban districts receive more than $2,000 less per student than their rural and suburban counterparts. Additionally, zones make it so that children in poor neighborhoods can't transfer to a better system. Private schools are often out of reach, so they're forced to remain in a school that can't provide equity. These factors combined hinder students' abilities to truly succeed.
Equity in education is more than a question of socioeconomics, however — it’s a question of schools’ approaches to learning outcomes across races, and in many cases, these outcomes are sorely lacking. Schools might make excuses for learning gaps between white, black and Latino students in less affluent areas, and we might assume that conservative cities would struggle more with equal academic achievement between races.
But even more troubling than the possibly expected educational disparity in lower-income and conservative communities is the inequity present in well-formed, economically stable communities that claim to be progressive. A 2020 study by Brightbeam found progressive cities struggle significantly with addressing wide learning gaps between children of different races. In fact, these cities have much larger disparities in student achievement than their less forward-thinking counterparts.
On average, progressive cities like San Francisco and Washington, D.C. have learning gaps 13-15% higher in math and reading than conservative cities. While conservative cities have an average black-white graduation gap rate of 4.3% and a Latino-white graduation gap of 4.6%, progressive cities struggle with gaps of 11.3% and 16.5%, respectively. Why is this happening? It’s difficult to say. But it needs to change.
The Importance of Equity and Education
It's no secret that education plays a massive role in many aspects of life. If students maintain high grades and are involved in extracurriculars, they’re more likely to attend a prominent college. When they graduate, their career prospects improve and they gain the opportunity to advance professionally and support themselves capably.
Without the same learning outcomes and achievement rates due to a lack of equity, students on the other end of the achievement gap struggle to perform in school, are less likely to graduate and pursue higher education, and may have access to fewer future prospects — not through a fault of their own, but because their education systems aren’t invested as strongly in their success. Inequity continues into college. At the University of San Francisco, for example, only 6.58% of the student body is black or African American, while nearly 38% is white. This only continues to propagate further disparity in our country and our social norms — and it can’t be allowed to keep happening.
Promoting Equity in the Classroom
While it’s difficult to prescribe specific changes or policies to close these achievement gaps, it’s clear that the changes need to happen — and that starts with awareness on the part of city residents, school leaders, parents and policymakers alike. We can raise awareness of this issue in our own communities by:
- Having open conversations, spreading the word about this challenge and its possible solutions, and pushing collectively for better school systems
- Asking for accountability and progress from city leaders
- Developing methods to share public information about learning outcomes at our schools
- Educating city stakeholders on the obstacles to equitable school success
While many schools and communities are dedicated to the improvement of our education systems, this issue is something we can’t ignore — for the future of both our children and our nation.