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Together but Unequal: Inequality in American Education

By , Duxbury, MA

In his unanimous opinion for the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling, Chief Justice Earl Warren firmly declared that “in the field of public education...separate but equal has no place.” Since then, on the face of it, America’s public education has undergone radical changes- skin tone became just as irrelevant and hair color with regards to school admission, and college attendance leapt upwards as America fully underwent the transformation out of the Cold War and into its’ current role as the world’s sole superpower. Was Brown the real deal? Was America fully able to shrug off the same educational inequality that had lurked since its’ founding, or did the sleek red exterior of the apple belie the rotting, worm-infested interior?


It seems that the apple is rotten- education is stunningly disparate despite Justice Warren’s unequivocal mandate. Working from the top downwards, about 28% of African Americans have a higher education degree (be it associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s). Contrast this to the nearly 45% of whites who have degrees. Even at the high-school level, there is a clear difference: twice as many African-Americans drop out without a G.E.D or equivalent than whites (16% to 8%). African-American scores on the SATs don’t paint the rosiest picture, compared to their white counterparts, with composite scores 200 points lower (on the new 1600 scale).


Why these incredible disparities? One explanation can be discipline. Despite constituting 16% of school enrollment, African American students account for about 30% of expulsions, and almost 45% of recurring disciplinary issues. This could create a stigma around these students, which in turn leads itself to further disciplinary problems. Students who are in more trouble are exponentially more likely to drop out of, or not finish, high school. Educational opportunities within schools are also far less accessible for African American members of the student body. They take AP courses at lower rates than their white classmates and score lower when they do. They account for 9% of students passing basic-level Algebra courses despite constituting 16% of the student body. What could explain these incredible differences in two different groups of students? Money. A study by the Center for American Progress found that for every 10% of student body comprised of African Americans, per capita funding declines by $75. Schools with >90% of students who are non-white spend a shocking $733 less per head than those with >90% white student bodies.


This is the root of the problem, and someone has to apply a tourniquet to stop this bleeding. All too often we hear stories of districts cutting music programs, electives, and sports. Boston public schools itself cut funding by $22 million this last fiscal year. Education should begin to take a prominent place in state budgets- surely it is in the public’s vital interest to properly educate our next generation properly. As a student myself (even though I am in the privileged demographic), I find the disparity by demographic to be appalling. Education is supposed to be the great equalizer, not plagued with divisions. Schooling should help students rise above their circumstances, not sink further down into them. Tuition, above nearly all else, forms who the world’s next generation will be. Surely it can’t be too much to ask for all to have a uniform education?




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