Education and Inequality

Savage Inequalities

Savage inequalities, written by Jonathan Kozol, is a book that examines inequality in education.

Learning Objectives

Reproduce Kozol’s argument in “Savage Inequalities,” using a real life illustration

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Kozol argues that racial- and class-based disparities in American education are the result of low spending by the federal government.
  • Across cities in the U.S., Kozol observed students in schools with the lowest and highest spending per student. His observations illustrated the huge disparities between schools.
  • According to Kozol, property taxes are an unjust funding basis for schools because they fail to challenge the status quo of racial-based inequality.
  • Kozol concludes that the disparities in school quality perpetuate inequality and constitute de facto segregation.

Key Terms

  • de facto segregation: When races are separated not by any law, but by everyday practices.
  • property tax: An (usually) ad valorem tax charged on the basis of the fair market value of property. The scope of taxable property varies by jurisdiction, and it may include personal property in addition to real estate.

Savage Inequalities, a 1991 book by Jonathan Kozol, examines the class- and race-based disparities in education. The book is based on Kozol’s observations of classrooms in the public school systems of East St. Louis, Chicago, New York City, Camden, Cincinnati, and Washington, D.C. Kozol observed students in schools with the lowest and highest spending per student, ranging from just $3,000 per student in Camden, New Jersey, to up to $15,000 per student, per year in Great Neck, Long Island.

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Jonathan Kozol at Pomona College: Savage Inequalities, a 1991 book by Jonathan Kozol, examines the class- and race-based disparities in education.

Kozol’s observations illustrated the disparities between schools. In poor schools, students face overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and understaffed buildings where even basic tools and textbooks might be missing. These schools tend to be located in areas with large proportions of minorities, high rates of poverty, and high taxation rates. But high taxation rates on low-value property do not generate much revenue, and these schools remain underfunded. Kozol argues that property taxes are an unjust funding basis for schools, one that fails to challenge the status quo of racial-based inequality. Even when state funding is used to partially equalize the funding between districts, inequalities aren’t erased. In Kozol’s words, “Equal funding for unequal needs is not equality. ”

Kozol concludes that these disparities in school quality perpetuate inequality and constitute de facto segregation. He argues that racial segregation is still alive and well in the American educational system; this is due to the gross inequalities that result from unequal distribution of funds collected through both property taxes and funds distributed by the state in an attempt to “equalize” the expenditures of schools.

Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol, East St. Louis: Savage Inequalities, a 1991 book by Jonathan Kozol, examines the class- and race-based disparities in education. The book is based on Kozol’s observations of classrooms in the public school systems of East St. Louis, Chicago, New York City, Camden, Cincinnati, and Washington, D.C.

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De Facto Segregation: Although segregation is officially illegal, unequal school funding can create de facto segregation.

Coleman’s Study of Between-School Effects in American Education

In 1966, the Coleman Report launched a debate about “school effects,” desegregation and busing, and cultural bias in standardized tests.

Learning Objectives

Identify three key points of the Coleman report

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The ways in which outcomes differ based on school characteristics is called “between school effects. ” The Coleman report found that these effects existed but were less important that student backgrounds.
  • The Coleman Report found that school funding levels do not significantly affect student achievement, but student background and teacher effectiveness do.
  • Sociologist James Coleman found that black students perform better in racially-integrated classrooms, which led to desegregated busing programs. Later, Coleman found that white flight undermined the advantages of busing.
  • Sociologist James Coleman also found that standardized tests measured cultural knowledge, not intelligence, which put minority students at a disadvantage.

Key Terms

  • white flight: The large-scale migration of whites of various European ancestries, from racially mixed urban regions to more racially homogeneous suburban areas.
  • desegregation busing: Programs designed to mix races in public education by busing children from predominantly African-American neighborhoods into white neighborhood schools.
  • Racially-Mixed Classrooms: Classrooms that contain pupils from a variety of racial backgrounds.

In the 1960s, the U.S. Department of Education commissioned a group of social scientists to write a report on educational equality in the United States. The group was led by sociologist James Coleman, and the report was one of the largest studies in history, surveying more than 150,000 students. In 1966, the finished report was published and was over 700 pages in length. The report, titled “Equality of Educational Opportunity,” came to be known as the “Coleman Report. ” At the time, it launched widespread debate on school effects, or the ways in which school-level characteristics influence student achievement. It also helped define debates over desegregation, busing, and cultural bias in standardized tests.

Findings

The Coleman Report was commonly presented as evidence that school funding has little effect on student achievement. In fact, the report did not deny that funding or other school effects matter, but it did argue that other factors are more important. Specifically, the report found that student background and socioeconomic status are much more important in determining educational outcomes than are measured differences in school resources. But it also affirmed that differences in schools—and particularly teachers—have a very significant impact on student outcomes. Thus, the report supplied evidence that different conditions in different schools could lead to different outcomes for different groups of students.

Although Coleman found that, on average, black schools were funded on a nearly equal basis by the 1960s, he also found that socially-disadvantaged black students profited from schooling in racially-mixed classrooms. This latter finding was a catalyst for the implementation of desegregated busing systems, which bused black students from racially segregated neighborhoods to integrated schools. Following up on this conclusion, Coleman found in later research in 1975, that desegregated busing programs had led to white flight from the higher-class, mixed-race school districts. When black students were bused in to these schools, white parents began to move their children out of such schools in large numbers. Thus, the mass busing system had failed: Black students would only benefit from integrated schooling if there was a majority of white students in the classroom.

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Desegregation and Busing: The Coleman Report led to busing programs to help integrate schools.

Relevance for Standardized Testing

The Coleman Report also fed the debate over the validity of standardized testing. The report showed that, in general, white students scored higher than black students, but it also showed significant overlap in scores: 15 percent of black students fell within the same range of academic accomplishment as the upper 50 percent of white students. This same group of blacks, however, scored higher than the other 50 percent of whites. Importantly, though, the report pointed out that the tests administered in these schools were not measuring intelligence, but rather an ability to learn and perform in the American environment. The report states: “These tests do not measure intelligence, nor attitudes, nor qualities of character. Furthermore they are not, nor are they intended, to be ‘ culture free. ‘ Quite the reverse: they are culture bound. What they measure are the skills which are among the most important in our society for getting a good job and moving to a better one, and for full participation in an increasingly technical world. ”

Tracking and Within-School Effects

Tracking separates students within a school into different tracks based on their skills and abilities.

Learning Objectives

Argue for or against tracking in classrooms based on the information in the text

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Proponents of tracking argue that it allows teachers to better direct lessons toward the specific ability level of the students in each class.
  • Critics worry that by keeping students separate, tracking tends to reinforce class- and race-based disparities and worsen educational inequalities.
  • Detracking occurs when students are deliberately positioned into classes of mixed ability. As opposed to tracking, students are no longer placed in groups based upon academic achievement or ability.
  • While tracking separates students according to their skills and abilities, critics point out that it reinforces disparities and worsens educational inequalities.

Key Terms

  • within school effects: Ways in which inequality may be produced or maintained among students in the same school.
  • tracking: An educational system in which the entire school population is assigned to classes according to whether the students’ overall achievement is above average, normal, or below average and in which students attend academic classes only with students whose overall academic achievement is the same as their own.

Whereas the Coleman Report focused on between school effects, or inequality between different schools, other research has looked at within school effects, or ways in which inequality may be produced or maintained among students in the same school. One of the primary mechanisms for creating and maintaining inequality within schools is tracking. Tracking was once popular in English-speaking countries, but is less used now.

Advantages

Tracking consists of separating pupils into groups by academic ability. Student can be tracked for all subjects or for certain classes and curriculum within a school. Proponents of tracking argue that it allows teachers to better direct lessons toward the specific ability level of the students in each class. Another positive aspect of tracking is that since it separates students by ability, students’ work is only compared to that of similar-ability peers. Supporters of tracking also note that it allows for higher achievement of high-ability students. A 1992 study by Kulik and Kulik found that high-ability students in tracked classes achieved more highly than similar-ability students in non-tracked classes.

Disadvantages

Studies show that, while tracking for regular instruction makes no real difference in scholastic achievement for low and average ability students, it does produce substantial gains for gifted students in tracks specially designed for the gifted and talented. In other words, tracking can promote even higher achievement among high-achieving students, but it does little to improve the achievement of lower achieving students. Additionally, some studies suggest that tracking can influence students’ peer groups and attitudes regarding other students. A 1992 study by Gamoran showed that students are more likely to form friendships with other students in the same tracks than students outside of their tracks.

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Students Using Laptops in Classroom: Critics argue that tracking can promote even higher achievement among high-achieving students, but it does little to improve the achievement of lower achieving students.

Critics worry that by keeping students separate, tracking tends to reinforce rather than overcome educational inequalities. This may be particularly true since low-track classes tend to have higher proportions of low-income and minority students, while upper-track classes are often dominated by students from high socioeconomically backgrounds. In this respect, tracking may not only reinforce academic inequalities, but also reinforce class- and race-based disparities in educational quality. Students from more privileged backgrounds gain access to higher quality instruction in upper-level tracks, while, even within the same school, poorer students are relegated to lower-level, less challenging tracks.

The 2010 HBO documentary, A Small Act, documented Kenyan students’ difficulty affording secondary schools. These elite schools were viewed as pathway to law school, medical school, and other forms of advanced education. Students who were kicked out of school for insufficient funds were essentially fated to lives of poverty. In Kenya, having only a primary school education prepared one for menial labor, while secondary school equated to future social mobility for poor Kenyan children.

Detracking

Detracking occurs when students are deliberately positioned into classes of mixed ability. As opposed to tracking, students are no longer placed in groups based upon academic achievement or ability. Tracking can be associated with giving students in low-track classes less resources, fewer experienced teachers, low expectations, and non-challenging curricula. Proponents for detracking believe that low-track students will greatly benefit in school achievement if they are mixed in with high-track students.

Ability grouping, tracking and grouping alternatives: This video explores the history, practice, perils and alternatives to grouping students for classroom instruction according to their perceived abilities.

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A Navy technician welding: Vocational tracks may teach skills such as welding or encourage students to join the armed forces

The Social Reproduction of Inequality

Conflict theorists argue that the democratic mission of education has failed because it has reproduced social and economic inequalities.

Learning Objectives

Explain, using conflict theory, how inequality is socially reproduced

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • In democratic societies, education is meant to be a path to opportunity, and public education is meant to ensure society continues to strive for equality.
  • Persistent evidence indicates that education’s democratic mission has failed; rather than overcoming inequality, the educational system appears to reinforce it.
  • Inequality is continually socially reproduced because the whole education system serves the interests of the dominant classes.
  • According to conflict theorists, the myth of individual success through education obscures an important social fact: the individual failures of many students are in fact explained by large-scale social forces.
  • Conflict theorists maintain that schools are a means to convey to students what constitutes knowledge and appropriate behavior as determined by the state—those in power.
  • According to conflict theorists, children from lower-class backgrounds face a much tougher time in school; they must learn the standard curriculum as well as the hidden curriculum of middle class values.

Key Terms

  • Lower-Class Backgrounds: Upbringings that are lower on the socioeconomic hierarchy.
  • social reproduction of inequality: The idea that inequality is continually socially reproduced because the whole education system is overlain with ideology provided by the dominant group.

In democratic societies, education is meant to be a path to opportunity, and public education is meant to ensure society continues to strive for equality. Students who work hard in school should be able to land good jobs and advance themselves, climbing the latter to social and economic success. Yet persistent evidence indicates that education’s democratic mission has failed; rather than overcoming inequality, the educational system appears to reinforce it. According to conflict theorists, this is a predictable result of capitalism and other forces of domination and inequality.

Social Reproduction of Inequality

Conflict theorists believe that educational institutions operate as mechanisms for the social reproduction of inequality. Inequality is continually socially reproduced because the whole education system is overlain with a dominant group ‘s ideology. The premise that education fosters equal opportunity is regarded as a myth, perpetuated to serve the interests of the dominant classes. According to this myth, those who fail to achieve success have only themselves to blame. According to conflict theorists, this myth obscures an important social fact—the individual failures of many students can be explained by large-scale social forces.

Conflict theorists argue that schools, like society in general, are based on exploitation, oppression, domination, and subordination. From teaching style to the formal curriculum, schools are a means to convey what constitutes knowledge and appropriate behavior as determined by the state—those in power. Thus, students must learn not only basic skills such as reading, writing, and math, but also skills useful in a capitalist economy and behaviors appropriate to the work environment, especially docility and obedience to a manager or boss—the teacher.

Class and Education

Some students may realize the perverse but unacknowledged goals of education, as they begin to see that much of what they learn seems, from their perspective, pointless. Anti-school values displayed by these children are often derived from their consciousness of their real interests. For example, working class students may begin to understand that they are in a double-bind: either they must strive to succeed, and in doing so abandon their own culture in order to absorb the school’s middle class values, or they will fail. Children from lower-class backgrounds face a much tougher time in school, where they must learn the standard curriculum as well as the hidden curriculum of middle class values. For those who aim to succeed and advance, they must confront the material inequalities created by unequal funding arrangements.

On the other hand, for middle and especially upper-class children, maintaining their superior position in society requires little effort. These students have the benefit of learning middle class values at home, meaning they come to school already having internalized the hidden curriculum. They also have access to higher quality instruction. In this way, the continuation of privilege and wealth for the elite is made possible.

Intelligence and Inequality

Educational capital can produce or reproduce inequality and also serve as a leveling mechanism that fosters equal opportunity.

Learning Objectives

Devise two separate scenarios, one in which educational capital serves as a leveling mechanism and one in which academic capital reproduces inequality

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The term educational capital is a concept that expands upon the theoretical ideas of French sociologist and anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu.
  • Bourdieu’s perspective reveals how objective structures play an important role in determining individual achievement in school, but allows for the exercise of an individual’s own free will and abilities to overcome these barriers, although this choice is not without its penalties.
  • Academic capital is a term used by sociologists to represent how an individual’s amount of education and other academic experience can be used to gain a more esteemed place in society.

Key Terms

  • sociability: The skill, tendency or property of being sociable or social, and interacting well with others.
  • Academic Capital: A term referring to how an individual’s amount of education and other academic experience can be used to gain a more esteemed place in society.
  • Educational Capital: The social standing one achieves by succeeding in academia and achieving academic credentials.

Although schools’ manifest function is to educate and train intelligence, they also have latent functions like socializing students. Students who do best in school are not always the most intelligent, but are usually culturally competent and sociable. The manifest function of education is to transmit knowledge to students. However, education also offers several latent functions, one of which is to foster social skills. Like the academic skills learned there, the social skills learned in school turn out to be quite important to a student’s future success in life. Students who score high on measures of sociability earn more money and get more education than equally intellectually gifted students who achieve lower scores in social skills.

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Children Playing: Inequality can arise from students’ different levels of social skills.

Manifest and Latent Functions

Manifest functions involve things people expect or can observe. In the above paragraph, it is the purpose of and people expect a school to teach or transmit knowledge. Latent functions are not generally recognized or intended; rather, they are a secondary effect of manifest functions. For example, it is not stated in the curriculum that children learn social skills at school, but as a result of being around and working with other children, socialization occurs. Socialization is slowly transforming into a manifest function, especially within special education and working with children on the autism spectrum, who suffer from serious social skill deficits. In these cases, social skills training is part of the curriculum for those particular children.

Educational Capital

The term educational capital is a concept that expands upon the theoretical ideas of French sociologist and anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu who applied the notion of capital to social capital, cultural capital, and symbolic capital. Pierre Bourdieu and Basil Bernstein explored how the cultural capital of the dominant classes has been viewed throughout history as the “most legitimate knowledge. ” How schools choose the content and organization of curriculum and instructional practices connects scholastic knowledge to dynamics of class, gender, and race both outside and inside our institutions of education. Educational capital refers to educational goods that are converted into commodities to be bought, sold, withheld, traded, consumed, and profited from in the educational system. Educational capital can be utilized to produce or reproduce inequality, and it can also serve as a leveling mechanism that fosters social justice and equal opportunity. Therefore Bourdieu’s perspective reveals how objective structures play an important role in determining individual achievement in school, but allows for the exercise of an individual’s own free will and abilities to overcome these barriers, although this choice is not without its penalties.

Academic Capital

Academic capital is a term used by sociologists to represent how an individual’s amount of education and other academic experience can be used to gain a place in society. On an individual level, academic capital influences and informs several important aspects of life. In the most basic sense, academic capital is strongly tied to earning potential. Individuals with only a high school diploma, on average, make $20,000 less annually than individuals with an undergraduate degree, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For individuals who do not have a high school degree, opportunities for monetary earning fall further, $30,000 less than those with a degree.