The Education Gap….

I just finished reading the September/October issue of Sojourners Magazine and in it was an article about education. One of the most remembered quotes from that article is “The achievement gap due to income inequality is nearly twice as large as the racial achievement gap”.  It went on to say that most of the underperforming schools are found in low-income neighborhoods. Education is still pretty much a State controlled environment but I know this is true for Indiana where I have lived most of my life.

Schools in Indiana are pretty much funded from local property taxes.  So the higher the income area the more the school system gets to educate the kids. I grew up and am still living in a small town rural area of the State. When I was in high school the only guidance counselor we had as a local farmer who also taught FFA classes. I doubt he ever had any kind of training to help kids determine what was the best career field to enter.  We didn’t have any advanced math classes beyond trigonometry so when I went to college at Purdue I had to play catch-up with remedial classes in that area as well as a few others.

Today almost all of my property taxes go to funding the local school system. We have a pretty nice high school but I’m sure the same type of situation occurs there as it did in my day. There is just not enough money to get a first-class high school education in rural Indiana.

For a number of years I lived just a few miles away from Carmel Indiana. I don’t imagine many of my readers saw it but Carmel was listed as the top city to live by one magazine. Carmel has the highest income of any city in the State. They also have a high school that would put many smaller colleges to shame.  Everything there is first-class. They have multiple swimming pools, a two-thousand seat drama theater, multiple basket ball gyms.  I’m imagine they have computer labs that are updated yearly. The list goes on an on.  I’m sure they have a full department of well trained guidance councilors who are fully certified in their expertise. I know most rural schools in the area are often on the at-risk status for test results but I’m sure Carmel is right at the top of the list for the highest scores.

Getting back to the Sojourners article it is pretty obvious that there is a huge difference between going to high school in Carmel than in my home town and of course that is primarily because of money. I don’t understand why this disparity has been allowed to exist for all these years. It seems that the opportunities are stacked against those in less prosperous areas.

The Supreme Court will be taking up an affirmative action case soon. It will be interesting to see how they rule. I’m just an ordinary guy but I think there is still a huge need for affirmative action in our educational system. Maybe not so much race related now as much as income inequality.  Sadly to say education and the wealth gap continues to grow in today’s world and that stacks the deck against many.

But what do I know….

7 thoughts on “The Education Gap….

  1. The Sojourner article sounds interesting, I will have to see if I can find that online.
    In Minnesota the funding is so complex it would make your eyes glaze over, but it starts with per pupil funding across the state and of course adds referendum/levy dollars from individual districts. So, yes the wealthy districts do tax themselves to get better schools and the inner city and rural schools can’t compete with that. For several years Minnesota schools have devoted resources and dollars trying to eliminate this achievement gap. The gap stubbornly remains almost the same. These are some statistics I found from an August 2012 article from MPR News that shows where we are at.

    Reading and Math proficiency of Minnesota students – 2012 assessment results
    • American Indian: Math 38.5%, reading 55.9%
    • Asian: Math 59.4%, reading67.3%
    • Black: Math 32.6%, reading 52.7%
    • Hispanic: Math 38.2%, reading 53.9%
    • White: Math 68.4%, Reading 81.9%

    These results indicate there is definitely a racial divide. But, this may be a bigger problem in Minnesota than elsewhere for cultural reasons. Although it doesn’t “feel” like to me because I’ve never lived anywhere else, I guess Minnesota is considered a very “white” state and in somewhat culturally segregated. Not sure about that but maybe, I do surely agree that the econmic divide is a real and stubborn entity. It would be interesting to see numbers from the various states to compare.


  2. Thanks for all the info on Minnesota Jane. I guess I am not surprised that it is similar to Indiana and probably the rest of the States. The well-to-do make sure their kids have all the advantages and the others take what is left. But at least Minnesota does start with a per pupil funding. I don’t think Indiana does that.

    I hope the Supreme Court recognizes that affirmative action does not have to be racially based to remain valid.


  3. RJ,

    I always dumbfounds me how inequality in our country is still alive and well. In the state of Oregon all of our schools are funded out of the same budget prepared at the state level. However, teacher’s salaries are negotiated by local boards. I don’t know how that works exactly but it seems very unusual. I guess the board gets to decide whether to fund field trips or pay quality teachers. If student get a sport program, for example, it is because either teacher have given up pay so that can happen or parents are asked to pay extra. I think the latter is probably the fairer choice. Teacher should not have to pay for a football team!

    However, if a district is very poor, the state has an “equalization fund” that will bring that lesser school district up to basic standards.

    At one time students in the same school district could move to a nearby school and be faced with totally different curriculum, text books and standards. That problem has been ironed out to some degree.

    I saw recently that segregation is very much alive and well. It is not because of discrimination but only by choice. People want to live near people that share their culture and education. A local school become segregated by default in that situation.

    What poor people fail to understand is that if a tax is imposed, the rich people will pay the lions share of the money and those with less will have programs paid for by everyone. If they vote against that tax, rich people with still have all the programs because they can pay out of pocket without a problem.

    Schools are a passion for me. I seem to remember that Minnesota has done a remarkable job of providing early childhood education that even resulted in a smaller prison population later. I could be wrong about that.

    Be well.



    1. Barbara, thanks for your report for Oregon. It adds to the pot on how different things are across the nation. I would like to see equal opportunity across our school systems but that would require some sort of national standard that most folks just don’t seem ready for yet.

      Of course the more wealthy will alway find a way to keep their local schools top notch but it shouldn’t be at the expense of others less affluent.


  4. Take a look at Maslow’s higherarchy of needs.
    When you are at the bottom level and just eaking out food and shelter- seeking education is not high on your daily list. We have kids in school who are abused and hungry—everywhere. We try to provide safe harbor- but drugs and poverty are difficult to fight against.
    This is NOT a “schools with more money do better issue” it is a “who is caring for the children” issue. Until the state takes over every badly run household- there will be “inequality” in schools.
    Unless we are willing to go to the Chinese system of educating all to the lowest level (literacy)—which BTW they have since dropped and moved to a European system of boarding kids who show they are “bright” by the 4th grade—we will not have equality in schools.
    And yes, my husband’s family was EXTREMELY poor. They were encouraged to get out of school and gain a trade–which they did through the Army. All four have advanced degrees and their grandchildren now live in the smallest houses in the richest schools….
    (spoke by me- a teacher who bought school supplies for ten kids and sends home backpacks of food with students over the weekend. Unfortunately, I cannot stop the mom who uses the 7th grader as a babysitter or the brother who uses the 6th grader as a drug mule. I pay over $4000 a year in school taxes in the same district!)


  5. Janette is right about badly run households and poor parenting being an ever growing obstacle. Our district does have early childhood programs in every elementary school…ages 3 to 6…and seperate ones for “at risk” children who come from disadvantaged or non-English speaking families. These are children developmentally behind their peers. In addition each elementary has reading and math “intervention specialists” to work with students who have been identified as being behind. There are tutors, paras, after school programs, daycare, family liasons to “try” to involve and teach parents who could be helping their kids, Angel funds to buy them supplies and clothing. So many things…so many programs…and yet, as I showed earlier, test scores remain dismal for the poor or minority kids…often one and the same. It looks like pouring money on the problem may not be the answer, but we have to do something. We keep trying, but it would be much simpler for all if parenting were a priority and not a part time chore.
    That being said, I must mention that some of the immigrant families are the most cooperative and supportive for teachers and the schools, the kids are often quite respectful and eager to learn. And they are often poor. I am not an expert, these are just my observation. from 22 years in the school system.


  6. Thanks Jane and Janette for adding to the value of this post. I knew you both had teaching backgrounds and was looking forward to your contributions here.

    I remember the old cliche that you need a license to drive a car so why don’t you need one to be a parent. But bad parenting has been with us forever. I’m sure that is one of the reasons for low test scores in lower income area schools but I still hold to the premise that if the State tax dollars were distributed on a per pupil basis it would result in an equality of opportunity for learning. As it is the kids stuck in a low funded area who have an enormous desire to learn are not getting the education they deserve or that those in other areas get. Can they overcome these obstacles? Sure they can, I personally am an example of that, but why hinder them in the first place?

    Thanks again for your contributions here and in the teaching world.


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