Educational Inequality between Schools
The quality of education in the United States is dependent on a number of complex factors. One of these is the perceived inequality between schools. The implications of this problem are of great interest to social scientists because the quality of education can affect not only the ability of individuals to compete and be successful in society, but also for the nation at large to be successful in the global marketplace. If the nation is not able to successfully compete, the quality of life will be negatively impacted and society will suffer. Some of the factors leading to perceived inequalities between schools are political and economic in nature while others are more subjective and difficult to articulate and correct. It is important that these issues be addressed if all students are to be given an equal opportunity and the United States is to maintain a competitive edge in the global marketplace.
ACADEMIC TOPIC OVERVIEWS
Educational Sociology > Educational Inequality between Schools
The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement is an international organization of national research institutions and governmental research agencies. As part of their mission, they periodically conduct the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) in participating nations to compare the relative standings of students at the fourth and eighth grade levels in mathematics and science. According to the 2011 TIMSS, out of 38 participating countries, the United States ranked 9th in mathematics and 10th in science at the eighth grade level (National Center for Education Statistics, 2013; see Tables 1 and 2). Although these rankings are above the international scale averages for both mathematics and science (500), they are also significantly lower than the average scores earned in several other countries. If one were inclined to view the proverbial glass as half-full, these results might not seem so bad. However, when attempting to compete in a global marketplace, merely being in the upper half of international rankings makes it difficult to gain or maintain a competitive edge. From an individual point of view, this has obvious repercussions when individuals attempt to compete against a wider field of competitors for jobs. In addition, such rankings have national and societal implications for the United States as it attempts to maintain its reputation as a world leader.
Table 1: 2011 Average Mathematics Scores of Eighth-Grade Students
Country Average Score Country Average Score Korea, Republic of 613 Romania 458 Singapore 611 United Arab Emirates 456 Chinese Taipei (CHN) 609 Turkey 452 Hong Kong (CHN) 586 Lebanon 449 Japan 570 Malaysia 440 Russian Federation 539 Georgia 431 Israel 516 Thailand 427 Finland 514 Macedonia, Republic of 426 United States 509 Tunisia 425 England (GBR) 507 Chile 416 Hungary 505 Iran, Islamic Republic of 415 Australia 505 Qatar 410 Slovenia 505 Bahrain 409 Lithuania 502 Jordan 406 Italy 498 Palestinian National Authority 404 New Zealand 488 Saudi Arabia 394 Kazakhstan 487 Indonesia 386 Sweden 484 Syrian Arab Republic 380 Ukraine 479 Morocco 371 Norway 475 Oman 366 Armenia 467 Ghana 331 International scale average 500 (http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2013/2013009rev.pdf)
In the report A Nation at Risk: An Imperative for Educational Reform (1983), the National Commission on Excellence in Education concluded that the United States is no longer preeminent in commerce, industry, science, or technology, and the edge has been gained by the country's competitors. If this edge is lost, American society's culture and way of life can also be negatively impacted and can become more reliant on assistance from other countries (e.g., advances in science and technology, access to high tech products). Societally, it is this edge that has supported American prosperity, security, and civility in the past. Indicators of this risk cited in the report include functional illiteracy rates, lower average achievement on most standardized tests, decline in Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores, steady decline in science achievement, lack of higher order intellectual skills for high school upperclassmen, and the increasing dollars spent on remedial education programs for basic skills (e.g., reading, writing, spelling, arithmetic) by military and business. Since the report's release in 1983, few of its recommendations have been implemented. A 2008 report from the nonprofit organization Strong American Schools concluded that there has been a significant lack of progress in educational reform. Later reports, such as the one issued in February 2013 by the US Equity and Excellence Commission, have also noted a lack of progress and have made suggestions for closing the achievement gap caused by inequality in schools.
American Educational Initiatives
Because of the importance of a good education to the American people and society, the United States has put in place various initiatives to help ensure that students are taught the necessary skills to be competitive in the global marketplace. By doing so, the country is helping to ensure that American society will not be negatively impacted by a slip in the international rankings. For example, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 was designed to enforce standards and increase accountability for states, school districts, and schools in order to help improve the performance of primary and secondary schools in the United States. This controversial law also provides parents with more flexibility in choosing the school that their children attend under the assumption that not all schools are academically equivalent. Those schools that are identified as needing improvement in order to match national standards are required by law under the No Child Left Behind Act to allow students other choices for public schooling.
Table 2: 2011 Average Science Scores of Eighth-Grade Students
Country Average Score Country Average Score Singapore 590 Iran, Islamic Republic of 474 Chinese Taipei (CHN) 564 Romania 465 Korea, Republic of 560 United Arab Emirates 465 Japan 558 Chile 461 Finland 552 Bahrain 452 Slovenia 543 Thailand 451 Russian Federation 542 Jordan 449 Hong Kong (CHN) 535 Tunisia 439 England (GBR) 533 Armenia 437 United States 525 Saudi Arabia 436 Hungary 522 Malaysia 426 Australia 519 Syrian Arab Republic 426 Israel 516 Palestinian National Authority 420 Lithuania 514 Georgia 420 New Zealand 512 Oman 420 Sweden 509 Qatar 419 Italy 501 Macedonia, Republic of 407 Ukraine 501 Lebanon 406 Norway 494 Indonesia 406 Kazakhstan 490 Morocco 376 Turkey 483 Ghana 306 International scale average 500 (Adapted from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2013/2013009rev.pdf)
Race to the Top, created by the US Department of Education to spur reform and innovation in K-12 education, was initiated in 2009 as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, an economic stimulus package created in response to the Great Recession. The federal initiative has awarded educational funding to states based on criteria such as showing significant progress in closing achievement gaps and turning around low-achieving schools, reforms such as making educational funding a priority, improved teacher support and performance, and implementing a common set of learning standards. These learning standards, the Common Core State Standards Initiative, have since been adopted by the majority of US states. Many states have also changed their educational policies to make their applications for Race to the Top funding more competitive.
Problems within the Educational System
Initiatives such as No Child Left Behind are not without their critics. Because of the importance of maintaining global competitiveness not only for individuals within society but for society at large, sociologists and other educational researchers are interested in the issue of inequality between schools as one of the potential factors that can be a cause of lower international ratings.
One of the reasons for the observed inequality between schools is that not every school receives equal funding. For example, funding for education can differ from state to state, from school district to school district, and between public and private schools. This inequity is seen because school districts are primarily funded through property taxes. Therefore, geographical areas that have more expensive real estate typically also have school districts that are concomitantly better funded. As a result, better funded schools have greater access to text books, computers, and laboratory equipment, and are also able to attract more qualified teachers and support smaller classroom sizes because they have greater funding for salaries. Because of these inequalities, therefore, better funded school districts tend to offer a higher quality education. Although an obvious solution to this problem is to raise the taxes that pay for education, the electorate is typically understandably reluctant to do that. To rectify this problem, some states (e.g., Michigan) have eliminated property taxes as the basis for educational funding and raised income tax to fund education instead.
Wider Educational Focus
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