While the public school system is supposed to be for everyone, truly equitable access has never been achieved. The best educational outcomes have always favored middle-class white children. Schools strive to support the entire community. However, achieving equitable results is a complicated issue that good intentions alone cannot remedy.
In this article, we examine how diverse resource portfolios can help make the American educational system more equitable and accessible.
What is Resource Equity?
For a school to be equitable with its resources it must prioritize an allocation strategy in which students of all backgrounds are able to achieve the highest possible results. Race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or income level should never limit or in any way inform what sort of access a student has to educational resources.
It sounds simple enough on paper, but it can actually be something of a logistical challenge. For example, let’s say that a public school is trying to start a new preschool. The program is in large part thanks to a third-party community resource with a “preschool for all,” agenda that has been tremendously impactful in several low-income areas in the region.
Previously, the program has helped connect school districts with the resources to create half-day programs. However, this district features many middle to upper-middle-class families. In many of these homes, both parents work full schedules, and cannot necessarily pick up their preschool-aged child in the middle of the day.
In this case, an equitable solution would be to find a way to make preschool accessible to these working-class families, even though they are not what would typically be considered a “disadvantaged,” demographic.
Every resource-related choice will be similarly complicated. The goal of administrators is to assess the needs of all of their students and make choices that do the greatest common good.
Internet for All?
One of the biggest disparities in the United States falls across a line many people call “the digital divide.” Essentially, the difference between people who have access to digital technology, and those who do not. Modern education hinges on access to the internet.
During school closures, internet access is often the way that kids access their assignments and attend virtual lectures. Even during normal situations, access to digital technology will often determine if a student can complete their homework assignments.
Many schools provide tablets or even laptops to their students for precisely this reason. Still, some kids slip through the cracks due to a lack of access to WIFI at home.
Most schools probably cannot bridge the digital divide on the home front. However, they may be able to better support their students by providing opportunities to complete digital assignments at school.
Racial Disparity in the Classroom
Racial equity within the school system can be a thorny issue, largely for the fact that it takes educators into uncomfortable territory, requiring them to ask difficult questions. Why are African Americans consistently getting more detentions than the rest of the student body?
Why do the honor programs tend to primarily consist of people from the same racial background? When disparities do occur, they are often a product of unconscious bias or even just policies that are so deeply baked into the school culture that no one has re-examined them for years.
The responsibilities of educators are to:
- Identify bias wherever it might occur: Unfortunately, there is no perfect way to accomplish this. However, you can get a good start by looking at student outcomes. Are the positive results overwhelmingly favoring one group over another? If so, there may be a systemic issue at work within your school.
- Correct the problem: The responsibility of a school is never to create equality of outcome. It is to guarantee equality of opportunity. Once a school system has identified an issue, it is its obligation to find a solution.
Communication can be an asset when it comes to bridging any form of educational disparity. Reach out to students and parents to find out how they think your school is doing in creating a fair and balanced environment. While you can’t necessarily work all of their input into how you proceed, it can be an excellent starting point.
The Poverty Problem
An overwhelming number of people who struggle academically are also living below the poverty line. There are several reasons why this is the case:
- Low-income families struggle more with attendance: Low-income districts have a very difficult time with truancy. There are many reasons that contribute to this, but the most basic are logistical. Many low-income jobs feature schedules that make it difficult to get to school on time. And while buses are an option at many public schools, they often fail to serve as a comprehensive solution to the truancy problem— particularly when children themselves are responsible for getting ready in the morning.
- Homework assistance: The same parents that struggle with attendance are also often unavailable to provide homework assistance. Children with parental involvement in their homework tend to get better grades and perform more consistently on testing. This is particularly true of work in early grades, for which the child is largely helpless to get the work done without help.
- Familial responsibility: Finally, it is not uncommon for children living in low-income houses to take on extra responsibilities around the house. When parents work long hours or shifts that don’t align well with the ordinary structures of home life, basic responsibilities can fall on the child. It’s difficult to get homework done when you are helping to get dinner ready for your younger siblings.
None of this is to criticize families living below the poverty line. The object of an effective system should never be to cast blame, but simply help simply to help struggling children achieve the resources they need to find success.