A More Equal Education System

Anthony Doak, Sarah Ray, Benedikt Scheifele, Austin Lozano

Creating Equal Access to Education

Equality and opportunity are two of the fundamental values that the United States was built upon, and while the free access to education through the public school system does create opportunity, it in its current state is anything but equal. In order for it to be truly equal, factors such as location and socioeconomic status should not have an effect on the quality of the education children receive. Nothing should have an effect on the quality of the education children receive, especially not the circumstances into which they were born. And yet, huge disparities continue to exist all over the nation and are causing many children to receive sub-par educations. In Bruce Baker, David Sciarra, and Danielle Farrie’s “Is School Funding Fair? A national Report Card” they reveal that between states funding can vary by over ten thousand dollars per student, and that over half of the states have either flat or regressive funding, meaning that schools with higher amounts of students living in poverty receive less funding than those with less poverty. This approach is the complete opposite of what the education system needs to give all children an equal opportunity to a prosperous future. Schools in areas with higher numbers of students living in poverty tend to not only assume the responsibility for their education, but for much of their health and food. For many children the free lunch provided by the school is the only food they eat that day, and in an in Lyndsey Layton’s article in The Washington Post she interviews a long time teacher in a low income area, who actually took students in as foster children, and explains that “These kids aren’t thinking, ‘Am I going to take a test today?’ They’re thinking, ‘Am I going to be okay?’” When these children come to school hungry, worrying if they’re going to eat that day it’s understandable that worrying about that week’s vocabulary words aren’t high on their priorities. So withholding funds due to lower test scores or because they have less money is clearly not the solution. The solution is simple really, give schools money based on what they need. Part of this additional funding should also go towards increasing teacher salaries, as the low pay for such a demanding job tends to turn away great potential teachers. With a higher salary comes a larger pool of applicants, allowing schools to be more selective and implement higher standards for their staff. Although this would require a significant increase in funding, a more qualified teaching staff makes a huge difference in the quality of education. While this may cause opposition because the money for this additional funding will come straight from the tax payers pockets, it should be seen as an investment in a collective future. Education is vital to society’s progress, and as technology improves quality of living improves for society as a whole. Every field of study and every aspect of life, and even the length of life can be improved through education.

-Sarah Ray

Reforming Affirmative Action

The history of our great country is not perfect. Although we as a nation can claim many successes, our legacy is also scarred by a long history of injustices. Evils such as slavery, segregation, and immigrant exploitation should not be forgotten. These injustices have left a legacy which makes it more difficult for certain races or ethnicities to achieve educational or economic success. In light of this reality many educational institutions have adopted the policy of so called "affirmative action" in their admissions standards. In practice, affirmative action can either consist of race based quotas of students or it could mean that racial identity itself could be a relevant factor in student consideration. Although the goals of these policies, such as equal opportunities for disadvantaged students and more diverse campuses, are noble, the policies themselves leave much to be desired. Race based affirmative action is fundamentally a short sighted and poorly planned initiative. Though the policies attempt the level the playing field for disadvantaged students, in practice many of the students who benefit come from more privileged backgrounds than students who are left out of affirmative action. One of the long term consequences of historical injustices is that fact that minorities such as African Americans and Hispanic Americans often experience higher levels of poverty. According to polls conducted by the Henry J Kaiser Family foundation in 2013, African Americans experienced a poverty rate of 27%, Hispanics experienced a rate of 24%, and Caucasians experienced a poverty rate of 10%. In an effort to fix this disparity, affirmative action attempts to give disadvantaged minorities educational opportunities to help break the cycle of poverty. However, often the most affluent minorities who do not suffer from massive socioeconomic disadvantages gain the most from the system. Richard D. Kallenburg showed in the article "Affirmative action based on income" that 86% of minorities at elite schools that utilize affirmative action are either upper or middle class. A color narrowed focus prevents institutions from properly reaching out to the poor students are suffer most from the inequalities inherent in the system. Rather than focusing on race, the education system should focus on income or assets as the primary consideration for affirmative action. Another article by Kallenberg and Halley Potter entitled “Class based Affirmative Action works” showed that although a racial gap exists with respect to educational achievement, the income gap with respect to educational achievement is twice as great. Poor students are caught in a terrible cycle. The poor schools are unable to afford the resources that would enable the students to be more successful. Because of their lack of resources, the students perform below average. The schools in turn receive even less money, and the students continue to underperform. These students suffer from a particular type of disadvantage which makes it very difficult for them to obtain the quality education that helps them break the cycle of poverty. If we really want to give the least advantaged members of society a fair chance at bettering their lives, it is just to replace the race based system of affirmative action with an income based one.

-Anthony Doak

Lower Higher Education Costs

Higher education is very important in America and globally, yet most Americans can't afford it. These less privileged Americans are forced to accumulate debt, that most won’t be able to pay off, to attend a university. Our founding fathers built this country on the principal that every American should have the opportunity to succeed in life, but today in our age of technology higher education is the road that leads to opportunity. However, according to Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development America has the most expensive higher education in the world: $26,000 a year, on average, and the college graduation rates of America’s young are growing at nearly the slowest pace in the industrial world. As stated by a November 13, 2014 Time Magazine article by Kim Clark, education costs are increasing faster than financial aid and average income growth. This is proven by a 2014 College Board report that stated even after subtracting scholarships and grants, the average cost of a public education rose by 3.5%, and the average net cost of attending a private college was up 4.1%. Therefore, financial aid is failing at its basic task "to provide higher education to less privileged Americans". According to an October 7, 2014 New York Times article research done by Claudia Goldin of Harvard and Stephanie Riegg Cellini of George Washington University found that for-profit institutions that get federal subsidies charge, on average, 78 percent more than for-profit institutions that are not eligible for aid. The price difference is almost identical to the value of the subsidy. This is causing an unequal opportunity for middle and working class Americans to obtain a college degree. Increasing financial aid would not fix the problem because colleges will just continue raising prices knowing that financial aid is there for the people who can't afford their tuition prices, and given the fact that most Americans associate higher tuition costs with better education it’s not in colleges interests to lower their tuition rates. So, my solution is to provide higher education in high school at a subsidized price. These college based classes will not be made mandatory, but offered for the kids that want a higher education but might not be able to afford the full burden of a four year college tuition. These classes can be offered by high schools with AP classes, college classes through online lectures, or partnering with a local community colleges. Higher education is the road that leads people to success and opportunity in their life. Opportunity is what this country was founded upon and to quote president Obama "Opportunity means making college more affordable." I believe that by implementing college based classes in high school more people will have the opportunity to further their education and experience all the success and opportunity that life offers.

-Austin Lozano

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Reforming the Use and Application of Standardized Tests

Standardized Testing has long been a hot topic of debate. A large reason why Standardized Testing is still being used is the No Child Left Behind Act. It requires that all public schools in America meet a certain standard in order to receive federal education funding. This has been proven to leave minorities at a distinct disadvantage. Title I schools receive on average $1,200 less per student than regular schools, which leaves a large hole in schools’ budgets (Hanna). Below is a chart that demonstrates how this could affect two different schools.

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Fundamentally, the principle behind NCLB is flawed. It relies on the idea that schools will be motivated to improve by the threat of having their funding cut. However this is a very idealistic vison. In reality, schools need funding to improve. Therefore cutting funding and then expecting improvement is illogical. Schools don’t have the resources they need to improve so they stagnate or even deteriorate.

Aside from that, the NCLB has been proven to not close the achievement gap between high and low income students. The only measurable change found was in elementary mathematics. Other than that, there was no statistically significant change (Quinton).

To improve this, drastic measures need to be taken. First of all, the achievement measurement system needs to be improved greatly. Standardized tests vastly misrepresent the ability of our students and only test for one type of proficiency. Instead, am more holistic approach should be taken, with students being evaluate on projects, papers, speeches and some tests, rather than a one-size-fits all standardized test (How Standardized Testing Damages Education).

Another side effect of a more holistic evaluation would be that teacher would stop teaching to the test. In many classrooms around America, teachers are pressured into to teaching the specific material that will be on the test, due to the fact that the test has so many repercussions. This style of teaching only leads to kids who regurgitate information rather than students who are able to think for themselves. Other countries take this approach to achievement measurement and are much more successful than the US is.

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Aside from the measurement aspect, the reward aspect also needs to be reformed. Rather than punishing schools for not improving, each school receive the funds necessary to do what they see fit and hire the staff they need. Of course their budgets would have to be approved by an independent oversight committee to prevent abuse. Then, high achieving school receive a bonus for their success which they could spend on more ambitions programs. However the achievement isn’t measured by total success, but rather improvement, since that gives every school and equal opportunity to succeed. Here is some further reading on how schools spend their money. http://educationnext.org/how-schools-spend-their-money/

If these reforms were passed, the quality of our education system would vastly improve. Underfunded schools would finally receive the capital they need to succeed and high achieving school would still receive additional funding for their accomplishments. However, the selection process would be more equal.

The improved testing methods would help educators assess more accurately the areas of weakness in individual school and allow a degree of customization unheard of in today’s system. This would vastly improve the quality and effectiveness of the education children receive.

Education reform is a very important topic because it determines our children’s future and thus the future of our country.

- Benedikt Scheifele

Works Cited

Baker, Bruce, David Sciarra, and Danielle Farrie. "School Funding Fairness Suffers Amid National Recession." National Report Card. School Funding Fairness, 5 Feb. 2014. Web. 25 Apr. 2015.

Clark, Kim. "Why College Costs Keep Eating Up More Of Your Paycheck." Time. Time, 13 Nov. 2014. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.

Hanna, Robert, Max Marchitello, and Catherine Brown. "ESEA Reauthorization: Comparable but Unequal." Center for American Progress. Center for American Progress, 11 Mar. 2015. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.

Kallenberg, Richard D. “Affirmative Action based on income.” The Washington Post. The Washington Post. 8 November 2012.

Kallenberg, Richard D. Halley Potter. “Class based Affirmative Action works.” The New York Times. The New York Times. April 27 2014. Web. 16 April 2015.

Layton, Lyndsey. "Majority of U.S. Public School Students Are in Poverty." Washington Post. The Washington Post, 16 Jan. 2015. Web. 25 Apr. 2015

Nhan, Doris. "Analysis: How Much States Spend on Their Kids Really Does Matter." National Journal. N.p., 16 Oct. 2013. Web. 25 Apr. 2015.

Porter, Eduardo. "Why Aid for College Is Missing the Mark." The New York Times. The New York Times, 07 Oct. 2014.

Quinton, Sophie. "The Lessons of No Child Left Behind." Www.nationaljournal.com. National Journal, 24 Apr. 2015. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.

"How Standardized Testing Damages Education." Fairtest.org. Fair Test, 28 Aug. 2007. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.

“Poverty by Race/Ethnicity.” Henry J Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Family Foundation. 2013.