Education is an important determiner of socioeconomic life and the success that a person is likely to be associated with once they are educated (Kingston et al 53). Education provides the chances and opportunities for all people to work towards success, improved standards of living, as well as status in society. Equal education opportunities imply the equal chances given to all students to gain knowledge in educational establishments. Educated people are healthier, wiser, and wealthier than those who are not educated. It is argued that the higher the level of education, the more money an individual is likely to earn. Apart from wealth and social status, education is more likely to keep one informed on the events occurring around them. For that reason, it is clear that education is an important aspect of life and therefore, it should be equally availed to all people. Equal opportunities include the avoidance of bias or preference for particular students. Educational inequality is greatly determined by economic, social, and racial aspects. The U.S educational system tends to maintain socioeconomic inequality.
What Causes Disparities in the US Educational System and Socioeconomic Inequalities?
Socioeconomic inequality arises because of some limits of certain individuals or groups of individuals due to their social status or others' social or economical features. Inequality in terms of education is the disparity that certain students experience while studying in educational institutions as compared to other students in the same classes or levels of education. The American system of education displays mostly structural inequality. It is the bias evident in the structure of governments, organizations, social networks, or institutions. Structural inequality appears when such organizations display some bias that provides advantages for some of their members and disadvantages for others. In the educational system, this bias provides better learning and future success opportunities to some students while at the same time, does not giving these opportunities to the other students.
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Tracking in the US School System
Tracking is one of the programs used in the American school system that creates a social disparity in providing students with equal educational chances and opportunities. Tracking refers to the process of assigning students to various instructional groups in school based on their abilities. It is aimed mainly at orienting students in secondary and post-secondary schools at education and career they may choose. Another purpose of the tracking system is to increase the learning in schools and facilitate the teachers giving instructions according to the abilities of the individual students in the various groups. It increases the effectiveness of the learning process.
The tracking system has raised several questions and debates on whether it is effective. The main concern arising from this system is whether the students in different groupings receive the same level of benefits from the tracking process. Such concern arises due to the nature of groupings, which are determined and placed according to the academic abilities possessed by different students. The groups tend to be permanent and unchangeable even after the improvement of the individual’s academic ability. Low-track students have more disadvantages from such a system as the tracking has negative effects on them. Their self-esteem is lowered, and they are less motivated compared to the high-track students. The lack of motivation makes it more difficult for these students to learn and for the teachers to give instructions. It is further facilitated by the teacher’s low expectations from these low-track students. The slow teaching and instructional process are given to these students are different from the high-track students.
The slow teaching process in the low-track groups is not of much help. Instead, it slows down the students in a certain way. The teachers are more enthusiastic while working with the high-track students. They spend more time reading and researching what they teach compared to the teachers dealing with low-track students. Class interactions in the low-track groups are less, and few of these students take their academic work seriously. Such students take easier and fewer courses compared to the students with high academic ability. It provides high-track students with a higher learning advantage. College options for low-track students are limited, and most of these students end up not joining any colleges after secondary education. Most of the low-track students suffer from low self-esteem as they do not see themselves as successful in school or the future, they fail to have any academic-related dreams, and do not aspire to enter college or start a career. Most of these students only aim at finishing their secondary education levels.
When assigning tracks, many of the minority students and low-income students tend to be placed in the low tracks, while students with high social status are associated with high tracks. The tracking system causes inequality based on different social groups of the individual students. Moreover, the tracking system will provide unequal chances for students in the education process (Hallinan 219). The quality and quantity of learning in the high tracks are engaging and interesting. It makes the learning process easier and more efficient for students in the high tracks. Such students learn more within a short period compared to the students in low tracks.
Tracking tends to be inequitable and biased towards the low-ability students. The system discriminates against low-income students of different races and ethnicities as low ability is mainly associated with such students. They face challenges and constraints when accessing learning opportunities. As a result, most of them end up not entering colleges due to the limited opportunities. On the contrary, the high-ability students who are associated with high economic status usually receive more educational advantages.
Little evidence has been adduced to show the benefits that result from the tracking system used in schools (Gamoran 235). It is unclear whether grouping students by their ability provides better results than a grouping of students without any categorizations to ability or social status. Even if there is some overall improvement resulting from the ability grouping, the system is still unfair and results in inequality since the high track or the high ability students benefit more compared to the low ability students. Therefore, tracking and other forms of ability groupings often lead to inequality among the students and do not result in the overall improvement of the school system.
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Low tracks have been mostly associated with the race and ethnicity of the students among other socioeconomic factors. This practice continues to maintain the inequality as the rich students associated with high track get better learning and educational opportunities compared to the low-income students. Better educational opportunities give them an advantage of the success in the future compared to the low-income students whose chances of success are minimal and hard to attain.
To ensure equality among the students, it is necessary to provide equal learning opportunities for them by avoiding ability tracking and replacing it with other criteria of grouping. It will help in the reduction of bias evident in the groupings. Further, the student’s self-esteem will not be affected and hence, they will be motivated to learn more and improve their abilities. Learning at the same pace for both the low ability and high ability students will ensure that all the students learn similar material. The teachers’ expectations for students will be similar, and no bias will arise in terms of ability.
On contrary the, the schools can keep the tracking systems based on the student’s ability. However, it must be ensured that all tracks or groups of students get similar treatment and that no group receives higher preferences that would likely make them be at an advantage compared to their colleagues from other tracks (Oakes 225). Acknowledging the academic accomplishment of members of each track is important to ensure that the self-esteem of all students is not lowered. Teachers should increase their expectations from the low-track groups and teach them in the same way as high-track students. Courses should be similar, and the low-track students should not be subjected only to the easier courses, while their colleagues from high ability groups take the challenging courses. All students should be allowed to decide what is best for them as well as get equal chances of joining any college of their choice.
College Access in the US
The other way of inequality in the American educational system is college access. Not all students who graduate from secondary or high schools enter colleges due to the limited number of students who qualify. The classes that a student takes and the school he/she attends play an important role in determining whether the student enters college or not. Being enrolled in a school with less access to resources or in an area with a high concentration of racial minorities, the students are much less likely to gain access to prestigious four-year colleges (Hunt 8.) Socioeconomic status plays a big role in determining college access. People having low socioeconomic status or belonging to race or ethnicity minorities are more likely not to get access to colleges, and if they do, they cannot manage the prestigious colleges (Brand & Xie 276). Hence, the inequality makes it extremely difficult for students to attain any success in life, which provides bias and advantage to other students having high social status.
Another form of inequality in the American educational system is giving preferences to male students over female colleagues when making college applications. This results in preferences being placed on one gender giving it an upper advantage over the other. The issue of gender discrimination has also played a big role in increasing the gap of females who complete college when compared to males. The issue of discrimination made women concentrate more on education to disprove this view and as well as have more career opportunities other than being discriminated against by males (Buchman & Diprete 519). The declining gender discrimination and any other socioeconomic changes in the perception of women in education as well as working women may be one of the largest contributors to the increased gap.
It continues to maintain the existing socioeconomic status in the society as it is only the rich who have a decent education and more advantages over the low-class members. The low-class members strive to attain success, but due to the existing social, economical, and educational aspects, it becomes extremely hard for them to achieve any success in life.
The strains based on socioeconomic factors continue to raise the issue of inequality in American society. The educational system contributes to inequality among students based on their academic ability, race, ethnicity, or other socioeconomic factors. The level of bias and unequal treatment of students contributes to the maintenance of socioeconomic inequality that continues to persist in the community since high chances of success as well as good educational opportunities are mainly awarded to the rich and socially and economically affluent members of society. The individuals having low social and economic status continue to face the same inequality in the educational system, which makes it hard for them to be successful.