06/30/2016 02:06 pm ET Updated Jul 01, 2017

Why Inequity Is The Biggest Issue In Public Education

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What are the biggest problems with public education today? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Sarah Lubienski, Mathematics Education Professor, University of Illinois, on Quora.


If we look at NAEP scores since 1990, there has been a marked increase in scores (see Washington Post blog on this). However, persistent disparities based on race and socioeconomic status have remained.

Some might feel that such disparities will simply always be with us and schools cannot change that. But the fact that Black fourth graders' 2007 NAEP math scores were higher than those of White fourth graders' scores in 1990 means that Black students certainly can learn as much as White students (or more) if given the opportunity. Additionally, some past analyses have revealed that our top states and districts score as high as the top countries in the world -- we are certainly capable of offering a rich, cutting-edge education to students in the U.S.

However, the U.S. education system has deep inequities in terms of human and financial resources. I teach many international graduate students, and they are often struck by how odd it is that we in the U.S. voice strong concern about equity, but our education system is entrenched in inequality. Most notably, our school funding tends to rely on property taxes, resulting in the rich having better funded schools that can afford smaller class sizes, the most up-to-date curricula and can attract and retain the most marketable teachers. One graduate student from Turkey once asked why we don't assign teachers to schools to ensure that the least advantaged students have the best teachers. While that might seem like a radical solution to us, there are ways we could do more to break the pattern of high teacher turnover and disproportionate numbers of inexperienced teachers in our poorest schools (e.g., incentive programs for effective teachers that remain in high-needs schools).

We actually need to go beyond equal resources for schools, because our highest-need students require more resources than their counterparts who have every educational advantage. Hence, to achieve equity, we need to be prepared to invest more in our schools and students that have the greatest needs.

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