Inequality in Education

Throughout all of my posts about education, ranging from the teacher shortage to charter schools, the real topic has always been inequality—there is an inherent difference in the quality of education children receive, and that charter schools and the teacher shortage perpetuate this inequality.

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Looking back at what I’ve written about the teacher shortage, the real problem is not only that teachers are in short supply because they are underpaid and under appreciated, but also that good teachers are leaving the schools that need them the most.  These schools in need have students who face the challenges of poverty—parents who are too busy working multiple jobs to be able to read with their children, or help with their homework, as opposed to schools with affluent families that don’t have these issues.  As one can imagine, these disadvantaged students can pose more of a challenge for teachers, and in a profession where the pay and respect are both low, many teachers will choose to find jobs in schools whose students are less disadvantaged.  These districts also pay better, because school funding is based in part upon local property tax levels, so districts in more affluent areas will have more funding and less challenging students than districts with students of low socioeconomic status.  This funding pattern will drive good teachers to the areas where they get paid more, leaving the poorer students to have poor quality teachers.  These students will have less of an opportunity for quality employment due to their lower quality education, when compared to students from affluent areas, further contributing to the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

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This pattern of inequality is echoed once again in charter schools, which, despite not performing any better than traditional public schools, market themselves better, and so have grown in popularity.  These schools serve as a magnet for those parents and teachers disillusioned with the problems of traditional public schools—but not every teacher or family has that opportunity.  The fact is that when students leave traditional public schools for charter schools, they take their public tax dollars with them, and that does nothing to help the school they’ve abandoned, in fact it makes the school worse.  Those without the opportunity to leave, be they the less skilled teachers or the students with behavioral problems, stay in the traditional public schools, bringing already falling testing averages down, causing more people to leave, and the cycle repeats, once again widening the gap between the advantaged and the disadvantaged.

Government is intended to break these cycles, and quality public education is a part of that.  But what good is a quality education that excludes those who need it the most?  How can we tolerate a system that will inevitably stratify people into the plebeians who went to traditional public school, and those who were able to escape and take the charter option?  How can any  great teacher justify staying in a district that pays ten to thirty thousand dollars less than a neighboring, affluent district?  This cycle needs to be broken.

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