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The structure of inequality in US education

Linda Darling-Hammond’s (1990) article on the inequality and access to knowledge in the American educational system presents the structures and functions that have perpetuated and led to the present inequality to access to education for minority students. Her discussion begins with the structure of inequality, the role of money, access to good teaching, tracking and the rationing of curriculum which has all contributed to the inequality of access to educations, she ends her discussions with suggestions on policy changes that would promote equality in education.

This paper will present a critical summary of the article based on the author’s claims and arguments. The structure of inequality in US education Darling-Hammond traces the history of inequality of access to education in America, she argues that inequality have been woven into the social structure of American societies due to the discrimination of minority groups, most especially the exclusion and segregation of Blacks from mainstream schools.

She also presents convincing statistics on the discrepancies of educational attainment between minority groups of African Americans and Hispanics compared to Americans in general. Moreover, the unequal distribution of educational opportunities has been caused by the inequality in funding of schools in the country. The amount of money allocated in educating a student in each school can spell the difference with the quality of education. The disparities in educational funding have been brought to courts and have enjoined positive response wherein the court ordered massive reallocation of school resources.

She however counters that even with the court orders, in reality, the difference in resources in schools have not improved, she substantiates it by citing student responses as reported by Kozol (1991) in Savage Inequalities. On the other hand, the difficulty in establishing the legality of school funding has also added to the problem of inequality, the courts decisions have been inconsistent depending on the arguments presented by the concerned parties. Lastly, she reported that a popular sentiment at that time was that money did not make any difference in the academic performance of students.

Darling-Hammond convinces the reader that inequality in access to education between minority groups and white Americans have existed for a long time and that despite measures to correct this, it is too much ingrained in our social structure, for her inequality have been caused by discrimination against minorities, the school funding system and the lack of uniform state policies for educational funding. The author is right about how pervasive inequality in access to education is in our society, and she has exhaustively discussed it with sound researches and reports to justify it.

How money makes a difference In this section, the author counters the popular view that money does not help or improve students’ academic performance. She presented the popular report of Coleman (1966) which says that school funding does not affect school achievement which she counters with the research of Ferguson (1991) that found that quality teachers significantly improve academic performance, and the problem is that in order to hire qualified and effective teachers schools must have attractive salaries and benefits to keep good teachers.

The author is telling us that money do make a difference, not for building new classrooms or special equipments but to start with qualified teachers and quality instruction and rightly so. Access to good teaching Taking from the idea that qualified and good teachers improve academic performance, the author discusses the inequality of access to good teaching. There is a prevalent unequal distribution of teachers, wherein ill-qualified teachers are in the most populated schools where most minority students attend and good teachers are in good schools that are predominantly white and have greater funding.

She gives data on the number of unqualified teachers being hired by most inner city public schools. Hence, educational opportunities and the learning of minority students are compromised, in effect when compared to the general American students, they lag in academic skills and competency. She further explains that good teaching matters because students can learn more effectively if they have a well-prepared, qualified, confident and sensitive teacher who can better answer the needs of students in the classroom.

Given that minority students attend poorly funded schools and they are already disadvantaged from this area, having a good teacher would have equalized the discrepancy since they would still have access to good teaching. But as is the case, good teachers often do not stay with poor schools because it is not compensating enough. Moreover, without a good faculty line-up, poor schools also have limited offerings of courses, curriculum materials and equipment which again put minority students at a disadvantage.

Hence, lessons taught are outdated, equipments are outmoded and courses are not varied and do not prepare students for higher learning, which again contributes to the inequality in education. Tracking and the rationing of curriculum Darling-Hammond argues that tracking and rationing of curriculums in schools have had a hand in limiting the educational opportunities of minority students. Tracking has been a popular system of ability grouping in the country and although research have pointed out that it does not help the achievers and the underachievers it is still implemented.

Tracking groups students based on their abilities and usually the best teachers handle the best students because of the assumption that they are more equipped to do so. But the author argues that underachievers or low ability students could also benefit from good teaching. Tracking have made it possible the segregation of students and rationing of curriculum, wherein low achieving students (minority groups) are subjected to a limited curriculum, thereby limiting the number of subjects and skills that the students would learn as compared to those on higher tracks.

The author also proposes that difference in the allocation of resources in schools are justified and supported by the continued use of standardized testing in our educational system. She questions the way test data are used and whether it adequately measures learning and achievement. Besides the idea that using tests scores to label students and to dictate his/her future in our educational system is an injustice. Further, the author argues against the logic of using worksheet based instruction to teach students of important concepts and skills.

The use of worksheets in teaching is not effective; it reduces the interaction of students and teachers as well as between students. In the same way, worksheets cannot take the place of classroom discussions; experiential learning and other activities that would help develop student’s critical thinking skills. The extensive us of standardized tests and worksheets again places minority students at a disadvantage since standardized tests are often not friendly to minority groups and worksheets are often used at poor schools where teachers and materials are limited.

Policy for equality: Toward equalization of educational opportunity In this part, the author proposes steps that should be undertaken by the government and the educational system to equalize access to education for all regardless of race, ethnicity, disability, intelligence and socioeconomic status. First, is resource equalization, this would entail an overhaul of how resources are given to schools within a district and within states as well as reviewing policies that places minority students at a disadvantage.

Second is that there should be curriculum and assessment reform, this should involve revising tracking, doing away with rote learning, and using other forms of assessment like performance-based evaluations. And lastly, investing in good teaching for all students, to think that only good students can manage the demands of good teachers is false. When students have good teachers even if the school is poor in equipments and materials, there would still be quality education for all, thus a major portion of educational funding should be given to developing teachers and retaining them.

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