How does race affect education? The term “white privilege” gets thrown around a lot, especially in a time when racial debates are at the forefront of news pages. Even today, humanity is divided by colour, but how much of this seeps into the education system?
It is often believed that there is equal opportunity in today’s world. There is even affirmative action in place to ensure that minority peoples are not passed over on opportunities. Even if a community is predominantly white, their college program may reserve a certain percentage of spots for students from minority races. In some way, this kind of affirmative action appears to be giving minority students an unfair advantage. As such, can we say that it is the fault of minority students if they are unable to obtain a high educational level?
Unfortunately, success in the educational system is commonly measured by test scores. These tests are made to be standardized, bringing on the assumption that the education system promotes equal opportunity. Since there is no bias on the scoring front, any non-white minority student who achieves a poor score is likely to have done so because of their own personal factors – a lack of effort, intelligence, culture or even genes.
However, this presumption does not account for the fact that many minority students tend to have less access to educational resources than white students. Usually, the education system focuses its prime resources on the white majority. White students typically receive more skilled teachers, a quality curriculum and better learning material. As an example, the top 10 per cent of U.S. school districts in terms of financial capacity are spending ten times more than the bottom 10 per cent. Even within a single state, the discrepancy between each school district’s budget is shockingly high, with some at a three to one ratio. Oftentimes, it is the minority students who are receiving the short end of the stick simply because there is still plenty of unconscious bias across the nation.
Minority folk were sent to the United States from humble backgrounds. They were at one point seen as less than human beings, simply the property of whichever white person wanted to buy them. Even among those who remained free, many of them were forced into migrant labour and lived in extreme poverty. It was rare for any member of a minority race to have a proper education. If a person living some centuries ago came across any white person and minority person in the United States, they would probably accurately believe that the white person was better educated than the minority person.
Such a mindset was to persist until now. Just a few decades ago, America was still very segregated. The white population was given the first choice in everything – from where they ate to where they sat and where they studied. If there was a shortage of educational supplies, the priority would go to the white schools first. White students and minority students were not allowed to attend the same school, which resulted in a prestigious category of all-white schools that received the most resources and funding, while on the other end of the spectrum were the dilapidated schools housing minority students. They were not given even a fraction of the funds that white schools were allocated. Instead of having new books, they had to recycle old ones, which in most cases were not even readable. Most of the time, minority students were not allowed to attend higher education institutions since they took notably more resources and effort than elementary and middle schools. This in turn fostered a poor attitude among minority students, resulting in a vicious cycle. What was the point in studying hard if the country did not think it was worth spending resources on them? What would a high educational level amount to, if they were simply going to get shot at on the street? Over time, due to the continued overall poor results of minority students, those in charge of education believed that there was no point in making the effort to teach these students. The education board was asking: why should we continue spending taxpayers’ money on students that are unable to learn? What is the point of rewarding a complacent attitude with better resources?
Eventually, the students accepted their plight. These people are the adults of today. The effects of unequal opportunity can still be sorely felt, even if it is buried under a façade of fair treatment. Not all has been bad, with efforts to increase equal spending across all schools. Since 1970, minority students have been scoring considerably better than before and narrowing the gap between their results and those of white students. White students’ scores in major examinations have mostly been stagnant, while those of African American students have been climbing up the ranks.
Does this mean that the unequal opportunity issue is resolved? A look into the financial reports of schools in Alabama, New Jersey, New York, Louisiana and Texas suggests otherwise. Across all aspects of education, from the range of curriculum to the qualifications of the faculty, it was found that schools with a higher number of minority students were still at a disadvantage compared to predominantly white schools when it came to funding. It does not help that many of the minority students in these schools come from disadvantaged backgrounds, driving them into a greater deficit of financial independence. In fact, it is believed that two-thirds of all minority students are attending predominantly minority schools located in central cities, where the funding disparity seems to be the greatest. Additionally, many of these schools are located in southern states, where the states themselves have the lowest capacity for funding public education.
Taking into account the still-unequal distribution of wealth across different school districts, minority students have been doing surprisingly well to now be on par with white students. Coming from a population that the world has yet to accept, they have been making the most of what they have and finding their places in society, even surpassing white students. When we consider the context, we realize that minority students who do poorly are not simply a function of poor effort, intelligence, culture or genes, but rather the product of a nation that has yet to set aside its colour differences. People of colour are rising up in society these days, but they could be so much more if only there was not still unconscious bias.
So, today, does race and educational level still have a close correlation? The short answer is no – the educational levels across all races are more or less of the same calibre. However, the real question is: beyond the surface, are we really giving equal opportunity to all, regardless of race?