Marquette Wire

HILLIS: Disparities in education should be a thing of the past

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hellen hillisAccess to quality education, regardless of socioeconomic status, is a fundamental human right. Most people would undoubtedly agree with this sentiment. As a culture, we tend to speak highly of education. But as a society, we have not demonstrated a commitment to this cultural value.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended racial segregation in schools. It did not, however, end socioeconomic segregations. In 2013, the average income level of district residents defines the performance of its schools at alarming rates.

The educational disparity that exists between students in low-income communities and students in high-income communities is the most important issue facing our nation today.

By the time they reach the fourth grade, students growing up in low-income communities are already two to three grade levels behind in reading and math from their high-income peers. That means students in low-income communities could be stuck on “See Spot Run” when students in high-income communities might be reading “Harry Potter.”

In 2007, the National Assessment of Educational Progress found high school graduates from low-income communities perform, on average, at the level of eighth graders in higher-income communities.

A study by Education Trust, an organization promoting high academic achievement for all students at every level, showed students from families earning more than $90,000 have a 50 percent chance of graduating from college by age 24. When family income drops to $35,000, that number plummets to about 5.8 percent, or one in 17 students.

Imagine yourself as a first grader in a class with 16 other students. Now imagine every student in your class is from a low-income community. One of you will graduate from college by the time you are 24. Only half of you will graduate from high school.

Students in low-income communities face more than the challenge of poorly funded schools. Parental instability, nutrition, access to adequate mentoring programs and countless other external factors take a toll on a student’s education.

The issue is not that these students don’t want to learn. It’s that our nation denies our students access to a quality education.

In all 50 states, the annual cost of taking care of an inmate is greater than the annual cost of a student in public school. If you are a black male growing up in a low-income community, you are nearly five times more likely to be incarcerated than graduate from college by age 24.

A study by Northeastern University showed one in 10 high school dropouts will be incarcerated compared to one in 35 high school graduates. Incarceration not only affects the life of the individual, but also the life of his or her family.

Conversations with educators in low-income communities confirmed this belief. One teacher noted many students make multiple household changes throughout the year. These changes often happen as a result of the incarceration of a parent. Moving into a grandparent’s or aunt’s house can mean a change in school district, which disrupts not only the continuity of the student’s education, but also the fluidity of classroom dynamics.

Education’s importance goes beyond the rights of an individual. It relates directly to the success of a community. The sense of stability brought about by an educated society is imperative to its success. When a community, particularly one populated by low-income families, is freed of the disruptions of crime, incarceration and all other forms of instability, it has the potential to redefine its future. It is vital that our nation addresses this disparity if we hope to move forward as a leader in the world, particularly one that claims to uphold human rights for all of its citizens.

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