The American public school system is one of the most blatantly ignored aspects of our society right now. Disparities in college admissions and tuition have been a topic of debate for years but the general K-12 education is not getting the attention it needs. In order to address the gap in employment and quality of life between races on a long term scale, and ideally eliminate the cycle of poverty prevalent in minority communities, it is necessary to take a step back and dissect some of the main issues in the current education system.
The main focus of American attention should only be directed towards the amount of funding for public schools, but also to the distribution of funds among specific public schools.
Following the 2008 recession, issues with public school funding began to embed themselves into American society, with most states cutting school funding and taking years to attempt to restore their previous levels of education. According to the 2018 US Census Bureau, the funding per student has surpassed that of 2008 in the majority of states- yet many schools are still struggling. This is because the issue lies not within the amount of funds themselves but the distribution of funds, or the execution of Title I.
Title I is a program created under Lyndon B. Johnson with the intent of eliminating the education disparity faced by low-income students. It essentially states that schools that qualify for Title I will receive funding in order to be able to provide an education that is comparable to their neighboring schools. Despite being a critical piece of federal legislation when it comes to education, Title I schools continue to struggle due to a small yet influential nuance in the system: the compatibility loophole. Title 1 mandates that, “as reauthorized by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Section 1118[c], LEAs may receive Title I, Part A funds only if State and local funds will be used in schools served to provide services that, taken as a whole, are at least comparable or substantially comparable to services in schools that are not receiving Title I, Part A funds.” The issue with this statement is that federal law does not compare schools based on expenditures for teacher salaries, but through other factors such as teacher-student ratios. Therefore, according to Title I, if two schools have the same number of students per teacher, they must also be providing a comparable education. This loophole prevents schools from being accurately identified for needing funding, since while low income schools might have the same ratio of teachers to students, these teachers tend to be significantly less experienced and educated than their higher-level counterparts.
This disparity is evident through multiple towns across the country where wealthier districts receive enormous amounts of Title I funding, while towns in the same area with low-income residents are struggling to make ends meet. For instance, in Virginia, 134 districts receive Title I funding- while only 79 having highly-concentrated poverty. Specifically, districts such as Falls Church City receive money for Title I despite the child-poverty rate there being under 3 percent. On the flip side, districts across places like Fort Worth, TX and Santa Fe, NM that actually have significantly high poverty rates, are receiving approximately $2,600-$4,900 less PER student than their ‘comparable’ counterparts. If the loophole was closed, a more accurate distribution of funds would be enabled among poverty-stricken schools. The Center for American Progress, using data from 95,000 public schools, estimates that these high poverty schools would gain almost $65 million-$1.5 billion in legitimately-needed funding. The DOE predicts that poverty dense schools across the country could see a total funding increase of around $8.5 billion dollars annually.
This issue with Title I is not new. Numerous representatives and senators have attempted to introduce proposals to address this loophole, yet the Title 1’s current formulas seem almost impossible to correct. As of now, Title I gets split into 4 grants: basic, concentration, targeted, and education finance incentive grants. Each of these has their own unique algorithm used to calculate the allocations of money that go towards them. While the formulas are split in a way that should allow for the accurate distribution of money from high-income to poverty districts, the compatibility loophole is the one thing keeping Title I from being effective.
The problem in low-income schools today isn’t that America isn’t spending enough on education, but rather that this money isn’t distributed accurately based on need and instead widens the disparity in quality of education and student outcome between richer and poorer schools. Title 1’s issues must be addressed, whether it be through altering the current four formulas that allocate funding, a policy to prevent overtly wealthy schools from receiving exorbitant funding, or perhaps even the elimination of the federal law that prevents them from being compared by expenditures.
Our education system contributes to a systematic divide between minority groups and others through standardized testing.
When discussing standardized testing in this country, the conversation is not limited to only SAT, ACT or tests part of college admissions, but ones that differ by state. While the necessity of College Board assessments have been questioned for a while, the merit of other standardized tests should be reassessed as well. For instance, New Jersey has gone through a series of shifts in standardized testing in the past decade, from MAP to NJASK to PARCC and currently NJSLA. These tests were meant to judge teachers’ abilities in respective schools and determine the overall level of education in students, but research suggests that these tests have no real benefit.
Standardized testing currently carves out a whopping $1.7 billion each year from the nation, with the average American student taking around 10 standardized tests a year. With a price tag this large, we must ask if that $1.7 billion dollars is being used legitimately to yield accurate measures of a school or student’s progression and guide education for posterity.
There are multiple factors to account for when assessing the effectiveness of these tests.
Firstly is the concern of accessibility of adequate, on par test prep materials. An article> written by Meredith Broussard for the Atlantic, “Why Poor Schools Can’t Win at Standardized Testing,” discusses how poor schools are affected by the difference in materials provided for standardized testing. Broussand details schools where majorities of students are considered low income, and therefore lack access to the same standardized test prep textbooks and materials that average income schools provide their students with. With states constantly reassessing their curriculum in a display of concern for education, they leave poorer schools unable to afford buying hundreds of glaringly expensive textbooks every few years.
This once into evidence of racial inequality in our education system. With the highest rates of poverty pervading racial minorities- 25.4% of Native Americans, 20.8% of African Americans , and 17.5% of Hispanics. As a result, people of these groups tend to dominate low-income schools thus resulting in a racial divide in the school system. Even if laws aren’t crafted to target certain races, both the correlation between being a racial minority and the impact of income and socioeconomic level on a person's education in this country is undeniably immense.
The second thing to consider is the amount of time in schools allocated for setting up and preparing for standardized tests. Going back NJ, a student will be tested over the course of one week during NJSLA. Depending on their grade, kids might have to take an English, Math and Biology exam or they might take only one English exam. This causes students to have additional full or partial days off during this week. Furthermore, most schools implement a practice day for testing, especially in middle schools, to test run testing technology. Any students who missed a testing day must take it later during normal school days. Students already spend hours preparing for and taking SAT and ACT’s, subject tests, and AP’s to the point where it seems unnecessary to add in additional exams for them to concern themselves with. The amount of time spent on standardized testing- and lost from class instruction- is only worth it if they demonstrate actual results, which they have failed to do.
Standardized tests essentially summarize a student’s entire capability when it comes to math, English and science into one test per year, which makes little sense. There are so many other factors that influence a student’s performance- the degree to which students are genuinely applying all their knowledge and abilities to these tests, preparing for the test on their own, apt at test-taking- and even if the proctors were distracting or competent. Standardized tests can’t possibly measure a school’s performance with consistent accuracy, and instead make schools rely on the ability of certain students to test well. Measuring a teacher or school’s ability to educate their students without taking into account qualifications, material differences, quality of life for students in said district, does nothing but drive home the idea that poverty set districts can’t win.
Truly eliminating standardized tests can’t begin until alternatives for measuring school productivity are found. Senate aides have previously looked into phasing these tests out against the No Child Left Behind act by suggesting ideas such as sampling, stealth assessments, statewide longitude data system analysis. Sampling would implement standardized tests but for a lower number of schools, and mandate only a certain amount of students in each selected school to take the assessments. Stealth assessments would use non-school-affiliated learning programs such as Khan Academy to test students' development, to track the level of education in each core subject that individuals in a school are at. Statewide longitude data systems would vary by state but can uncover statistics such as graduation rates, incomes, and workforce outcomes, from schools, to be analyzed and used to determine the quality of schools through multiple factors aside from a standardized assessment. The many proposed alternatives to tests need to be seriously considered to replace the current system in order to determine optimal teaching practices and the necessary educational materials, and make them available to every student to equalize opportunity. If we are going to be putting billions of dollars towards these tests it needs to be in a way that allows states to truly get a grasp on how a district is developing and as a result allocate resources to improve them. This is the only way all students can be provided the same level of education.
Both these issues- disparities in accessibility to materials, and inefficacy of standardized testing into account- demand attention and action from America’s leaders. An education system is the basis of any country. It cultivates each generation of hardworking and intelligent Americans, enabling them to advance society and their country beyond the abilities of their parents and grandparents. If the racial and socioeconomic divide persists and worsens, adequate K-12 schooling is revoked as a basic right, depriving America of countless innovations and initiatives for progress. We have to set up the system in a way that provides more and more kids with the opportunities and resources to utilize their potential.
*The author does not claim to represent all the opinions of all the members of the Postpartisan in this essay.