Screen Readers Skip to Content
Tweet Facebook

American Schools Are Making Inequality Worse

Author: American Educational Research Association(i) : Contact: aera.net

Published: 2015-10-08 : (Rev. 2020-12-15)

Synopsis and Key Points:

How important content inequality is in contributing to performance gaps between privileged and underprivileged students.

In the United States, public school curricular and tracking policies are contributing to the growing performance gap between poor and rich students.

The belief that schools are the great equalizer, helping students overcome the inequalities of poverty, is a myth.

Main Digest

The answer appears to be yes! Schooling plays a surprisingly large role in short-changing the nation's most economically disadvantaged students of critical math skills, according to a study published today in Educational Researcher, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association.

Findings from the study indicate that unequal access to rigorous mathematics content is widening the gap in performance on a prominent international math literacy test between low and high-income students, not only in the United States but in countries worldwide.

Data

Using data from the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), conducted by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), researchers from Michigan State University and OECD confirmed not only that low-income students are more likely to be exposed to weaker math content in schools, but also that a substantial share of the gap in math performance between economically advantaged and disadvantaged students is related to those curricular inequalities.

Authors

The authors - William H. Schmidt, Nathan Burroughs, and Richard Houang, all of Michigan State University, and Pablo Zoido, of OECD - found that in almost every one of the 62 countries examined, including the United States, a significant amount was added to the social class-related performance gap because of what students studied in schools. The 2012 PISA was the first international study to include student-level indicators of exposure to math content. The authors relied on data from more than 300,000 students, who ranged in age from 15 years and 3 months to 16 years and 2 months.

Findings

"Our findings support previous research by showing that affluent students are consistently provided with greater opportunity to learn more rigorous content, and that students who are exposed to higher-level math have a better ability to apply it to addressing real-world situations of contemporary adult life, such as calculating interest, discounts, and estimating the required amount of carpeting for a room," said Schmidt, a University Distinguished Professor of Statistics and Education at Michigan State University. "But now we know just how important content inequality is in contributing to performance gaps between privileged and underprivileged students."

In the United States, over one-third of the social class-related gap in student performance on the math literacy test was associated with unequal access to rigorous content. The other two-thirds was associated directly with students' family and community background.

On average, across the 33 OECD countries studied, roughly a third of the relationship of socioeconomic status (SES) to math literacy was due to inequalities in math coverage, with sizable variation across countries, ranging from nearly 58 percent in the Netherlands to less than 10 percent in Iceland and Sweden. (See Table 1 below for complete OECD country ranking.)

Among the 33 OECD participating countries, the U.S. ranked 11th in the relative importance of schooling to SES inequality.

There are striking differences in how countries group their students and structure their instructional opportunities, meaning that in countries like the U.S. there are greater within-school inequalities in content coverage, while in other countries such as France, Germany, and Japan inequalities are larger between schools.

Regardless of whether unequal learning opportunities for lower-income students were found within or between schools, they exacerbated inequitable student outcomes.

"In the United States, public school curricular and tracking policies are contributing to the growing performance gap between poor and rich students," said Schmidt.

"Because of differences in content exposure for low- and high-income students in this country, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer," said Schmidt. "The belief that schools are the great equalizer, helping students overcome the inequalities of poverty, is a myth."

Burroughs, a senior research associate at Michigan State University, noted that the findings have major implications for school officials, given that content exposure is far more subject to school policies than are broader socioeconomic conditions.

Percentage of Total Socioeconomic Inequality Contributed by Unequal Access to Rigorous Mathematics
Rank COUNTRY % Contributed
1 Netherlands 58%
2 Korea 56%
3 Australia 52%
4 Austria 47%
4 United Kingdom 47%
6 Belgium 43%
6 Germany 43%
6 Japan 43%
9 Spain 42%
10 New Zealand 40%
11 Canada 37%
11 United States 37%
13 Czech Republic 36%
14 Ireland 35%
14 Italy 35%
16 France 34%
17 Finland 32%
17 Switzerland 32%
19 Slovak Republic 31%
20 Hungary 30%
21 Chile 29%
22 Denmark 26%
23 Mexico 25%
24 Luxembourg 24%
25 Israel 23%
25 Portugal 23%
27 Slovenia 20%
27 Turkey 20%
29 Estonia 16%
29 Poland 16%
31 Greece 13%
32 Iceland 9%
33 Sweden 1%

OECD Average = 32%

(i)Source/Reference: American Educational Research Association. Disabled World makes no warranties or representations in connection therewith. Content may have been edited for style, clarity or length.

Related Documents


Important:

Disabled World is strictly a news and information website provided for general informational purpose only and does not constitute medical advice. Materials presented are in no way meant to be a substitute for professional medical care by a qualified practitioner, nor should they be construed as such. Any 3rd party offering or advertising on disabled-world.com does not constitute endorsement by Disabled World. Please report outdated or inaccurate information to us.