Equity in Education

Overview

Equity in Education

Education is said to be the great equalizer. The modern U.S. school system was created in the 19th century with the intention of educating the masses — not just the privileged or religious elite. A public role for higher education, and systems for broadening access to it, was carved out over time, too — through the creation of land-grant colleges during and after the Civil War, the passage of the G.I. Bill after World War II, and the establishment of community colleges in the 1960s.

Education is said to be the great equalizer. The modern U.S. school system was created in the 19th century with the intention of educating the masses — not just the privileged or religious elite. A public role for higher education, and systems for broadening access to it, was carved out over time, too — through the creation of land-grant colleges during and after the Civil War, the passage of the G.I. Bill after World War II, and the establishment of community colleges in the 1960s.

Playing Field Remains Staggered

In theory, education promotes mobility by equipping all students with the knowledge, skills and competencies needed for gainful employment and civic engagement. But U.S. schools and colleges have, throughout history, done little to level the playing field, in some cases actually exacerbating inequality. The country struggles with stubborn gaps in educational attainment by income and by race. Just 11 percent of students from the lowest-income families secure a bachelor’s degree by age 24, compared with 58 percent of students from the highest-income families. Among white Americans age 25 or older, 44 percent have earned an associate’s degree or higher, compared with 29 percent and 21 percent of their Black and Latinx counterparts, respectively.

Notably, the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee children a right to an education; the authority for public schooling falls to the states. And state constitutions vary significantly in their K-12 and postsecondary provisions, with only some specifying funding levels and stipulating the provision of special education, for example. 

Inequality Remains a Challenge

Widespread and growing inequality is perhaps the biggest challenge facing U.S. education. Among the myriad disparities that exist within and across the education system: tracking; limited support for and discrimination against diverse learning needs; biases in discipline practices; varied academic approaches (e.g., standards and curricula); preferential admissions to certain students (e.g., legacies and athletes); and the role of standardized tests in admissions (including testing requirements; Advanced Placement participation and passage rates; and the correlation between higher incomes and higher scores). 

Reporting on uneven educational access, quality and outcomes is critical because it helps to explain some of the country’s gravest economic and social challenges. Many of the factors contributing to educational inequality are actionable, underscoring the need for both investigative and solutions-oriented reporting on the topic. The complexity and far-reaching implications of equity in education, however, make it an especially difficult topic to cover. Reporters risk oversimplifying or altogether disregarding the underlying forces behind inequality, such as racism and poverty, and, in turn, misidentifying its solutions. 

The following modules will help you explore resources and historical insights to help you effectively cover the systemic causes and effects of educational inequality. 

Highlight

7 Questions to Ask About Equity in Education

  • How many kindergartners in my district/state attended high-quality early-childhood education programs? How does my district/state measure kindergarten readiness and how do the results vary among different demographic groups?
  • What does the funding look like for schools in my area serving low-income and minority students? How does that compare to affluent and/or predominately white schools? How do individual schools compare to the district average?
Blog: The Educated Reporter

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Get 7 story ideas to help you cover K-12 and higher education shifts that may have staying power.

Despite the many hardships the pandemic caused, the COVID-19 disruption also sparked – or in some cases accelerated – changes to K-12 and higher education that leaders say should stick.

The speakers pointed to the power of flexibility, the need to focus energy and resources that will serve the “whole student,” and how increased outreach and new communication strategies with students and families could be transformative during a plenary at the Education Writers Association’s 2021 National Seminar. 

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Race, Racism and Career Pathways

What are the links between segregation among and within educational institutions and in the job market? Are “certificates” turning into second-class educational credentials?

Journalists learned about data on segregation at college campuses as well as efforts to break down racial barriers during a December 11 session at the Education Writers Association’s “Pathways to Good Jobs: Higher Ed’s Changing Role in Upward Mobility” seminar. 

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On Thursday, the Utah School Board met yet again to debate the latest rendition of its rule governing how schools teach issues of race, equity and diversity, making various tweaks along the way.

Are ‘Merit’-based Education Admissions Practices Racist?
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Are ‘Merit’-based Education Admissions Practices Racist?
Experts outline problems with - and efforts to improve - use of SAT scores, affirmative action, school lotteries.

It is one of the thorniest topics in education: What criteria should be used to fairly determine which students are admitted to America’s “elite” public schools, colleges and universities? 

Many top schools have faced criticism in recent decades for not reflecting the nation’s racial and socioeconomic diversity.

How Can We Widen the Pathway to the Middle Class?
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One of the most important goals of America’s education system is to launch citizens into “middle class” jobs that pay enough to provide economic security. But the number of those jobs have been shrinking, and the skills needed to land the remaining middle class jobs are changing faster than many traditional educational or training programs have been able to match.