Equity in Education and Its Impact

Why Equity Is Better Than Equality for the Economy

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Equity in education says that society should provide everyone the basic work skills of reading, writing, and simple arithmetic. It should prohibit discrimination based on gender, ethnic origin, or socioeconomic status. 

Equity in education has two dimensions. The first is fairness. It means making sure that personal and social circumstances are not obstacles to achieving educational potential. Examples include gender, socio-economic status, or ethnic origin. The second is inclusion. It ensures a basic minimum standard of education for all. For example, everyone should be able to read, write, and do simple arithmetic. The two dimensions are closely intertwined: tackling school failure.

Equity should not be confused with equality. Equity gives each student what he or she needs to perform at an acceptable level. Equality gives each person the same. For example, every school district gets the same level of funding. It's better than discrimination, but it's not enough to provide equity.

Education and Wealth

Education is necessary for economic mobility. Americans with college degrees are paid 74% more than those with only high school degrees. This gives them enough to save and acquire wealth.

2018 Federal Reserve study found there are three ways education creates wealth. First, families headed by educated parents earn more than those without college degrees. That gives the children a head start in life. They can attend private schools and receive better education themselves. 

Second, is the upward-mobility effect. It occurs when a child is born into a family without a college degree. Once the child earns a diploma, the entire family becomes wealthier. The study found it boosted family wealth by 20 percentiles. In families where both the parents and child graduated from college, wealth improved but only by 11 percentiles.

The third is the downward-mobility effect. Children whose parents didn't graduate from college fell 10 percentiles in wealth. Children with college-educated parents who didn't graduate college did worse. They fell 18 percentiles in wealth. 

The United States Is Slipping

In 2012, 43% of Americans had a university level education. Only Canada, Israel, Japan, and Russia ranked higher. 

But the United States is slipping. Other countries are doing a better job of investing in human capital. Among Americans aged 25-34, only 44% have a college-level education. That percentage is better in 11 other countries. Korea tops the list with 66% of its young people having a college education. As a result, fewer than 30% of American adults have more education than their parents. 

One reason is that higher education costs more in the United States. According to the College Board, one year of a state school is $20,090 for state residents and $34,220 for out of state students. As a result, 44 million Americans owe a total of $1.4 trillion in student debt. As a result, children from rich families were more likely to attend college. By the early 2000s, the college attendance rate for the richest fourth was 30% higher than for the poorest fourth.

The highly-ranked University of Tokyo costs $4,735 a year. As a result, 50% of Japan's citizens have a college degree. Many other countries, such as Germany and Denmark, cover the costs of higher education for their citizens. Denmark even pays its students $900 a month to stay in school. 

Another reason is that students from high-poverty schools don't even receive equal
funding. A Department of Education study found that 45% of high-poverty
schools received less state and local funding than was typical for other
schools in their district. Similarly, the states that are wealthier have better education scores. This cycle creates structural inequality.

Economic Impact

This inequity in education has increased income inequality in America. Between 1979 and 2007, household income increased 275% for the wealthiest 1% of households. It rose 65% for the top fifth. The bottom fifth only increased by 18%. That takes into account all taxes. It also included all income from Social Security, welfare, and other payments. Since 2007, the rich have gotten even richer. They've benefited the most from an increase in stock gains and corporate profits.

Since income inequality has increased, Americans aren't able to save as much. The U.S. personal saving rate has dropped substantially over the past 50 years. In September 2016, it was only 5.7%. Since 1959, it's historically averaged 8.4%. It's become more difficult to save enough to become wealthy.

It's also created an achievement gap between races. A 2009 McKinsey study found that the average score of black and Hispanic students on standardized tests was two to three years behind that of white students of the same age. It's cost the U.S. economy more than all recessions since 1970. If there had been no achievement gap in the years between 1998 and 2008, U.S. gross domestic product would have been $525 billion higher in 2008. Similarly, if low income students had the same educational achievement as their wealthier peers over that same period, they would have added $670 billion in GDP.

Eleven Steps to Improve Equity in Education

This Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recommends 10 steps to improve equity in education.

The first four steps improve the design of educational systems. Most schools assign children from an early age to either college-bound or vocational tracks. This often discriminates by gender, race, and income. Instead, the OECD says tracking should be delayed. Second, poor-performers should be given extra training so they can "catch up." Third, this includes GED programs. Fourth, provide a college education for vocational workers so they can manage in higher-tech manufacturing.

Steps five through seven concern the classroom. The OECD's fifth recommendation is to stop failing students. Instead, give them intense intervention in specific skill areas. Finland does this, so only 1% of its teenagers can't read. Sixth, work with parents more to get their support of their child's school work. If this is impossible, then provide after-school programs for those children. Seventh, help immigrants and minority children attend mainstream schools. For example, give them intense language training. 

Steps eight through 10 suggest targeting scarce school funding to those most in need. Step eight is to focus on early childhood education. The ninth recommendation says to give grants to children in low-income families to keep them in school. Step 10 is to set school targets for student skill levels and school dropout rates. Focus resources on those schools with the worst scores.

A University of Michigan study found an 11th solution that was both inexpensive and effective. Researchers sent packets to hundreds of high-performing, low-income high school students in Michigan. It invited them to apply to the University and promised scholarships to pay for all costs. More than two-thirds applied to the university compared to 28% in a control group that didn't receive the packets.