Is Free & Equitable “Public” Education a Myth?

diversity

Reposted from Salon:

The gap in the mathematical abilities of American kids, by income, is one of widest among the 65 countries participating in the Program for International Student Achievement. On their reading skills, children from high-income families score 110 points higher, on average, than those from poor families. This is about the same disparity that exists between average test scores in the United States as a whole and Tunisia. The achievement gap between poor kids and wealthy kids isn’t mainly about race. In fact, the racial achievement gap has been narrowing. It’s a reflection of the nation’s widening gulf between poor and wealthy families. And also about how schools in poor and rich communities are financed, and the nation’s increasing residential segregation by income.

As we segregate by income into different communities, schools in lower-income areas have fewer resources than ever. The result is widening disparities in funding per pupil, to the direct disadvantage of poor kids. The wealthiest highest-spending districts are now providing about twice as much funding per student as are the lowest-spending districts, according to a federal advisory commission report. In some states, such as California, the ratio is more than three to one. What are called a “public schools” in many of America’s wealthy communities aren’t really “public” at all. In effect, they’re private schools, whose tuition is hidden away in the purchase price of upscale homes there, and in the corresponding property taxes.

Rather than pay extra taxes that would go to poorer districts, many parents in upscale communities have quietly shifted their financial support to tax-deductible “parent’s foundations” designed to enhance their own schools. About 12 percent of the more than 14,000 school districts across America are funded in part by such foundations. They’re paying for everything from a new school auditorium (Bowie, Maryland) to a high-tech weather station and language-arts program (Newton, MA). “Parents’ foundations,” observed the Wall Street Journal, “are visible evidence of parents’ efforts to reconnect their money to their kids.” And not, it should have been noted, to kids in another community, who are likely to be poorer.

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