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Equality in the American System of Education Research Paper


Humans today are better than most of their forbearers, but that does not infer they have become equal amongst themselves. According to Andrew Carnegie, the problem of our age is the proper administration of wealth in such a manner that would lead people to attach to each other as a family and live in harmony (Carnegie, The “Gospel of Wealth” Essays and Other Writings 10).

The problem of distribution of wealth percolates through all walks of life and is the only sustained challenge for humanity despite revolutionary changes in the past few centuries. Despite the gloomy picture painted, the view of many authors on economics and philosophy point to a possible solution for equality and they can be applied in the education context.

Economic development and capitalism have led to the advancement of individual goals and interests, which have collectively led to an increase in opportunities for individual achievement. As such, people today are capable of obtaining objects and resources that were fit for kings only just a few years ago (Carnegie, The Gospel of Wealth 481-498).

Ideas of Equality

Education in schools should lead to the better cohesion of society with equal opportunities for all. However, the current reforms and structures in the American system lead to additional segregation. Unfortunately, majority and minority groups end up at different ends of the divide.

Urban schools are supposed to be very good so that those who are privileged in society do not have a reason to abandon them (Kozol 60). Rather than going for adequate resources, the government should be focusing on equitable funding. Schools currently doing well are raising funds separately to subsidize their education.

Those that cannot raise funds and rely on government remain behind. The problem of education is a problem of a rigged funding system according to Jonathan Kozol. As long as school funding depends on local property wealth, education will be skewed against the weak. These sentiments by Jonathan Kozol bring out the aim of education, which should be to offer equitable learning opportunities to all (Kozol 167-168).

One may ask whether Americans have an equality vision related to the American dream. Americans believe that they will have the equal opportunity through hard work to sustain their livelihoods, expand their interests and provide for their families in a prosperous way. In the 1830s, there was a very large percentage of middle-class people and a minute percentage of rich people in the American society.

More important was the fact that someone could start as a servant and end up as a property owner in life. Thus, scholars concluded that having relative economic equality and being able to provide a high social mobility would be what countries need to thrive and sustain their stability (Garfinkle 13).

In the America of the past, education was a state and local affair. Unfortunately, the status has since changed to become chaotic. Schools are still segregated due to ill systems of the past and lack of initiatives to correct the problems.

In cases where there have been attempts to fix the system, some philosophies have misadvised practitioners and policy makers such that the eventualities are dire for equality in education. In “The Death and Life of the Great American School”, a guide through the mess is available (Ravitch 11).

However, the author also shows that systems hailed as great have succumbed to lack criticism and unchecked influence. Entities that offer funds to every think tank organization in the field of education are inherently shaping the discourse of modern education.

They affect the opinion of scholars, policy makers, and practitioners. Through grants, they limit the investigation into alternative forms of education systems or corrective policies that can remove the harm of discrimination that relies on conventional equality systems.

Reforms in education have been utopian and naïve in different periods of history. Their results were catastrophic, and additional reformed were needed to correct the problems created in the first place. Ravitch provides a view of education from a state perspective (67).

She then explores the market-based view of education, which would borrow many of its teachings from the deliberations by Carnegie in the “Gospel of Wealth” (481). Today, policies like No Child Left Behind, and charter schools or use of school vouchers to pay families so that they can pick their choice of public and private schools are the main recipients of criticism regarding equality in education.

These policies and programs work. However, they do not yield the expected threshold of reform that result in equality (Ohana 1). An important fact for championing particular systems of education over others is that one should at least have a basic understanding of both, to gain the credibility of commenting on them purposefully. Ravitch took a journey to market-driven beliefs and systems then went back after realizing they are weak (9-10).

Communism and Capitalism

Communism pushes for equality of people as members of the same society. Capitalism pushes people to enjoy individual freedoms and exercise abilities to prosper with sufficient access to the resources available in their society. Both systems have their advantages when they run pure.

Under communism, today’s disadvantaged will be given opportunities to prosper to the level agreed by society, while those privileged will have to relinquish some of their privileges to redistribution in society.

Capitalism, on the other hand, pushes for the opening up of opportunities so that everyone is unlimited to the extent of the group and personal prosperity achievable. Milton and Rose Friedman show that capitalism triumphs communism in elevating people from mundane problems and burdens of work. It yields faster economic progress.

Meanwhile, those criticizing it such as Ravitch when explaining her thoughts on the education system that is market-based have used the faults to condemn the entire system (45).

The competitive marketplace was supposed to improve schools. However, it could only do so when the redistribution of gains in the market was equal. If people have the universal choice for attending any other school as well as their neighborhood school, then the redistribution problems would cease.

This approach led to a question about filling the gap created by differences in school capacity, capabilities, and attractiveness. Vouchers and policies like No Child Left Behind arose to ensure that irrespective of a choice made by parents for their children’s education, the basic amount of teaching would be similar in all schools.

The burden of delivering the similar education then fell to teachers, as school administrators and other stakeholders were fixated on complying with directives rather than consider the impact of their directives and policies on equality of education (Parker 399-340).

The country has spent more money every year to remove inequality in separate schools. Proving more funds to the education department takes on a communist perspective. Giving more money is seen as a way to equalize gains for all schools.

However, provision of more money and more resources to schools and teachers has failed to correct the problems of inequality in education. Giving additional money to segregated schools and underprivileged schools in poor urban neighborhoods works in the short-term. It fails in the long-term to make sure that students in different schools are getting the same education.

The only way to correct the inequality problem as championed by reformers, who neither subscribe to pure capitalism or communism approaches, is to put students in the same school. If this is the solution, then it yields another problem of appointing the stewards of the proposed reform (Parker 395-396).

For Neo-liberalists like Friedman, the only system that can guarantee equality is a capitalist system that relies on voluntary exchange among well-informed agents. Thus, this view criticizes reformers calling for the establishment of one school to make all education equal.

The establishment of such a school would lead to the limitation of people’s voluntary choices for schools. If education is to become free to choose for its stakeholders, then it must have a market economic approach rather than a command and control economy approach (Vorster 166).

For Karl Marx, education is a result of the class structure such that the ruling class controls the majority of the content of education and determines its beneficiaries. It leads policy and institutional development (Marx and Engels 48).

For Marxist, the solution to education equality lies in the introduction of free state-funded education. Kozol supported the communist view where funding of education should be equitable. The national government can best achieve this (Kozol 168).

No Child Left Behind (NCLB)

Ravitich explains that she was initially supporting this program because it ensured that all children were mastering basic skills for reading and mathematics (48-50). In fact, the annual testing of children for these skills would ensure that all children were at par in their educational development. Those who failed the test would be subject to additional teaching in specific areas of their deficiencies.

The program relies on proposals for choice and after-school tutoring to help bridge the gaps that are inherent in separate schools and separate backgrounds of students. In the examination of these program features, one sees that their enactment was noble (Apple 108).

However, the reality for NCLB is that it is a bureaucratic hurdle with its requirements, procedures, and routines. The purpose diminishes in actual implementation, and it is replaced with a teacher’s goal to stay compliant.

The culture of testing was another manifestation of control that led to more negativity than positivity in schools. It forces learners and teachers to think concerning test results rather than learning. It also forces administrators to consider the consequences of failing tests more than the opportunities for developing better frameworks for aiding teachers and students (Making Failure Matter Enacting No Child Left Behind’s Standards, Accountabilities, and Classifications).

The NSLB program follows a legalized program that compels all students to undertake proficient tests in reading and mathematics. It bundles students from different backgrounds, and even those with special needs or those that are not English first language speakers. The sick, homeless and societally advantaged students are put in one category. Although its equality in principle, the results of NSLB are not equal (Vorster 163).

The NSLB is an opportunity for some students and a challenge for others. If schools do not meet the goals of the program, they face closure or privatization. Such a program highlights the problems with the education system.

It has now become a badge of honor to declare schools closed for failing to comply with the program’s demand, irrespective of the fact that closing a school jeopardizes more students’ ability to get a basic education. On the other hand, forcing standards and compliances have the consequence of diminishing time available for other learning activities.

Therefore, such standards end up eroding the benefits they are supposed to create. This failure is another example of the limitations of a command system in delivering required reforms. Today, schools want to pass tests rather than have their students gain knowledge. Shaming of schools that did not pass NSLB standards for English and Mathematics did not result in equality, it created more inequality (Parker 396).

Teachers’ Unions

Those who study data in education can come up with suggestions regarding areas that need attention. One such area has been the number of effective teachers. To get effective teachers, there is need to remove ineffective teachers. The source of ineffectiveness is teachers’ unions.

Unions are an element of controlled economies where the organization of labor is essential to prevent exploitation. On the other hand, it could be looked at from a market perspective, where consolidation of labor leads to monopoly powers that exploit consumers of labor. In either case, the establishment of teachers’ unions has been hailed as the source of teacher ineffectiveness.

However, claims of teachers’ ineffectiveness do not rely on evidence of a correlation between such ineffectiveness and academic achievement. In fact, as the NSLB program sub-section of this paper shows, there are systematic problems affecting academic achievement (Ohana 2).

In the USA, some areas that have no teacher unions such as most Southern States, poor education achievement is common. In other States like Massachusetts that are traditional strong teacher union States, which have in the past few years, had favorable student achievement.

Those criticizing unions cite that unions are a hindrance to effective administration of education as school administrators cannot simply get rid of tenured teachers. However, such arguments are not very solid because unions too want the best teachers in their membership. They would not tolerate ineffectiveness, but they can also not tolerate the rampant use of teachers as scapegoats for a sick education system (Toch 68).

Conclusion

The American education system is bad because it has complex problems that have been dealt with, with simple clear and wrong solutions. For teachers, who are the stakeholders in charge of delivering the actual education to students in schools throughout the country, there can be no other frustrating thing as having to work in a system that does not understand what it wants and what it is doing.

The education system has schools filled with incompetent administrators. It has also led to a high number of demoralized teachers. The solution to this problem became charter schools that would become beacons of teacher-led reform. They would be more responsive to local education issues.

Besides, they would allow teachers to lead the initiative of reforms, therefore making education more beneficial for students of all backgrounds and abilities.

Works Cited

Apple, Michael W. “Ideological Success, Educational Failure?: On the Politics of No Child Left Behind.” (2007): 108-116. Web.

Carnegie, Andrew. The “Gospel of Wealth” Essays and Other Writings. New York: Penguin Books, 2006. Print.

Carnegie, Andrew. “The Gospel of Wealth.” Jacobus, Lee A. A World of Ideas: Essential Readings for College Writers. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2013. 481­-498. Print.

Carnegie, Andrew. “Wealth.” . Web.

Garfinkle, Norton. The American Dream vs. The Gospel of Wealth: The Fight for a Productive Middle-Class Economy. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006. Print.

Kozol, Jonathan. The Shame of The Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America. New York: Crown Publishers, 2005. Print.

“Making Failure Matter Enacting No Child Left Behind’s Standards, Accountabilities, and Classifications.” (2012): 870-891.

Marx, Karl and ‎Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto. Waiheke Island: Floating Press, 1888. Print.

Ohana, Chris. “The Death and Life of the Great American School System By Diane Ravitch.” Journal of Education Controversy 6.1 (2012): 1-4. Print.

Parker, Wendy. “The Failings of Education Reform and the Promise of Integration.” Texas Law Review 90.2 (2011): 395-422. Web.

Ravitch, Diane. The Death and Life of the Great American School System. New York: Basic Books, 2010. Print.

Toch, Thomas. “Reform – It’s Complicated.” 93.2 (2011): 68-69. Web.

Vorster, Nico. “An Ethical Critique of Milton Friedman’s Doctrine on Economics and Freedom.” Journal of the Study of Religions and Ideologies 26 (2010): 163-180. Web.

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