Skip to main navigation

Catalogue Blog

Equalizing Education

Last week, I came across an interesting article in Greater Greater Education, which considered the unintentional effects of emphasizing equality (and not necessarily equity) in education. Setting aside the conversation about whether our country’s attempts at providing an “equal education” are, in fact, equal, the author offers thought-provoking commentary on the philosophical and pragmatic tensions of a education focused on college preparation versus a more practical post-graduate path (equality vs adequacy).

While not offering a solution to this inherent conflict, the piece considers why equality in education is failing many of our public school students and not preparing them for the realities of working life:

…Only 32% of young adults complete an undergraduate degree by 29, meaning the vast majority of high school students need preparation for a decade or more of life without any further education. These students…need classes that prepare them to navigate government programs, secure employment, understand the contracts they sign, nurture relationships and build a family. They need to be taught about the structure of the US workforce, and what the requirements are on paper and in practice to advance in different industries. They need to be taught consumer financial skills.

On the other hand, free education is seen as the “great equalizer” in American society – the only opportunity equally afforded to all children regardless of race, class, gender, ancestry, disability, or any other status. Many first-generation college-bound students only learn about opportunities to climb the ladder from that one dedicated teacher or guidance counselor at school. Ideally, any student who is presented with these opportunities and encouraged enough would pursue the college dream, succeed, graduate, and provide a strong and supportive environment for her children to do the same. At least in theory, this is how marginalized and disadvantaged groups gain a greater level of wealth, power, and status within society.

In practice, many of us know this isn’t true. Public education has existed in this country for over 150 years, and yet the system has promoted institutionalized biases for much of that time – against women, minorities, and immigrants, among other groups. How do we recognize the failings in our current system of public education, while preserving its idealistic integrity, and equitably meet the needs of all students?

The nonprofit community has stepped up to tackle this challenge, providing educational enrichment programs that try to cover the spectrum of students’ needs. College prep nonprofits, like Collegiate Directions Inc, identify students who have high potential for success in college and offer them intensive support, beyond what public school can provide. The results are impressive, according to a recent opinion piece in the Washington Post:

Since we began in 2005, 98 percent of our scholars have graduated from four-year colleges within six years, compared with only 11 percent of low-income, first-generation students nationally, according to a 2008 Pell study. Our scholars exemplify how earlier intervention, personal advising and academic support are essential to finding, gaining admittance to and succeeding in a best-fit college.

Other nonprofits offer nontraditional high school programs that address head-on the reality that many students will face after graduation. For example, Youth Build Public Charter School prepares students for post-secondary education and the workplace by offering, in English and Spanish, academic, vocational and workforce development programs. The D.C. Students Construction Trades Foundation offers students the opportunity to explore a broad range of careers in the building industry and gain experience in those fields through a hybrid high school program.

As important as it is to strive towards the lofty goals of our public education system, it’s more of an injustice to our diverse student population today to ignore their realities. That doesn’t make the dilemma any less uncomfortable to face. We’re faced with providing a band-aid solution to overall economic inequality while our society figures out how to heal the deeper wounds. Ultimately, the patient can’t survive without either the band-aid or the surgery – something we shouldn’t forget when providing immediate solutions to education inequality in the United States.

In The News …

Investing in Education, Workforce Development, and the Safety Net Will Close the Income Gap (Give It Some Thought: Community Foundation blog): “[...] while our region’s economy has led to economic growth and prosperity for many on the middle and higher rungs of the ladder, residents on the bottom of the income scale largely are being left behind [...] Our philanthropic efforts take on a new urgency as local and state governments are grappling with budget cuts that would have a devastating effect on low-income residents already hit hard by the recession.” CFNCR President Terri Lee Freeman advises focused investment in “three key areas: education, workforce development and the safety net.” You can learn more about Catalogue Education nonprofits here, and those with a job training-based mission here.

High Proportion of Veterans Live in Rural Areas Less Served by Philanthropic Efforts (Nonprofit Quarterly): “[The Daily Yonder’s Bill] “Bishop points out that 30.6 percent of US military veterans live in rural and exurban counties that house only 25.9 percent of the nation’s over-18 population [...] Veterans in Washington, DC — near the Pentagon, Fort Myer, Fort Meade, and Fort Belvoir — account for only 6.9 percent of the adult population in the area.” In other words, veteran populations tend not to be as concentrated in metropolitan areas, which are often the areas with the greatest philanthropic resources to help out. And overall, “if foundations aren’t paying sufficient attention to rural America, they are likely to be underfunding rural communities — communities with disproportionately high numbers of military veterans.”

Prince George’s County April home prices rise (Washington Post): “While local markets vary significantly from neighborhood to neighborhood, almost all of the 22 jurisdictions in the Washington region have seen some price growth over the past year. The notable exception has been Prince George’s County. But in April — for the first time since they started to plummet in early 2007 — home prices in Prince George’s County are up.” The average detached home price in the County peaked in 2006 and then fell by nearly 50% by 2012 (from $400,000 to $185,000); the foreclosure crisis also had a profound affect on Prince George’s. But this month, the average price has risen to $207,000.

In The News …

Investing in Education, Workforce Development and the Safety Net Will Close the Income Gap (Huffington Post): “In other words, while our region’s economy has led to economic growth and prosperity for many on the middle and higher rungs of the ladder, residents on the bottom of the income scale largely are being left behind,” writes Terri Lee Freeman, president of The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region. “While philanthropy alone cannot address income inequality, it can make a difference. We believe economic security can be achieved by investing in three key areas: education, workforce development and the safety net.” Do you agree that these are the three key areas? What would you add?

Continue reading