Essay: Class Inequalities Impact on Our Lives Education Equal Opportunity

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¶ … Inequalities: Impact on our Lives; Education; Equal Opportunity

Class Inequalities: Their Impact on Our Lives, Education and Equal Opportunity

Inequalities will always exist in society regardless of the nature of the form of government upon which that society is formed. Nevertheless, it is incumbent upon any democratic society for the government to provide equal educational opportunities and to create jobs for their citizens. It is the duty of government to encourage people to become involved in the educational system and to provide students with the resources and tools necessary to facilitate a better society. A robust educational system prepares a nation's citizens with the academic training and skills needed to enter the job market. This does not ensure that an individual with an education will become rich; however a person with an education has more doors open to them than a person without an education.

Discussion

Conflict Theory focuses on the ever changing nature of society. The theory advocates challenging the status quo, encourages social change, and holds rich and powerful people force social order on the poor and weak. The clash between the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated and the empowered and disenfranchised can easily be framed through this lens.

The Money Gap

Bluestone (2001) holds that changes in the distribution of wages and salaries are the main reason for the rise in inequality of wealth since 1973. Although racial and gender discrimination still exist to varying degrees across our nation the primary influence on this wealth gap is education. The author notes that in 1963 the average annual income of those with four or more years of college was slightly over twice the annual earnings of those who had not graduated from high school. In 1987 this ratio had increased to almost three to one and continues to rise to this day.

Over the last quarter of the twentieth century the average real wage of a male high school dropout fell by over 18%, the real wage of male high school graduates fell by 13%, males with college degrees held their own while those with a master's degree or higher saw their income adjusted for inflation raise by 9%. Only 7% of workers have two or more years of schooling beyond a bachelor's degree, while 75% have not completed college and half have no more than a high school diploma (Bluestone, 2001). These figures underscore the economic significance of education in our society.

There are a number of factors that have contributed to this trend in American wage earnings: skill-based technological change, deindustrialization, industry deregulation, and decline in unions, lean production, winner-take-all labor markets, free trade, transnational capitol mobility, immigration, and a persistent trade deficit. These factors contribute to a growth of market forces and a decline of institutional constraints on competition thus increasing the wealth and power of the status quo.

Each of these factors contributes to the growing inequality largely linked to a disparity in intelligence, education, experience and effort. This unequal distribution of wealth is a manifestation of the distribution of formal education in the workforce which is steadily increasing. In plain terms the real standard of living for a majority of Americans is declining.

It is noteworthy that other capitalistic countries do not have as wide a gap between the haves and the have-nots. Bluestone (2001) discusses three possible methods to redistribute the wealth, education and training, immigration reform, and direct tax and transfer policy. The reasons for an emphasis on education and training should be self evident at this point. The idea behind immigration reform is to limit the number of unskilled and undereducated workers in the country in order to increase demand for their services and consequently raise salaries. Direct tax and transfer policies would simply increase the tax rate on the wealthiest in order to provide services for the most needy, thus closing the gap. There are positives and negatives to all of these solutions. Other possibilities include raising the minimum wage, reducing restrictions on labor unions in order to empower workers, implementing polices that maintain the nation's manufacturing base, and insisting upon fair trade language in trade agreements.

The Poverty and Education

Bowles and Gintis (1976) assert that since the mid nineteenth century the objectives of educational reformers has been to establish equality of opportunity and maintain social control, "Schooling has been at once something done for the poor and something done to the poor." The authors contend the tension between social justice and social control is manifested in the educational system. The argument is that the ability of the elite to perpetuate in the name of equality of opportunity an arrangement which consistently yields to themselves disproportional advantages, while thwarting the aspirations and needs of the working people of the Unites States.

In support of this claim the authors note the correlation between socioeconomic status and educational attainments. Moreover, research shows that students with identical IQ test scores at ages six and eight, those with rich, well-educated, high-status parents could expect a much higher level of schooling than those with less-favored origins. A child whose parents were in the top fifth income bracket was receives approximately twice the educational resources in dollars as a child whose parents are in the bottom fifth (Bowles & Gintis, 1976).

In his book Savage Inequalities (1991) Jonathon Kozol examines the difference between schools in East St. Louis and upstate New York. The author notes that an unequal access to the curriculum as well as a disparity in facilities creates an inequity in educational opportunity. The schools in East St. Louis are reflect the social conditions brought about from abject poverty, decaying schools, low graduation rates, and the promise of generational poverty. On the other hand the school in New York reflected the possibilities created by affluence and abundance, modern facilities, greater access to a variety of curriculums and the promise of a higher education in an elite institution.

Closing the Education Gap

In 2001 the Bush administration attempted to remedy these inequities through the No Child Left Behind Act. The chief focus of the legislation enacted was to promote school improvement through accountability as determined by standardized testing. The logic of accountability testing is deceptively simple. Students attending higher quality schools will have higher achievement than those attending lower quality schools, so that differences in the quality of schooling will result in systematic differences in achievement between schools. Provided the accountability tests assess school achievement, then higher test scores will indicate higher quality schooling. However, what is required for school accountability is the converse: that higher student scores are indicative of higher quality schooling (Wiliam, 2010).

Failure to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) under NCLB leads to progressive punitive sanctions that eventually find a school or district restructuring and/or being taken over by the state. In many school districts, raising test scores has become the single most important indicator of school improvement. As a result, teachers and administrators feel enormous pressure to ensure that test scores go up. Schools narrow and change the curriculum to match the test. Teachers teach only what is covered on the test. Methods of teaching conform to the multiple-choice format of the tests. Teaching more and more resembles testing.

Despite their biases, inaccuracies, limited ability to measure achievement or ability, and other flaws, schools use standardized tests to determine if children are ready for school, track them into instructional groups; diagnose for learning disability, retardation and other handicaps; and decide whether to promote, retain in grade, or graduate many students. Schools also use tests to guide and control curriculum content and teaching methods (Wiliam, 2010).

Vinson and Ross (2001) noted early on that the expectations of standardized testing were based on false premises. Proponents of the issues at the time argued that there was a crisis in education, that students did not know enough, curriculum and assessment standards would lead to higher achievement, national and state standards were critical in order for the nation to compete on the global economic level, standards-based reform needed federal guidance however was to remain under local control, and higher standards would promote equal educational, economic and political opportunities.

However, some saw this as a move on the part of the elite toward the regulation and administration of knowledge. This would enable the rich and powerful to control educational goals, curriculum development, testing, and teacher education and evaluation. By administering these processes on a national level the government can control not only what real knowledge is, but who has access to it. There is a faction that contends this creates a powerful connection between the regulation of knowledge, and the regulation of the economy. The federal takeover of public education, ostensibly on the behalf of the public, enables the elite to usurp the democratic process while simultaneously increasing the power and financial well-being of the elite (Vinson & Ross, 2001).

Educational Romanticism

Charles Murray (2008) asserts we live in the age of educational romanticism. The author defines… [END OF PREVIEW]

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