Education In America

Section 1: Equity and Equality

Section 2: Cultural Aims

Section 1: Equity and Equality


Brown v. The Board of Education was a landmark Supreme Court case held in Topeka, KS in 1954.  This case ruled that it was unconstitutional to deny the right to a free and equal public education based on a student's race or ethnicity (Delinder, Spring 2004). Although this was a great success during the Civil Rights Movement [for equal rights of Black Americans], it wasn't retroactive.  By the time of the ruling on Brown v. The Board of Education, Black students were decades behind in learning compared to White students.


Inequality and Inequity of Education in America: How It Started

In 1619, the first set of slaves were brought to America from the continent of Africa; slavery lasted for 244 years.  During this time, slaves were not taught to read or write; some slave owners prohibited such. In the Antebellum South, it's estimated that only 10% of slaves were able to read and write (Coleman, 2020). 


When slavery was abolished, a few freed slaves were taught to read and write, but still lacked the common knowledge and education of White Americans. This led to a high rate of illiteracy among Black Americans, which was highly experienced during the Jim Crow era and leading into the Civil Rights Movement (Coleman, 2020).  During this entire time, White American students were still making great strides in their learning; creating an extremely wide academic gap between White students and Black students. This is can explain the modern day low academic achievement rates and struggles among Black students when compared to White students. 


For a better understanding of this academic gap, consider this metaphor: 2 people are given instructions to travel to Orlando, Florida from Nashville, Tennessee; they are to arrive at the same time on the same day. One of the travelers is allowed to catch a flight from Nashville BNA to Birmingham, Alabama. The other traveler does not receive the same transportation accommodations; this traveler is told to walk to Orlando, Florida. What is likelihood of these two travelers reaching the Florida at the time as indicated? This is exactly what has been mandated by Black students in comparison to White students as it relates to academic achievement. 

Efforts To Lessen the Academic Achievement Gap in America

The US Department of Education has aimed to shorten the academic achievement gap that exist between races, ethnicities, and genders, but the mission has been daunting due to the disparities explained above. The US Department of Education has a mission of promoting student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access to education (US Department of Education). The organization also prides itself with supporting efforts to create diverse and inclusive education for all students. Although efforts have been made, there are gaps in the accessibility of high-order thinking courses and subjects.  Figure 2.1 below, illustrates findings of a study conducted by the Department of Education. The study indicates that Black high school students fall behind White high school students as it relates to obtaining Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate credit in high stakes subjects. High stakes subjects are subjects in which American students struggle, but are required in order to compete and be successful in college and career (US Dept of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2018)

Figure 2.1

Having access to classes classified as Honors, Advanced Placement, and International Baccalaureate is critical to post-secondary success and beyond. Not having access to a more rigorous education greatly impacts the student’s ability to fully succeed in college and career; Black and Hispanic students suffer the most in this area. This is mainly due to the lack of funding and resources allotted to schools in communities that have a high rate of poverty and a low-socioeconomic status. 

​Schools were desegregated in 1954; however, today about half of American students still attend racially segregated schools, according to a 2019 report from nonprofit group EdBuild . The report goes further to indicated that, on average, the non-White school district receives $2,226 less than a White school district (EdBuild, 2019).  With this much of a gap in funding, educational resources and materials are not equal amongst schools based on race. This lends to the lack of rigorous courses in non-White schools which creates a knot in the secondary to post-secondary pipeline. If fewer Black students attend schools with robust resources or accelerated learning opportunities, then there will be fewer students who have the support and credentials to go to college or obtain high-quality careers. This demonstrates that the US Department of Education is having difficulties carrying out its mission. 

Post-Secondary Education Gap

Figure 2.2 below is a visual representation of the post-secondary attainment for Black students compared to White students. Although there is steady and favorable increase, Black students begin and finish college at lower rates that White students with an approximate 10% attainment gap (Gal, Kiersz, & Roubing, 2020). 

Non-White students are entering college unprepared and studies show this. This unpreparedness generally results in students performing at a failing level in their first two years in college. Equally important, the college drop-out rate among non-White students is increasing; this is especially the case among students in their first year of college who have come from a poverty-stricken community. 

Disproportionate amount of impoverished students that enter into a post-secondary education, but fail to complete, earning a degree

According to census data, of the 209.3 million Americans, 25 years old or older, 66.9 million have at least a bachelor’s degree. That means about 68% of Americans only have a high school diploma. Of these 68%, Black Americans make up the highest percentage at 44.6 percent . According to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, the graduation rate among middle class White students was 59.4 percent. The graduate rate among impoverished Black Americans was 43.5 percent. This is an education achievement gap of more than 26 percentage points below the rate for White students (The Racial Gaps in College Graduation Rates, 2017). 

Figure 2.2

Section 2: Cultural Aims


Culture and Education

Early in my years as a high school educator, I overheard another educator say that she was “color-blind” as it related to how she viewed her students.  Now, understandably so, this educator was simply trying to communicate that she did not have prejudices when it came to her students.  Even though she meant well, her philosophy was not conducive to teaching and learning. Color-blindness is not the answer at all.  To be blind to color is to be blind to the consequences of color, making it impossible to effectively address racial inequality (Wise, 2010). In fact, it is counterproductive to be “gender-blind,” “sexual orientation-blind,” “learning ability-blind,” “religious values-blind,” and the list goes on. All of these classifications are defined by culture.

In the section above, it explained how the role of race relations, and issues of equality and equity, play a major role in the widening the academic achievement gap. The answer for narrowing the achievement gap has to do with culture; the student’s culture, the teacher’s culture, and the school’s culture. This issue is that educators have not been provided sufficient training and development in this area; which makes it difficult to understand just how much culture impacts the achievement gap and what can be done

Just as students need to have rich background for comprehension and problem solving, teachers need adequate background knowledge and usable information in order to know how to apply culturally responsive tools and strategies (Hammond, 2015). Culture is the way we make sense of the world around us. This is why creating a teaching and learning environment that is culturally responsive and relevant is vital to narrowing the academic achievement gap.

Consistently, research indicates the qualities of a teaching and learning environment that is culturally responsive and relevant. Culturally relevant teaching is pivoted around students’ culture through high expectations, promoting cultural competence, and promoting critical consciousness (Dickson, Chun, & Fernandez, 2015). In a study published in School Psychology Review, researchers observed over 200 elementary and middle school teachers in their classroom learning environment.  The findings were that when teachers used culturally relevant artifacts, engaged in storytelling and sharing, and planned lessons related to real-world experiences, there was increased students’ engagement and comprehension. Additionally, when teachers were proactive in managing classroom behavior (e.g., giving clear instructions, clearly explaining objectives, and rewarding students for positive behaviors), students demonstrated an increased level of cooperation and engagement (Larson, Pas, Bradshaw, Rosenburg, & Day-Vines, 2018).  

There is also evidence that promoting a culturally responsive and relevant has a positive impact on attendance and GPA. High school students’ attendance increases when they that are allowed opportunities to enroll in ethnic studies courses. In fact, a study showed that attendance can increase by at least 21 percentage points year over year, as compared with a similar group of students not assigned to the course. This same study showed equally substantial improvements in earned credits and GPA. And in relation to African-American Male achievement, the drop-out rate decreased by 43 percent (Hill, 2020).

Coleman, C. (2020, June 17). How Literacy Became a Powerful Weapon in the Fight to End Slavery. Retrieved from History:
Delinder, J. V. (Spring 2004). Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka: A Landmark Case Unresolved Fifty Years Later. Prologue Magazine, 36(1).
Dickson, G., & Fernandez, I. (2015). The development and initial validation of the student measure of culturally responsive teaching. Assessment for Effective Intervention. Assessment for Effective Intervention, 141-154.
EdBuild. (2019). $23 Billion. EdBuild.
Gal , S., Kiersz, A., & Ruobing , M. (2020, July 8). 26 simple charts to show friends and family who aren't convinced racism is still a problem in America. Business Insider.
Hammond, Z. (2015). Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Hill, H. C. (2020, March 6). Culturally Responsive Teaching Is Promising. But There's a Pressing Need for More Research. Education Week, 39(26), p. 17.
Larson, K., Pas, E., Bradshaw, C., Rosenburg, M., & Day-Vines, N. (2018). Examining How Proactive Management and Culturally. School Psychology Review, 47(2), 153-166.
U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2018). Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups. High School Longitudinal Study . Retrieved from National Center for Education Statistics.
US Department of Education. (n.d.). Retrieved from About Ed: Overview and Mission Statement:
Wise, T. (2010). Color-Blind: The Rise of Post-Racail Politics and The Retreat From Racial Equity. San Francisco: City Lights Books.

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