Narrowing the Education Gap

By Allan C. Ornstein

No country takes the idea of equality more seriously than the United States. We have fought wars over it, and the origins of our public schools are dominated by the concept of equal opportunity and free education for all.

However, student achievement and economic outcomes remain highly related to social class and family background. That raises questions about the role of the school in achieving equality, and what schools can and can’t do to affect cognitive and economic outcomes.

What should the school be expected to accomplish in the few hours it has each day with students who spend more than three-fourths of their time with their family, friends, and community? As middle- and upper-class parents jockey for the best schools for their children, hire private tutors, and worry about SAT scores, how are less fortunate students supposed to overcome a lack of money, power, privilege, and political connections?

How is education expected to overcome a system of inequality that leads the rich to pressure the government to reduce taxes while it cuts services for the poor, and provides the poor with second-rate schools, second-rate health care, and second-rate jobs?

Can schools overcome the effects of class? 

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