The Achievement Gap and School Modern Segregation; Poverty and Education Access

Written by: Jess Kimball

Poverty is a growing issue in America. The impacts of poverty have become more and more intense post-COVID-19 pandemic. Children are the largest group of people in poverty. Evidence has shown that ACE (adverse childhood experience) scores are linked with poverty (Deng & Lacey 2022). The long-term impacts of poverty nationwide include increased risk of mental illness, chronic disease, and other health conditions (Swinnerton 2006). Currently, 13% of Americans live in poverty (Price et al. 2018).

Poor families face a struggle to access good education. Good education is not just about the school itself. In fact, rating a school on test scores is not effective. “The average test scores that kids have in schools or school districts are the results of all the opportunities these kids have had to learn their whole lives, at home, in the neighborhood, in preschool and in the school year, so it’s misleading to attribute average test scores solely to the school where they take the test.” (Reardon 2014). Many families stay in a poverty loop where they cannot afford to send their child to college and that child works a low pay job, continuing the cycle of poverty within the family. The child may attend a segregated school because schools in low-income areas are often segregated. The school might struggle to provide books and materials that would help the child to excel. The child may be taught curriculum 2-3 grades behind the curriculum taught to children the same age in a high-income area (Ferguson et al. 2007). If we were to close the gap the U.S. economy would be 5.8 percent, or nearly $2.3 trillion, larger in 2050 (Oakford&Lynch 2022).

The funding gap between rich and poor schools grew 44% over a decade between 2001 to 2002 and 2011 to 2012.  The widening wealth gap is believed to be linked to the preparation children receive before kindergarten. This is why economists argue that one of the highest returns on investment for the economy would be received by investing in early childhood education programs (Reardon 2014). Racial segregation is a predictor of the gaps in academic achievement between white and BIPOC students, but it’s school poverty that accounts for these big gaps, unfortunately, BIPOC students are more likely to attend a poor school. Black children are 5 times more likely to attend a segregated school than white children. Black children are more than twice as likely as white children to attend high-poverty schools (García  2020).

The History of School Segregation

White southern leaders questioned the need for the continuance of African American education and segregated schools remained unequally funded. While high-income white schools received funding for athletics and art programs, Black parents and teachers in low-income schools were responsible for building programs and finding funding.

On May 17, 1954, every single justice decided that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional. The vast majority of segregated schools were not integrated until many years later. The U.S. student body is more diverse than ever before, but public schools remain highly segregated along racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic lines. This depresses education outcomes for Black students, widens performance gaps, and encourages economic segregation.

When desegregation in schools happened school boards funneled money and supplies to existing facilities and constructed new Black schools to dispute claims that they were underfunded. This strategy failed and federal court orders forced school districts to develop new desegregation plans. This resulted in Black teachers facing massive job losses as white school boards closed Black schools. African American principals, who once held one of the most powerful positions within African American communities, also received demotions or lost their jobs as their schools were eliminated (Ramsey n.d.).

Most children lived in racially segregated communities and the most feasible way to achieve desegregation was to transport children to schools outside their neighborhoods. Civil rights attorney Julius Chambers and colleagues successfully made this argument before the Supreme Court in Swann v. Charlotte Mecklenburg County Board of Education in 1971. Prior to Swann black students were sometimes denied access to public school transportation. Studies showed that the majority of white parents did not object to black students attending school with their children, they drew the line when it came time for their children to attend schools in what they deemed unsafe black neighborhoods. President Johnson supported desegregation efforts, but Nixon spoke openly against busing.

While integration meant that black children could now attend schools with greater resources, they sometimes encountered racism from their white peers and teachers. Black children who lived in suburban neighborhoods also had to overcome stereotypes of racial inferiority promoted by white students and teachers. Black children spent long hours riding the bus to and from school and experienced a different burden to accessing education than white children (Ramsey n.d.).

By the late 1970s, African Americans, once proponents of busing seemed to be against it because of the impact on their community. In the North, black parents also wrestled with school boards to gain community control. The supportive relationship between black parents and teachers regarding discipline also disintegrated as protective black parents viewed discipline through a racialized lens as black children were often punished for minor offenses in greater degrees than white ones.

By the 1990s, a community school movement advocated for neighborhood schools and pushed school districts to abandon their desegregation plans. As we look at the problems of poverty and racial segregation in today’s public schools, some people argue that the decision resulted in dismal failure as some 80% of black children now attend segregated schools nationally. From 1954 to the late 1980s, the rate of black children attending white schools rose tremendously in the South, from 0 percent in 1954 to 43.5% by 1988, only declining after the dismantling of court-ordered desegregation plans to 23.2% in 2011 (Ramsey n.d.).

The Result

The poverty trap is the result of children being kept in segregated schools and not being provided with equal or equitable access to education. The poverty trap occurs when an economy is set up in a way that makes it hard to escape poverty. Scott Allard of Stanford Univerity describes poverty traps as taking “the form of regions, counties, or neighborhoods with ongoing economic and institutional problems that lead to persistently high rates of poverty. These conditions tend to trap residents in places with little hope for mobility or economic improvement.” (Allard n.d.). The achievement gap and rich-poor divide in America are causing harm to our community members, especially Black folks. It is destroying our economic potential and perpetuating a system of institutional racism where white children have access to a better educational foundation than Black children. This leads to a responsibility for community members to provide supplemental education and resources to Black children that white children are accessing every day in their public schools. The lack of access to resources and a good education follows these individuals through life when they move on to a higher education program, apply for jobs, or educate their own children. By continuing to push a rich-poor divide and achievement gap between Black and white folks we are not only hurting Black people but also hurting our entire community by creating an unwelcoming and uninclusive atmosphere that limits the ability for growth that would have happened more freely with the talents, skillsets, and ideas generated by a diverse community. It is time we do better and invest in an area that will uplift those around us and provide our country with the greatest return on investment we have seen in a while.

At Global Foundation for Girls (GFG), we are active thought partners, serving global communities of birthing persons in order to advance and support the advocacy movement. At GFG we believe education and knowledge should be shared. We do this through shared knowledge and strategies to raise awareness; expanding understanding of the ever-changing needs of girls, gender-diverse youth, and birthing persons of color. The population we serve requires an extra layer of support from their schools, such as mental health support for gender-diverse youth and access to feminine hygiene products for girls. This is something they are less likely to find in the low-income segregated schools we currently have.

Jess Kimball, AS, CLC, CD, PCD, PMH-C

Works Cited:

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