Issues in Interdisciplinarity 2020-21/Evidence in Racial Inequality in the US Education System

IntroductionEdit

Nearly seven decades after Brown v. Board, racial inequality still permeates educational structures in the United States, as made apparent by the persistence of an achievement gap between African American students and their caucasian peers[1]. This chapter aims to understand why, despite the fact that education is often perceived as the ground for breaking down social inequalities [2] , it appears instead to perpetuate them. By looking at the evidence used in Sociology, Psychology and Economics to explain racial inequalities, this chapter strives to present a holistic understanding of the issue.

Before the Brown v. Board of Education ruling of 1954, schools were segregated and defended as "Separate but Equal"

Socio-economicsEdit

Socioeconomics, a sub-discipline of Economics, studies the relationship between economic activity and social processes [3]. Socioeconomics has a distinct way of understanding and explaining racial inequality in the US Education system through its use of econometric evidence.

A Pennsylvania State University researcher documented that the school funding gap between the top 1% district and the average-spending school district at 50th percentile widened by 32% between 2000 and 2015 [4]. Another study found quantitative evidence of the racial isolation in Atlanta, New York, and Detroit schools – cities with significantly high degrees of racial segregation by neighbourhood. In Atlanta where ‘black’ schools were 56% poorer than ‘white’ schools compared to 15% poorer in Detroit, the test-score gap between black and white children is nearly 5-grade levels compared to 2-grade levels in Detroit [5]. Reardon concluded that the larger the poverty rate between black and white schools, the larger the achievement gap. Thus, the issue of inequality in education stems down to economic inequality [6].

The average African-American earns 62 cents for every $1 earned by the average white American and in 2016 [7], ⅓ of black American children were living in poverty compared to 11% of white children [8]. Using the plethora of quantitative economic evidence, Socioeconomics argues that unless black children are liberated from poverty and able to attend well-funded schools, racial inequality in education will persist.

SociologyEdit

According to sociologists, colour-blind theory [9] is key to understanding the persistence of racial inequality in the US education system: they argue de jure equality of educational institutions, serves as a justification for inaction, as those with the power to enact change turn a blind eye to the persistence of de facto inequality.

Inherent inequality in standardised testingEdit

Standardized testing is favoured for its objective, merit-based way of evaluating students.[10] However, evidence disproves this supposed objectivity: a 2003 study shows how pretest phases with high-scoring students (who are typically white) determine which questions make up the SATs used for university applications.[11][12] Another paper points to similar issues, with tests focusing not on critical thinking but rather knowing certain conventions (such as knowing ">" means “more than”).[13] As such, the “race-neutral” approach to testing dismisses key differences between races such as distinct social capital and cultural capital, despite repeated demonstrations of their crucial roles in students’ achievement. [14][15]

Testing systematically segregates learningEdit

Evidence also shows that making these tests central to consequent decision-making, results in segregated learning[16], exacerbating inequalities in education. Indeed, teaching in schools with low scores – often schools with a majority of black and brown students – is forced to focus more on test preparation at the expense of other parts of the curriculum such as music and art, and enriching ways of teaching are set aside and replaced by methods which place all focus on providing correct answers.[17] Moreover, within ethnically diverse schools, standardised testing is used to separate students into ability classes, resulting in African American students being disproportionately assigned to lower ability groups, where myriad factors contribute to low-quality teaching.[18]

PsychologyEdit

Inequality as a result of the teacher's behaviours?Edit

In Psychology, studies have evaluated the correlation between the behaviour of teachers towards their students and the achievement gap. For instance, psychologists have explored racial discrimination in teachers, who, overall, evaluate black students more harshly than their white peers. They also tend to be less positive about their academic abilities and attribute lower grades when they speak Black English.[19] Moreover, researchers have indicated that teachers often refer non-white students to special-needs testing, whereas their white peers are more frequently assigned to gifted-and-talented testing[20]. Although the results of these studies evidence discrimination based on race, psychologists who explored implicit bias suggested that such attitudes were unconscious [21].

Implicit bias and stereotypesEdit

Implicit racial associations, one form of implicit bias, refers to all automatic cognitive responses people attach to a certain racial group[20]. They are often measured by the Implicit Association Test, in which subjects are asked to press reaction keys associated with a certain image as quickly as they can. Results showed that 68% of respondents expressed discriminatory views towards black people [22], which evidenced the tendency of making negative implicit associations with black people. The study infers that since the average American expresses discriminatory implicit assumptions, an average American teacher is therefore likely to have biases which are detrimental to Black students[20].

Stereotypes, in addition to causing bias, affect students’ behaviour. An experiment found that African Americans scored lower than white students when they thought the test assessed individual capacities, but scored equally when the test was presented as a simple experiment.[23] This implies that when assessed on their individual capacities, African American students are reminded of the negative stereotypes that weigh on their culture and the fear of confirming these stereotypes if they fail gives them additional, penalizing anxiety. Similarly, researchers observed that African-American students had poorer results when asked to record their race on the exam paper[23], demonstrating that black students' confidence was undermined by pejorative stereotypes.

The racial self-esteem issue has also been assessed in much younger children[24] , which suggests that the stereotype-confidence problem comes from prejudices deeply anchored in society.

ConclusionEdit

When formulating explanations for continued racial inequality in US education, each discipline draws upon distinct forms of evidence resulting in distinct conclusions. Socio-economists, relying heavily on quantitative data, argue social-economic status determines whether a student will be high-achieving; emphasising increased funding and more diverse neighbourhoods as viable solutions. Whilst Sociologists agree socio-economic status plays an important role in achievement, they have acquired further qualitative evidence demonstrating the pertinent role which family background plays in producing the achievement gap.[25] Finally, psychologists argue that internalised biases, both in teachers and students, are central to inequality in education. They then advocate the necessity to educate teachers on implicit bias and its impact on the treatment of students[24][21].

While sociology bridges both disciplines, no study integrates all viewpoints. This may be due to confirmation bias – researchers tend to focus on what they are looking for and are often reluctant to validate evidence collected with radically different methods. Typically, socio-economists may not recognise the importance of implicit bias, pointing to the subjectivity of studies relying on qualitative data.

Although each discipline presents competing claims for the best approach to address the issue of racial inequality in the education system, this chapter argues that those differences can work simultaneously to contribute to a positive solution. Evidence from each discipline must be addressed in policy-making, for their individual contributions bring to light the multidimensional nature of the problem, requiring an interdisciplinary approach to be addressed efficiently. Conversely, efforts to reduce the inequalities can only be partial and ultimately unsuccessful.

ReferencesEdit

  1. Verdugo R. Trends in the Achievement Gaps in Reading and Mathematics. National Center for Education Statistics 2006. pp 3-4. Available from: https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pubs/studies/2009455.aspx
  2. Hallinan T. Sociological Perspectives on Black-White Inequalities in American Schooling.” Sociology of Education 2001; volume 74: p 50. Available from: www.jstor.org/stable/2673253.
  3. Tarver, E., 2020. How Social Economics Influences Your Future. [online] Investopedia. Available from: <https://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/social-economics.asp> [Accessed 1 December 2020]
  4. Barshay, J., 2020. A Decade Of Research On Education Inequality In America. [online] The Hechinger Report. Available from: <https://hechingerreport.org/a-decade-of-research-on-the-rich-poor-divide-in-education/> [Accessed 2 December 2020]
  5. Samuels, C., 2019. Poverty, Not Race, Fuels The Achievement Gap. [online] Education Week. Available from: <https://www.edweek.org/leadership/poverty-not-race-fuels-the-achievement-gap/2019/10> [Accessed 2 December 2020]
  6. Reardon S, Weathers E, Fahle E, Jang H, Kalogrides D. Is Separate Still Unequal? New Evidence on School Segregation and Racial Academic Achievement Gaps (CEPA Working Paper No.19-06) [Internet]. Stanford CEPA; 2020. Available from: https://edopportunity.org/papers/wp19-06-v092019.pdf
  7. Wiseman P. Behind virus and protests: A chronic US economic racial gap [Internet]. AP NEWS. 2020 [cited 3 December 2020]. Available from: https://apnews.com/article/31c7e11edc16dfc5500c82d82c785f03
  8. Barshay, J., 2020. A Decade Of Research On Education Inequality In America. [online] The Hechinger Report. Available at: <https://hechingerreport.org/a-decade-of-research-on-the-rich-poor-divide-in-education/> [Accessed 2 December 2020]
  9. Bonilla Silva E. Racism without racists: colour-blind racism and the persistence of racial inequality in America. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2003
  10. Knoester M, Au W. Standardized testing and school segregation: like tinder for fire?. Race Ethnicity and Education. 2017; 20(1): p7. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1080/13613324.2015.1121474
  11. Soares J. For Tests that are Predictively Powerful and Without Social Prejudice. Research and Practice in Assessment. 2012; 7(1): p.8.
  12. Hidden Biases Continue to Produce Powerful Headwinds for College-Bound Blacks Aiming for Higher Scores on the SAT. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. 2003; 41(1), pp.90-92. doi:10.2307/3133779
  13. Sojoyner D.M. By All Means Possible: The Historical Struggle over Black Education. First Strike: Educational Enclosure in Black Los Angeles. University of Minnesota Press. 2016. p182. Available from: https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctt1g69zjw.8
  14. Lee J, Natasha K. B. Parent Involvement, Cultural Capital, and the Achievement Gap Among Elementary School Children. American Educational Research Journal. January 2006; 43(2). pp 196–199.
  15. Coleman J, et al. Equality of Educational Opportunity [summary report]. U.S. Dept. of Health, Education, and Welfare, Office of Education 1966: pp-602-749. Available from: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED012275.pdf
  16. Knoester M, Au W. Standardized testing and school segregation: like tinder for fire?. Race Ethnicity and Education. 2017; 20(1): p5. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1080/13613324.2015.1121474
  17. Sojoyner D.M. By All Means Possible: The Historical Struggle over Black Education. First Strike: Educational Enclosure in Black Los Angeles. University of Minnesota Press. 2016. p184. Available from: https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctt1g69zjw.8
  18. Hallinan T. Sociological Perspectives on Black-White Inequalities in American Schooling.” Sociology of Education 2001; volume 74: p 61. Available from: www.jstor.org/stable/2673253.
  19. DeMeisD.K., TurnerR.R. Effects of students' race, physical attractiveness, and dialect on teachers' evaluations. Contemporary Educational Psychology, Volume 3, Issue 1; 1978. p.77-86
  20. a b c Warikoo N, Sinclair S, Fei J, Jacoby-Senghor D. Examining Racial Bias in Education. Educational Researcher. 2016;45(9):508-514.
  21. a b Staats C. Capatosto K. Wright R.A. Jackson V.W. Trends in the field: Education. In: State of the science: Implicit bias review. The Kirwan Institutes; 2016 p.33-40
  22. Nosek B, Smyth F, Hansen J, Devos T, Lindner N, Ranganath K et al. Pervasiveness and correlates of implicit attitudes and stereotypes. European Review of Social Psychology. 2007;18(1):36-88.
  23. a b Wiggan G. Teacher expectations and Ghetto Schools. In: Race, School Achievement, and Educational Inequality: Toward a Student-Based Inquiry Perspective. Review of Educational Research; 2007. p.310–333.
  24. a b Hicks V.R. Exclusionary Discipline and Implicit Bias with Emphasis on African American Students. MA Thesis. Alliant International University; 2020.
  25. Coleman J, et al. Equality of Educational Opportunity [summary report]. U.S. Dept. of Health, Education, and Welfare, Office of Education 1966. Available from: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED012275.pdf