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Education Inequality in the United States Today

Updated on April 21, 2017

Inequality in education

There seems to be a contradiction in how education is approached in the United States. There is inequitable funding for schools in various places throughout the United States.

The quality of education that someone can get is largely dependent on the demographics of the city that the school is in. Probably the most important part of the demographic is the socioeconomic norm of the city.

A city with more poor people is more than likely to have a school that doesn't get good funding and in turn be able to offer a quality education for the students there. But if a city has a high socioeconomic norm, the quality of the education goes up as a result.

All school will never be equal and never have equality of outcome. But much the bigger issue now in education, and in society in general, is inequality in opportunity.

If I were to go to a poorer school or one that performs poorly, which tend to go hand and hand, I would be fighting an uphill battle in order to be successful. There would be much less of a chance me failing than if I went to a high performing school.

I believe groups of students and various school are marginalized in today's world of education.

Economically disadvantaged

The economically disadvantaged in every single state in the United States, except South Dakota, graduate high school at lower rates than the general student population. (

I'm not trying to say that this number should be equal. They probably never will.

New York is an example of this kind of problem.

"While the 100 wealthiest districts spent on average more than $28,000 in state and local funding per kid in 2012, the 100 poorest districts in the state spent closer to $20,000 per student, the report found." -

There has also been research done by the United States Education Department that finds this problem to be much more systemic.

"More Than 40% of Low-Income Schools Don't Get a Fair Share of State and Local Funds, Department of Education Research Find." -

I believe that we need to change how we fund these schools and focus on developing a more equitable and fair ability for students to have the chance to be successful. Students should have an equal chance.

The way the system is done now, much of the blame for students in poorer schools can be shifted to the educational system itself. If we created a system that gave them an equal opportunity, the blame for students would be more focused on the individuals themselves and the individualized aspects of their lives.

Children with disabilities

Children with disabilities have graduation rates that vary greatly from the best state to the worst. The best percentage is in South Dakota, which is at 84%, and the worst is an embarrassingly low rate of 23% in both Nevada and Mississippi. (

23% is horrible. I don't know how there can be such a huge difference between states. I would expect percentages to vary to an extent, but a variance of 61% is something that is quite showing of how well these schools value students with disabilities.

That would mean that a class of 20 people in both of those states would graduate 5 out of those 20 students. 15 of those students wouldn't be able to get a high school diploma.

In Nevada, the general graduation rate is 62% and in Mississippi the rate is 75%. These numbers just scream a desperate need for the reform of education for students with disabilities states like these. It shows how unequal education is in those states.

If there was equality of opportunity in these schools, there would be a more closely related graduation rates for these students. It scares me to think about the quality of these students' education.

There is most likely receiving a horrible education and one that is leagues different and worse than their classmates.

Limited English Proficiency students

The graduation numbers related to English Proficiency students also vary greatly from the best state to the worst state. Vermont and South Dakota both have an 82% graduation rate for students that fit this category, so they would seem to do a very good job with these students. They are both lower than the general graduation rate, but not excessively so, in my opinion.

The worst state is Arizona, which is embarrassing for a state that has many of these students. Nevada is at 29% for these students, and I would imagine that they also have a lot of these types of students. Again, both of these rates for these states are significantly different from the general student's population graduation rate.

There needs to be extreme change in these states to get these students to have a similar education to that of their peers. Right now, they are at a systemic disadvantage to their counterparts.

Don't have a disability, be limited in English, or be poor

If anything is implied by the numbers is that you will be at a disadvantage if you have a disability, are limited in English, or struggle financially. If you fit into any of these categories, you have a much higher chance of receiving an inequitable and unequal education. The states that finish last in these percentages should be embarrassed that they can't provide a decent education for every student.

These groups shouldn't be marginalized, but should be focused upon more than other groups to make sure they are getting an education that is equal to that of their peers. By not doing this, some of the poorer performing states are, in a sense, punishing students for not being the "norm" or for having various needs.

Need for change

What is happening in many states for students is inadequate at best. These are issues that need to be addressed and worked to improve. If we can't provide each and every student the chance to learn and do well in life, then we are operating at a disadvantage as a country.

I do have to mention that the numbers about the groups I mentioned above doesn't "prove" that these groups of students receive a poor education or one that is unequal to that of their peers. But I would argue that if there are states have similar rates of graduation for students of all groups would show that is possible for states to do the same for the same groups. And by not having similar rates, it would strongly imply that these groups of students are not receiving an equitable education.

The number of people in these various groups vary from state to state, but what should be universal is the emphasis on educational funding to create situations where every student has the chance to prosper. I would much rather reward students who work hard, rather than rewarding them for being born into the "right" group of people.

Much of these problems need to be solved by each state, but there is also more that needs to be done by the national government as a whole by providing funding for educational systems that are lagging behind in funding to other schools, and creating programs that encourage and incentive those states to develop their education systems, so they don't continue to lag horribly behind.

Every school doesn't need equal funding from the state and national government, but the schools that need more, should get more. Their ability to get funding shouldn't depend on whether they can pass certain tests, it should be based on need. Schools that need more help, should get more funding.

I would much rather see that instead of funding cuts to schools that aren't doing well on standardized tests or aren't showing consistent growth on them, to, for example, increase resources sent to them in the form of additionally training for teachers and more funding for more teachers to be hired at those schools.

Doing more will get better results. Doing less will only exacerbate the issues these schools and we as a nation are having.


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    • Melissa Orourke profile image

      Melissa Orourke 

      4 years ago from Roatán, Islas De La Bahia, Honduras

      There is a problem with Education in the U.S. I don't think it's fair at all, that someone on "the wrong side of the tracks" might not get a fair shake.

      I home educated all my children at some point. Some went to Charter Schools, other's Private. I would love to see School Vouchers, I think it would be a win/win for everyone. By the way, All my kids are highly educated, Master's degree , working on it, or not quite old enough for a University yet, but in an American School outside the U.S. Education starts in the home, we all need to strive to have well educated kids!

      Thank you for writing.

    • thunkfulthinker profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Ohio

      Say yes,

      Interesting perspective. Thanks for sharing it.

    • Say Yes To Life profile image

      Yoleen Lucas 

      4 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      As a substitute teacher in what is supposedly one of the worst school systems in the country (Hawaii), I'd like to add my two cents.

      The reason South Dakota ranks high, in spite of spending very little money, is because the parents and communities get involved with education. So spending a lot of money is no guarantee it will improve things. Here in Hawaii, education is not greatly valued. Students disrespect the teacher, and no one cares. Kids can miss school for several weeks before the authorities are notified. A lot of parents "home school" their children, and no qualifications are required to do so.

      Even then, it's not nearly as bad as some parts of California, which is supposed to have one of the best districts in the country. Kids take their lives into their own hands when they come to school, and must carry illegal arms and join gangs for self-protection. This explains the incredibly high dropout rate at some high schools.

      More money would be nice - I understand substitute teachers in Oakland, CA are paid $300 a day - but would you risk your life for ANY amount of money? (If the answer is yes, go for it!)

    • thunkfulthinker profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Ohio


      I agree.

    • profile image

      David E. Garcia 

      4 years ago

      Jim, thank you for writing this post. There is a huge mismatch between the funds of knowledge poor, ELL, and disabled students bring to school. The system looks at their language, culture, and ethnicity as barriers that should be removed from them to be successful. These funds of knowledge should be tapped into to guide instruction instead of making content very irrelevant for them. They fail and are pushed out, they don't drop out. We should chart push out rates not drop out rates.


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