‘Why is high-class education exclusive to the rich?’

The racial makeup of public schools reflects the segregation of the surrounding area. Researchers and education policy experts are attempting to unpack the impact that homogenous classes have on children in federally funded schools.

When Title 1 was first passed, its goal was to improve the academic achievement of students in economically disadvantaged schools. By 2015, the goal of Title 1 was to provide all children with an opportunity to receive a fair education and to close achievement gaps.

Federal Title 1 funding alone cannot narrow the learning gap between students. The lack of socio-economic diversity within many Title 1 schools can impede upon a child’s ability to be successful. To improve Title 1 schools, there must be a better understanding of the needs and resources necessary to increase student learning gains.

In the United States, the current achievement gap is largely due to the concentration of students in high-poverty, high-minority Title 1 schools. High-poverty, high-minority schools are schools in which more than 50 percent of students are from minority, low-income families.

A recent study in the Universal Journal of Educational Research found no evidence of a relationship between Title 1 status and student achievement. Despite the fact that Title 1 has been in existence since the 1960s, the non-existent relationship between academic achievement and school status indicates that Title 1 is part of a larger problem.

One aspect of the larger problem is homogenous classrooms. These are classrooms in which all students are from similar backgrounds. Within high-poverty, high-minority schools are homogenous classes.

Former North Carolina State Superintendent June Atkinson believes that homogenous classrooms, especially in Title 1 schools, are inhibitors to student growth. Heterogeneous classes encourage students to gain experiences from their peers, creating well-rounded students.

Atkinson argues that students in heterogeneous classes are presented with people and opportunities that enhance their education. Title 1 cannot exist on its own in schools. It must be coupled with heterogeneous classes and diverse experiences. “Children who live in poverty have expanded needs and if these are not met, the quality of their education decreases,” Atkinson says.

Kirsten Kainz is a fellow at the Franklin Porter Graham Child Development Institute. In 2015, Kirsten co-authored a Brookings Report about why federal spending on Title 1 students can be highly ineffective.

Kainz’s research focuses on the intersection of race and income in schools. She has found that our current policies are not enough to solve educational disparities. This is a result of an unequal flow of resources.

Resources between schools do not flow equitably. Often times, these resources are an attempt to make up for inequities in opportunity. Inequities in opportunity is the focus of Kainz’s current unpublished research that centers around Latinx and African-American students in high-minority schools.

In the United States, the number of high-poverty, high-minority schools have risen over the last decade. Now, more than 12 percent of U.S. public schools are both high-minority and high-poverty.

In comparison to students in low-minority schools, African-American and Latinx students in high-poverty, high-minority schools began Kindergarten behind their peers. These Kindergarteners also made smaller gains in reading and mathematics throughout the year.

Title 1 programs in high-poverty, high-minority schools must accelerate student learning while counteracting movement of white students out of these schools. This is what Atkinson titles, “white flight”.

White flight is a result of middle to upper class parents moving their children, zoned for low-income schools, into private or charter schools. The stigma associated with Title 1 can be enough for these parents to take drastic measures. White flight ruins the heterogenic classroom and disrupts the learning process.

An example of this phenomenon is in Durham County Public Schools. Twenty-six of the 30 elementary schools in Durham county have Title 1 status.

Five of these schools have 100 percent low-income students. Four of these five, however, are significantly under capacity. This is likely due to white flight.

The concentration of high-poverty, high-minority schools and the lack of effective resources given to these schools suggests that it is time for a change in the policy practice agenda. However, in order to create change, there must be evidence about which measures are effective.

Effective learning measures are the backbone of academic growth and achievement. Kainz believes that these learning measures extend beyond schools. “Nutrition, environmental toxins, and supportive homes environments,” says Kainz, are key factors in a Title 1 child’s well-being.

In high-minority, high-poverty Title 1 schools, many students lack these factors. Without these ingredients for success, students quickly fall behind. The original implementation of Title 1 was an attempt to compensate for these negative factors.

However, nationwide, the achievement gaps between students eligible and ineligible for free lunch remains wide. One of the main areas of concern within Title 1 is the inability to define the achievement gap.

In a TED Talk, education activist Kandice Sumner dismisses the phrase achievement gap altogether. Sumner argues that the achievement gap is more of a gap of resources than anything else.

“It’s not an achievement gap; it’s an education debt, for all of the foregone schooling resources that were never invested in the education of the black and brown child over time”, says Sumner in her TED Talk. Decreased learning, caused by a lack of resources, can be catastrophic to a child’s future.

The combination of homogenous classes within high-poverty, high-minority schools is lethal to student achievement. Uncertainty around student achievement is exasperated by homogenous classes in Title 1 schools. Without diversified opportunities, Title 1 schools cannot increase student learning gains.

Title 1 resources must ensure extraordinary quality education in high-poverty, high-minority schools. These schools should be guaranteed equal access to resources and diverse classrooms that aid student achievement, believes Atkinson.

Only time will tell whether or not there is an acceptable answer to Sumner’s question: “Why is a high-class education only exclusive to the rich?”

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