"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Why Basic Education Is No Longer a Means for a Better Life

Schools are supposed to prepare the young for a productive future. Basic education is provided by the government through public schools. Schools can vary from each other especially in terms of resources. The disparity in resources leads to a disparity in opportunities. And when opportunities are not equal, there is no equity. Unfortunately, schools that need more resources are often the ones under resourced. This sad state exists in the United States and a recent report for the state of Washington demonstrates that less opportunities are provided in schools that have more students living in poverty thereby exacerbating the effects of poverty on education.

The report authored by Havala Hanson,  Biraj Bisht, and Jason Greenberg Motamedi of Education Northwest looks at the number of advanced courses taken by students in high schools in the state of Washington. Taking these advanced courses is correlated with a higher chance of enrolling in college. Students are grouped according to their language status. English language learners who have Spanish as their native tongue are shown to take the least number of advanced courses.

Above copied from Advanced course enrollment and performance in Washington state: Comparing Spanish speaking students with other language minority students and English-only speakers
The above chart shows that for all three categories: current and former English learners, and bilingual students, Hispanics are lagging behind other students in the number of advanced courses taken per year. Zeroing on the low participation of Hispanic students in advanced courses may actually suggest that there is something wrong with Spanish language since those who have a primary language other than Spanish are able to take advanced courses. Of course, the Spanish language is not expected to limit the learning capacity of a child. Yet, it is amazing that across the board, having Spanish as one's mother tongue seems debilitating. In order to see the real reason, one needs to look at another piece of data, the rate of poverty for children in Washington state across ethnicity.

Above data take from CHILDREN IN POVERTY BY RACE AND ETHNICITY (2011)

More Hispanic children live in poverty. One important finding from the Education Northwest study is the fact that as the percentage of Hispanic children enrolled in a school increases, the number of advanced courses decreases.

Above copied from Advanced course enrollment and performance in Washington state: Comparing Spanish speaking students with other language minority students and English-only speakers
All that needs to be done to arrive at the final conclusion is to connect the fact that more Hispanic children are in poverty to the above graph to see that schools that serve more poor children offer less advanced courses. It is not the mother tongue, it is poverty that defines what opportunities are provided to children. 

Another group of children that has a high percentage of poverty in Washington state are blacks or African American. These children are presumably included under English-only speakers which may explain why this group takes less advanced courses than bilingual students do. And I am guessing that poor African American children are likewise enrolled in schools that offer less advanced courses. Therefore, the story becomes so predictable, the poor simply gets poorer....



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