Equity in Education: Income and Race

Diversity is important in education. Jeanne L. Reid and Sharon Lynn Kagan at the National Center for Children and Families, Teachers College, Columbia University cite several research that demonstrate that "peer diversity may also offer important social benefits to all children, irrespective of their socieconomic status." Diversity offers opportunities to hear and see different perspectives. While we pay attention to integrating schools in terms of race, we cannot neglect other forms of segregation. One form, which clearly is on the rise based on a recent work by Reardon et al. is segregation by income. They find that "that income segregation has increased sharply in recent decades among families with children and that income inequality is a strong and consistent predictor of income segregation." This is residential segregation but since schools are often assigned to a child's zip code, residential segregation can lead to segregation in schools.

Achievement gap can be easily associated with family income since children raised in wealthy homes are often provided greater opportunities for learning. Unfortunately, this difference can be missed if we focus mainly on race. A recent article by Moriah Balingit in the Washington Post brings to our attention the situation of low-income Asian children:

Above copied from The Washington Post

First, Balingit talks about the lawsuit made by Students for Fair Admission against Harvard University in which one particular student is highlighted:

     "By most standards, Austin Jia holds an enviable position. A rising sophomore at Duke, Mr. Jia attends one of the top universities in the country, setting him up for success.

But with his high G.P.A., nearly perfect SAT score and activities — debate team, tennis captain and state orchestra — Mr. Jia believes he should have had a fair shot at Harvard, Princeton, Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania. Those Ivy League colleges rejected him after he applied in the fall of 2015."

Balingit then reminds us of the other Asian Americans who study at the Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento: 

   "And yet, in the coverage of the Harvard lawsuit, and indeed in almost any story on affirmative action, you rarely hear from this group — the ones without the Tiger Moms and the private SAT tutors — or from the high school counselors like Spilman and Bell who worry less about whether their students will appear “too Asian” and more about whether they even know how to apply to college. Decades after the myth of Asians as a model minority took hold, we seem unable to escape it."

And herein lies the mistake of focusing only on race. Income inequality has risen the most among Asian Americans in the past decades:

Above copied from Pew Research Center

"Asians in the top 10% of the income distribution earn 10 times as much as Asians in the bottom 10%." Measuring diversity in terms of race alone obviously misses the income gap within one race. Growing up poor is very different from growing up rich and this is the diversity we will miss in our schools if we do not pay attention to income segregation.  This lack of diversity is much more obvious in the Philippines where race is of a minor issue. In the Philippines, there are schools for rich children, and there are schools for the poor.

 “You see some Asians wearing Jordans. I’m wearing flip-flops.”

- Keng Thao, a Hmong refugee