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Racial Achievement Gaps in Education

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 3655 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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This research paper was done to get a closer look at the racial achievement gap that is affecting the type of education each child receives based on parental background. The goal is to acknowledge that educational quality differs for every child in the country. This paper is intended to determine whether or not parental background, i.e. race, education, incomes affects the education children receive at a school. Overall several past studies were presented in this paper in order to evaluate the racial achievement gap. The methods used in the past studies included surveys, observations, interviews, longitudinal testing, as well as past data from analysis such as the census. The main findings were that socioeconomic status does not in itself determine the quality of education one receive, but rather that policies such as redlining, labor market returns, parental origin and education have had an indirect correlation to the education a child receives.

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The school that a person attends and the neighborhood one lives in determines the qualityof education one receives. The idea that attending a k-12 system and graduating from high school is all you need to be a successful member of society is definitely not true; mostly because the educational quality one receives is different for every person in this country. Most of the research emphasizes policies relating to segregation and socioeconomic status. Of the research, most of the findings are that socioeconomic status does not in itself determine the quality of education one receives. Instead research talks about policies such as redlining, labor market returns, parental origin, education and how they all play a role in a students’ education quality. Redlining meaning segregations by neighborhoods, labor market returns as in parents’ income, return or investment, and parental education meaning how parents highest level of education determines one’s own education quality. The research question behind this study is, does one’s family socioeconomic status affect the quality of education one receives? As well as, if the socioeconomic status from the family is affecting the quality of education, then what can we as a society do to help the issue. What measures are we taking into consideration for change to have a more even education quality?

 Therefore, in this paper I will discuss previous major findings on the topic of policies, family socioeconomic status and education, as well as how they relate to the quality of education one receives. Next, I will talk briefly about previous research, how they went about their research, and their main study findings. Then conclude with the main findings and what it means for the larger population.

Educational attainment may be perceived differently depending on how society sees it. The educational system is in a constant battle between the public and the private/charter school funding. Socioeconomic status has a huge impact in our society and how the school funding can be set up is crucial. Education funding has been a debated topic in recent times discussing how to properly fund our educational system.

Racial Inequalities

When one thinks about segregation we tend to think about the pre-civil rights era. Society is quick to think about the Old Jim Crow in the south, yet hardly anyone thinks about the North as being racially discriminatory back then. The sad truth is that 60 or more years ago the north was as racially discriminatory as the south, but of course in a more subtle way such as racially discriminating in housing, loans, education and the justice system. If we were to ask if segregation is completely gone most would say yes, yet the sad reality is that segregation still lives among us. Among the most common form of segregation seen to this day is racial achievement gap (Ore, 2019, p. 222). In simple terms, the quality of education a person receives. Although we are not allowed to legally be discriminatory to this day, our past has shaped our present situation in education. By our past I mean policies such as redlining, which to this day has greatly impacted how educational attainment is achieved from race to race.

Redlining Law

 Redlining was a strategy implemented to determine who would receive federally funding  across the nation (Ore, 2019, p.225). Although it was a funding policy, its intentions were to legally segregate neighborhoods by race and social class. Redlining although did not become so impactful until President Roosevelt established the “neighborhood composition rule” which stated that “public house should not disturb preexisting racial compositions of neighborhoods” (Ore, 2019, p. 226). The neighborhood composition rule allowed whites to relocated to suburbs, but minorities were not allowed to relocate to same neighborhoods because of the ruling in place (Ore, 2019, p. 226). Because the policy prohibited relocation of people of color, neighborhoods began to racially segregate. Since neighborhoods segregated, school funding started to be determined by achievements in schools as well as by race and income. Yet this topic only relates to public funded schools, since private schools are funded by the parents and they have their own curriculum system. Although it may seem like all public schools are funded the same they are not. Redlining made it possible for government to invest in neighborhoods with higher income and higher educational outcomes. By invest I mean they can relocate their sources to school according to income and test scores which in the end helps provide those schools with newer books, computers, better teaching personnel etc.  

Consequences of Redlining

Since the government made it nearly impossible for minorities to relocate, neighborhoods saw a shift in race. Explicit conditions as Ore (2019) mentions, made it impossible for communities so that “no sales be made to blacks and that each individual deed included a prohibition on re-sales to blacks or to incompatible racial element” (p. 226). Instead of being an integrated neighborhood black community became entirely black, same for other minority communities. Although it is illegal to discriminate as previously stated, research shows that discrimination continues. Owens (2016) focused on finding if income inequality created income segregation between school and districts. Owens (2016) research consisted of multiple data sources including the census, the school district demographics system, National Center for Educational Statistics, free lunch eligibility forms, and Common Core Data. After looking in depth at all the data, findings from the author were that “between 1990 -2010 income segregation between schools and school district increased” (Owens, 2016), instead of lowering at an individual would expect. The increase was because lower middle class became more segregated from both the upper middle class and the rich people (Owens, 2016). Since middle- and upper-class people have more of a say on the education they want for their children, many of the middle and upper class have sent their child to private, charter schools thus creating a nonintegrated neighborhood and school. Since neighborhoods become segregated by socioeconomic status (SES), the possibility for children of minorities to succeed and get out of such neighborhood is slight, since school education funding is limited because of the population. Ore (2019) states that if “a child grows up in a poor neighborhood, moving up and out of the middle-class area is typically for whites but an aberration for black” (p. 224).

In pursuit of a better education

 Since children cannot move out of the neighborhoods they are stuck in because of their parents’ SES, the “children are most likely to stay in their families neighborhood over two consecutive generations, which only reduces children’s cognitive skills by roughly eight or nine points, in other words roughly missing two to four years of schooling” (Ore, 2019, p. 224). Since children’s cognitive skills decline, the average IQ of each individual over time also declines. For example, Ore (2019) in her research about segregation, found that on average “those who come from middle class (nonpoor) neighborhoods and whose mothers also grew up in middle class neighborhoods scored an average IQ of 104 in problem solving, while poor neighborhood children and their mom had an average 96” (p. 224). This means that while school resources are cut back because of funding issues, so is the IQ of children. Depriving children from an equal education only hurts them in the long run, the cycle of being in a lower-class minority continues, most of the cycle goes on for generations. For example, in Quinn (2015), research between black and white students shows differential test score growth, on average, over kindergarten. After kindergarten the results were that for entry math and reading the educational gap widen by approximately “.06 standard deviation over kindergarten” (Quinn, 2015).

A possible explanation to the gap between black and white students in reality may not be directly because of the socioeconomic background, but rather “ because black students learn less in math and reading over kindergarten than white students from similar backgrounds because of the retention rate per child” (Quin, 2015). Since most of the parents with children from minorities have a major life stressor on their shoulders of meeting ends meet, the retention rate and educational gap is more likely to widen, since most parents of minority children do not have time to sit down with their child and focus on their educational development.  Quinn (2015) in his research finds that minorities who have ””insufficient income often  have induced parental stress”. Quinn(2015) also mentions that “parents tend to be less warm and supportive toward their children and more punitive, which can also negatively influence children’s cognitive development” (p.122).

Other explanations to high retention rate of black or minority students are school quality measures. According to Reardon and Owen (2014), “schools that serve low-income populations tend to have fewer instructional resources, less rigorous curriculums, and teachers with fewer formal qualifications” (For example, teachers in black/minority neighborhoods are more likely to be new into the profession, meaning that teachers’ academic preparation is not the best compared to those in neighborhoods of middle class/upper class. Since most professors after years of teaching gain experience about how to teach a curriculum, the newer teachers may think an idea will work but in reality, the idea will not go as one planned. Teachers are able to teach a curriculum because of the tools they are provided.  If a school receives low funding, the school curriculum and the child’s education are both impacted. For example, in a science class, live dissection may be needed for a lesson, without funding the school is forced to find an alternative or skip over that lesson. Yet having the same technology that is accessible to middle-upper class students will contribute to the diminishing of racial achievement lines (Gamoran, 2001). In the long run finding alternatives or skipping lessons only creates a larger achievement gap between those in a middle/upper class and those in a lower class (Owen, 2016).

 Parents socioeconomic and the child’s achievement gap

So how exactly does a parent’s socioeconomic or family origin impact the racial achievement gap? Parents socioeconomic status affect education via two pathways, primary and secondary pathway, “which reflect the association between socioeconomic status and expectations conditional on achievement” (Parker 2016).  Parker(2016) research found the following:

students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds have lower levels of educational achievement on average than their higher socioeconomic status peers due to differences in cultural capital (e.g., young people’s access to cultural goods such as books, tutors, computers, and trips to museums) that are transmitted from parents to children and contribute to higher levels of school performance (p. 10).

According to Reardon and Owen (2014 ) income segregation between neighborhoods has risen over the past 40 years because high income families are isolating themselves only causing school district isolation. Since parents move out of neighborhoods, they can enroll their children in different schools since they have more options that can  “match their housing and enrollment preferences” (Owen, 2016) leading to more segregation. Although upper income families can choose where to place their child because of their socioeconomic status and ability to move from one place to another, lower income families do not have the same opportunity to do so. Since higher income can place their children in a school of their choice, they have little incentive to advocate for lower neighborhood funding, since they have many resources available to them and their child (Reardon and Owen, 2014).

Family origin and educational background

 Family origin and educational background can also have great influence on how people go about their child’s education. In a research conducted by Breen and Jonsson (2005), the authors examined on what they think is “the link between social origins and educational attainment, and overall association between social origins and occupational destination”. Much of their research findings shows that “characteristics of the family of origin (such as parental socioeconomic status and education, cultural assets, social networks, and parental motivation) are associated with children educational outcomes” (p. 227). Breen and Jonsson (2005) also mention in their research that “parental education and family income are important predictors of educational outcomes, yet origin effects are stronger at earlier than later educational transitions” (p. 227). In another study conducted by Campbell (2009), Campbell looked at educational outcomes of multiracial groups and whether or not appearances or not, are affected by parents socioeconomic status.  In her study of a sample of 15,197 respondent aging  between 18-28, her findings were that the education and family income of parents are important predictors of educational outcomes different races. For instance, Campbell states that individuals who find themselves lighter skin tend to have higher socioeconomic status than those with darker skin (2009). Campell (2009) also mentions that “those who have lighter skin tone might experience a more positive educational outcomes than those with darker skin because of the racist assumptions and practices of the larger society” (p. 427).  Enrollment in college also impacts later educational and occupational outcomes. “Students who enroll directly in a four-year college after high school achieve the highest outcomes than those who enroll in two-year or vocational programs”(Campbell, 2009), but most of the higher outcomes has to do with parents socioeconomic status. If you come from a wealthier family or a stable family then affording college is not a struggle. Minorities on the other side sometimes find it hard to go straight to a four-year college because the family at home depends on the student/graduate to work and help maintain the living expenses or take on a full job. So, they remain disadvantaged over the long term compared to those who enrolled directly in a four-year institution.

End the Racial Achievement Gap

 Although it may seem impossible to think of a segregated 21st century the reality is we still have segregation but in a subtler way. In order to attempt to end the racial achievement gap we must consider how embedded our policies are and how hard it is to acknowledge change. It may seem impossible, but it is not. As Ore (2019) states there are several policies we can implement to help narrow the racial achievement gap. The first step is to address homeownership and income, we need to try and help minorities get a set home in a decent area as well as a community help them find a good paying job that can and will help them with expenses and the burden of not meeting ends meet. The children of today all deserve an equal education, if we can help their parents then we are in the long-term helping society. The labor market return and investment will increase because minorities will be able to get a better job, children will most likely go to a college and have the aid from family and government to help them succeed. Not just helping the families out but as well as help the children by setting the same goals for everyone.  Katz and Rose (2013) say that in order to help close the achievement gap, “the nation must call for a common national standard”. By calling for a national common standard most schools will not have to fear for achievement in minorities. By providing a common national standard school will not be able to lower their standards for the non-achieving students which would help them not receive a lower education. As well as that schools will be forced to implement testing rather than avoiding it in the long run (Gamoran, 2001).


As a society we have to recognize that just going through the k-12 education system is not enough. It is not enough because we have children getting a lower class of education than they should be, only creating a harsher life for them as well as for society. Since children are not receiving the same education as middle-upper class students their chances to have them be of useful members are society are slight. The educational system needs to start to acknowledge that lower income students need a push to success. Just by helping these lower income students with college applications, homework or just advising, their achievement is more predictable. If schools can help reduce the effects of poverty just through simple stuff like helping the students be successful within the educational field and not just take away testing because of fear of failing as a school, then in the long run we be helping society. Helping these students gives them the opportunity to receive similar education as middle-upper class students, but as well as help with the economy in terms of return investments, the housing market, and more importantly with the creation of a more homogeneous yet equal society.


  • Breen, R., & Jonsson, J.O. (2005). Inequality of opportunity in comparative perspective: Recent research on educational attainment and social mobility. Annual Review of Sociology31:223–243. https://doiorg.libproxy.csustan.edu/10.1146/annurev.soc.31.041304.122232
  • Campbell, M.E. (2009). Multiracial groups and educational inequality: A rainbow or a divide? Social Problems56(3):425–446. https://doiorg.libproxy.csustan.edu/10.1525/sp.2009.56.3.425
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  • Ore, T.E. (2019). The racial wealth gap: Why policy matters. In L. Sullivan, T. Meschede, L. Deitrich, T. M. Shapiro, A. Traub, C. Reutschlin & T. Draut (Eds.), The Social Construction of Difference and Inequality (pp. 55-76.) New York, NY: Oxford.
  • Owens, A. (2016). Income segregation between schools and school districts. American Educational Research Journal, 53(4):1159-1197. https://doi.org/10.3102/0002831216652722
  • Parker, P.D. (2016). A multination study of socioeconomic inequality in expectations for progression to higher education: The role of between-school tracking and ability stratification. American Educational Research Journal, 53(1):6-32. https://doiorg.libproxy.csustan.edu/10.3102/0002831215621786
  • Quinn, D.M. (2015). Kindergarten back–White test score gaps: Re-examining the roles of socioeconomic status and school quality with new data. Sociology of Education, 88(2):120-139. https://doi.org/10.1177/0038040715573027
  • Reardon, S.F., & Owens, A. (2014). 60 years after Brown: Trends and consequences of school segregation. Annual Review of Sociology40:199–218. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-soc-071913-043152


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