Food for Thought

A Problem in our Education System


Mir Zayid Alam

The United States spends more on education than almost any other country. Federal spending on education has increased in the last five years (US Dept. of Education); yet, there is an alarming gap between students of differing socioeconomic status and racial identities. Despite extensive research on educational inequality and its causes, socioeconomic factors continue to stunt the growth of underprivileged children. However, this problem has a viable solution: interventional policies that target the development issue preemptively.

Over the past fifty years, definitive links have been established between public school students’ socioeconomic status and their performance in mathematics and reading. Several environmental factors of a child are determined, including the level of parents’ education, family income, and even the number and genre of books at home. These parameters confer greater academic success from early elementary to postsecondary educational levels. A posited rationale for this phenomenon is that parents with the ability to access resources are able to better foster their children’s intellectual development (Garcia and Weiss). However, even these predictors are trumped by another factor: race. Research has revealed that even with the same educational level, children of African-American and Hispanic descent report less income than those of Caucasian parents (Thomson). In 2018, the US Census Bureau stated that 74.3% of white children lived in two-parent households, while only 38.7% of black children did. Having multiple parents in the home creates financial security and a more supportive environment for growing children. This is critical in optimizing academic performance. As a result, many children of minorities perform sub-optimally as a result of their domestic problems, rather than their intellectual ability.

An option to counteract the educational deficit is to mandate aid for students who do not have adequate support at home. For example, a child of parents working long hours will not initiate the opportunity to seek help for the child’s schoolwork. Even in elementary school, students under these circumstances (low-income or minority students) begin to fall behind peers who have more support at home. It is most critical to ameliorate educational gaps as soon as they are identified in cases like these. By using surveys and regular benchmark examinations to evaluate performance, schools should appoint teachers to help disadvantaged students privately. Identifying students whose family backgrounds may jeopardize future educational achievements, schools can intervene before students fall irreversibly behind the curriculum. As a matter of fact, underprivileged children may even become more competitive for their career prospects.

Interventions during elementary school may be useful corrective measures, but in reality, a child’s home situation influences his development before starting kindergarten. Simple tasks like reading to a child can stimulate curiosity and intellectual growth, but are carried out sparingly in single-parent households. Interestingly, eating as a family on a regular basis has been shown to improve vocabulary (even more than reading) and is correlated with decreased rates of drug use, risky behaviors, and increased level of academic achievement, all of which contribute to mitigating educational deficits created by unstable home situations. To nurture creativity and critical thinking, government-subsidized ‘parents’ should be assigned to households and communities where traditional two-parent family units are lacking. These parents will be responsible for holding conversations with host family children from a young age and can better the children’s language skills to avoid endangering their futures.

Although solutions like these may prove to be expensive for taxpayers, the results are substantial. Personally, I can attest to the efficacy of such solutions, for I myself am a beneficiary of regular meals and educational motivation from my family. Every Sunday after breakfast, my father, my elder brother, and I converse over tea, often for hours on end. We discuss causal topics but, invariably, my father would steer our conversations towards the merits in different interpretations of religion, circular economies, and other interests. Most importantly, these conversations prompt me to think. Using the lessons we discover together, I gain not only a diverse perspective in global developments but also the skill to listen effectively and argue rationally.

The same way educational deficits can accumulate over the life of a disadvantaged individual, gaps in self-actualization exist over generations, an ongoing tragedy that cannot be ignored. In addition to mandated encouragement for conversations from stand-in ‘parents,’ we need targeted approaches that will eliminate achievement gaps. Only this way would we be able to improve our lacking education system.