A Discussion on the Issue of Equality in Education


In the 2015 State of the Union address, the President of the United States Barack Obama said that by the end of the decade two in three jobs will require a higher education. The government has lifted the burden off the back of the borrower who invests their money going to getting a higher education. He gave aspirations about how he wants to offer free tuition to students attending two-year community college. (Obama’s State of the Union). Whether or not his plan will get passed by Congress is outside the scope of this paper.

The tenth amendment to the Constitution is the legal framework to all levels of government financing education. States began providing an education for its people through the tenth amendment. Cities and municipalities organized school boards that set up a system of taxation, made budgets, bought supplies and paid salaries and managed daily operations of schools (Imber, Van Geel, pgs. 269-272). School funding has become a mainstream political agenda.

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In the United States, education attainment is not equal. There are disparities between employment and income equalities. Higher income jobs are usually held by whites. Unemployment and poverty are more likely amongst blacks who do not have an education. Educated blacks are more likely to find jobs in lower-paying helping professions rather than higher paying managerial professions (Snitman, Toldson, pg. 5). This topic illustrates three things. Struggles against racism, segregation, and inequality of rights that have been the norm in the history of the United States. That white and black elites, the white working class, and white immigrants had the school systems to their benefit.

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Innovation and integration of ideas created mass urbanization but also unequal wealth distribution. Finally, American Colleges and Universities are at the forefront of economic growth because of science, technology, and athletics. Obtaining an education provides a better standard of living and economic growth. Making these opportunities “fair” and “equal” is a quest that has no end in sight.

Impossible Precedent

Colonizers set up school systems in America as early as the seventeenth century. The General Court of Massachusetts required parents to teach their children how to read because it was a skill necessary to understand laws of the society and the word of God. Towns with higher populations set up Grammar schools to practice language, writing, and communication. Churches needed a college because it provided good clergy to lead them. Newtown “Cambridge” College mimicked Oxford and Cambridge Universities dedicated to the humanities. John Harvard donated half of his property to the school after his death in 1638. Nine students graduated in the first class of 1642, and the school had been renamed after Harvard. At the time the Massachusetts colony was the most literate society in the world; education was important because of religion (Bremer, pg. 53-54).

The Civil War resulted in three constitutional amendments. Starting in 1865, the thirteenth amendment banned slavery. The fourteenth amendment passed in 1868 made it a right that all people born in the United States are a citizen. The Republican Party passed the last Civil War amendment in 1870. The fifteenth amendment stated how the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Suffrage would have been done sooner if John Wilkes Booth did not assassinate Abraham Lincoln.

The Reconstruction Era after the Civil War consisted of efforts to reintegrate the south that included the losing Confederates all the while protecting the rights of freed black slaves, and giving them new rights. It is not easy to force a population to accept social, top- down change and that is why reconstruction failed.  Racism is a social mechanism used that influences decision-making in housing, finance, training or employment, and education. The consequences of racism are the unequal accumulation of wealth and income. It affects economies, relationships, and politics. In America, slavery was an institution that denied wealth to African Americans. European- Americans benefited because they used the goods and services slaves produced. Running plantations increased their managerial skills while at the same time they collected big profits from the free labor. They passed their lifetime savings down to further generations (America, pg. 41).Literacy tests and poll taxes given to African Americans, especially in the Deep South prevented the race from voting. Armed rebellion and domestic terrorism were other means of denying blacks political power. The Southern WASPs refused to believe that colored people were equal.

Discrimination in education, housing and in markets are avenues in which inequality have occurred. Solving the race problems would involve making racism less prominent in the economy. Affirmative action, government house subsidies programs, employment, training, and scholarship are ways that the government has tried to make equal the coercion, exclusion, and discrimination that the most marginalized groups of society overcame. There are policy goals more desirable than paying restitutions and reparations. (America, pg. 45). Society denied blacks and other minorities their basic rights of citizenship until the Civil Rights Movement that took place in the 1950s and 1960s.

Awareness, Involvement, Integration

The Gilded Age was the time period of rapid economic expansion that took place after the reconstruction era. The challenges of twentieth century modern America emerges: immigration, industrialization, and urbanization. The fourteenth amendment made immigration possible at a faster rate. First generation Americans were children of immigrants. From 1876 to the turn of the century is where the country starts to become more diverse.

Andrew Carnegie, philanthropist and mogul of the late nineteenth century invested $300,000 towards establishing a Mechanics Arts’ Day School. In a New York Times article from January 2, 1900, Carnegie sent the funds needed for Peter Cooper to put a school in the East Village of Manhattan stating that he could find no better cause. The Cooper Union was an architecture, engineering, and art school that offered on- the- job training. Students could pay a small fee of $50 per year if they met the prerequisites and after graduation they could start working and making up to $15 per week.

Andrew Carnegie and Peter Cooper realized and appreciated the wealth of information that is taught in schools. Telegraphy, stenography, typewriting and Spanish were the irreplaceable lessons taught during this time. Advancing opportunity is a priceless endeavor that attracts students to higher education. The promise of jobs made students investment worthwhile. New skills allowed young Americans to become integrated into society. These skills were necessary to improve the standard of living in America and make an impact on their own life and their community. Creative construction with steel allowed for innovations and infrastructure improvements in cities such as New York City of Pittsburgh during the Gilded Age and Industrial Revolution (Mr. Carnegie’s Gift).

It took until April 1, 1920 for the government to understand the value of investing money so American citizens have access to schools. The United States Congress created a cabinet-level Department of Education by authorizing the Smith- Towner Bill. This legislation allowed the federal government to make appropriations for conduct and funds for schools, to encourage the States, to support, and promote Education (The Smith-Towner Bill).

Brown v Board of Education took federal government involvement in schools to another level. It is amongst the most influential Supreme Court cases in American history. Thurgood Marshall’s well planned legal strategy took decades to pull off and resulted in a unanimous vote. The Warren Court ruled in favor of Brown; that the segregation of schools was unconstitutional. The situation started a social revolution known as the Civil Rights Movement. The Civil Rights Movement was a multiple class and multiple race movement that completely changed the relationship between whites and blacks (Kirp, pg.52). The justices ordered the desegregation be done at “all deliberate speed”. Racial equality and school reform constituted a revolution. Just as top-down social changes were not possible after the emancipation, school desegregation cannot happen easily overnight; it will have winners and losers (Kirp, pg. 293).

President Jimmy Carter passed the National Defense Education Act in 1958. During the Cold War, technological advances of the communist world, Soviet Union, worried the Congress. The federal government spread money to schools with fewer restrictions because they saw uneducated Americans as a threat to national security. The federal government increased its involvement in math, science, and foreign language studies from primary to graduate schools. They also provided loans to students who wanted to attend college. Increasing investment in human capital was a way to fight the communist (Anderson, pg. 61).

The Civil Rights Acts authorized the government to provide equal jobs, equal public accommodations. Public businesses and establishments could no longer discriminate on the basis of race or gender. The Equal Housing Act finalized the legislation in 1968. Certain Congressmen did not bother to vote on the provisions to federal assistance programs. After the Civil Rights Acts in 1964, there was a three-month filibuster in Congress from Southern Democrats because their discriminatory school districts were not able to receive the federal assistance. Southern school districts desperately needed funding. Sparsely populated rural regions generated less tax revenue. (Anderson, pg. 65).

Trying to Achieve Equality

Dropping out of high school is not an option anymore. It leads to low wages, unemployment, single parenthood, health issues and troubles with the law. All of which can lead to an unhealthy development and a shorter life. College is the new high school. It gets more expensive each year. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) recorded that between the years of 1978 and 2007 the average price for tuition costs rose by 800 percent (Baumol, Blinder; pg. 134).  In a 2003 investor study, Ariel Mutual Funds and Charles Schwab conducted a study and found that.  83% of black families with high income are concerned about paying for their children higher education. A high-income black family is defined in the article as making more than $50,000 a year compared to less than 70% of high-income white families. Also, 55% of high-income black families would rather save for their children’s education expenses than their own retirement compared to 41% of high-income white families that felt the same (The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, pg. 18)

College tuition and fees are immoral, but that should not intimidate a student from attending. Since 1990, graduates of college kept at least a percent wage advantage over high school graduates. Women maintain a higher advantage by at least forty percent (Appendix B). College graduates who are black have unemployment rates that are two times higher than college graduates who are white. There still has been significant improvements within the last fifty to sixty years though. Females, white and black, have largest number of bachelor’s degrees. They make up the registered nurses and primary school teachers. There are more people without a high school diploma employed than with a bachelor’s degree. The largest number of jobs for males without a high school education include truck driving, construction, and manual labor.  For the females, the top jobs include waitresses and retail cashiers (Snitman, Toldson, pg. 3). Black college graduates are also five times as less likely to live in poverty than blacks who have dropped out of high school. (Snitman, Toldson, pg. 5).

Access to Knowledge is an index that summarizes educational attainment average across American demographics. The index is computed as a combination of school enrollment of children ages 3-24 and the educational attainment of adults age 25 and older. The highest score on the education index is ten and the lowest is zero. It an interesting study because the graphic makes it easy to compare. The whites from Washington D.C and Asian Americans from Connecticut have the strongest scores on the index while African- Americans from Louisiana, Native Americans from Oregon, and Latinos from Arkansas have the weakest scores. Latinos on average had the weakest education index score and Asian Americans had the strongest. Females had a stronger score on average than males (Appendix A).

Large metropolitan areas provide mixed results because of the urban and suburban school districts. Diversity is the reason for the higher concentrations of adults with higher degrees. With the more densely populated cities, there are sections where one side of attainment is aspiring and the other side is despairing. It creates pluralism. Since the year 1960 America has done a better job at attaining a better education. The rate of individuals with less than a high school degree is down 44%. The amount of Americans with at least a bachelor’s degree has quadrupled. The amount of Americans with at least a graduate or professional degree is up 7.5%. Total school enrollment is up 13%.  Internationally, the United States does a better job at degree attainment than most of the top ranked countries but not better at total school enrollment (Burd-Sharps and Lewis, Pt. 1).

A post- secondary education is in high demand today. That is why President Barack Obama wants increase America’s investment and make it as cheap high school. There has not been a demand for deskilled labor since the Industrial Revolution. If you want to be wealthy in twenty-first century America, the way to wealth is through post- secondary education (Wilkinson, pg. 11).


If America’s masonic vision is to be the apex of the world pyramid of liberty and justice then it must have strong support. Education was a necessity by our early colonizers but not the founders of the constitution. The long-term consequences of slavery and the Civil War are discrimination, prejudice, and racism. Opportunities for some people were impossible and this created an income gap. The problems have matriculated throughout the fabric of our society and can be seen in impoverished, crime infested communities.

Education is a soft spot on the pyramid because inequality that has always existed. Regardless to the history, parity exist without a high school diploma and that is a bleak economic outlook. This is the reason why going to college is necessary it is a certain way to stand out and secure a better life. Immigration is challenge America will always face. New challenges of the twenty-first century include globalization and feminism. Fairness can be an abstract quest of our time that has no definite end.

As a final point, perhaps the most prominent black man in American economics, Thomas Sowell, described how the quest for fairness is too lofty a goal. In a publication titled, Controversial Essays he explains amongst numerous topics, education issues. Equality could not happen for him going to school growing up in the Bronx during the 1940s. The lack of magazines and books in his house made homework harder, but it was not unfair. Unfair in his standards would be going into life unprepared. He attended Harvard despite being a high school dropout because of his strong verbal score on his scholastic aptitude test, so he is a rare statistic. If the standards had been fairly applied to him he would not be where he is today. Education is mainly the result of one’s resources and opportunities at home (Sowell, pg. 169-171).


  1. Baumol, William J., and Alan S. Blinder. Macroeconomics Principles & Policies. Mason, OH: South- Western Cengage Learning, 2010. Print.
  2. Bremer, Francis J. “Building for the Future.” John Winthrop: Biography as History. New York: Continuum, 2009. 53-54. Print.
  3. Imber, Michael, and Tyll Van Geel. Education Law. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000. N. pgs. 269-272. Print.
  4. High-Income Black Families Worry about Financing Their Children’s Education The JBHE Foundation, Inc. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education No. 41 (Autumn, 2003) p. 18 Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3133739
  5. Kirp, David L. Just Schools: The Idea of Racial Equality in American Education. Berkeley: U of California, 1982. Print.
  6. Lewis, Kristen, and Burd-Sharps, Sarah. “Access to Knowledge.” American Human Development Project: The Measure of America 2010-2011: Mapping Risks and Resilience. New York: New York University Press, 2010. Credo Reference. Web. 15 Feb 2015.
  7. “Obama’s State of the Union 2015 Transcript (Full Text) and Video.” New York Times 20 Jan. 2015. Www.nytimes.com. Web. 06 Feb. 2015.
  8. “Mr. Carnegie’s Gift to Copper Union.” New York Times 02 Jan. 1900: n. pg. Www.nytimes.com. Web. 29 Mar. 2015.
  9. Sowell, Thomas. Hoover Institution Press Publication, Volume 511: Controversial Essays. Stanford, CA, USA: Hoover Institution Press, 2002. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 4 May 2015.
  10. The Smith-Towner Bill. The Elementary School Journal. Vol. 20, No. 8 (Apr., 1920) , pp. 575-583 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/994235
  11. Toldson, Ivory A., and Aviella Snitman. “Editor’s Comment: Education Parity and Economic Disparities: Correcting Education-Attainment Discrepancies among Black People in the United States.” The Journal of Negro Education79.1 (2010): 1-5. JSTOR. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25676104
  12. Wilkinson, Rupert. Aiding Students, Buying Students: Financial Aid in America. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt UP, 2005. Print.

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A Discussion on the Issue of Equality in Education. (2021, Sep 27). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/a-discussion-on-the-issue-of-equality-in-education-essay

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