Friday, January 24, 2014

Rich Schools, Poor Schools: Inequality in Education by Sana Naqvi

Meet Elio, a seven-year old boy who loves reading. Where he lives, in the South of Bronx, New York, funds for the construction of schools are scarce and, consequently, school libraries are reconstructed for use as classrooms. Elio is deprived of literary resources essential for expanding his imagination beyond the walls of poverty that surround him (Kozol 48). Bright children like Elio, and other African American students of the inner-cities across the U.S, hold a right to enjoy the same resources that the students of predominantly white and wealthy suburban schools are privileged to have.

Furthermore, the uprisings of teacher protests in central Chicago shines light on the fact that fewer funds are given to public schools of inner-cities than to the public schools of surrounding suburbs. Unfortunately, low-income families are deprived of school choice since most affluent neighborhoods with privileged schools do not contain low-income housing. Clearly, the state governments’ public education funding and real estate policies are in need of reform; it is unfair that race, location, and economic status of parents should determine the quality of a child’s education.

Wealth status has the most control over a parent’s choice of schools, which places higher-income families at an unfair advantage for a better education and places lower-income families at a disadvantage. Jennifer Jellison Holme highlights the fact that “Federal and, in most places, state tax policies permit deductions for real estate taxes and for home mortgage interest. This means tremendous tax advantages for wealthy families, which can and have moved out of inner cities and into suburbs” (178).  

On the other hand, lower-income families (mostly Hispanic and African American) are forced to attend poorer quality schools within the city as a majority of them cannot afford to live in the larger homes in the suburbs. As this migratory trend continues, a suburban “white belt” begins to grow around “black cities” (Adkins 243). This circumstance further segregates the wealthy white population from minorities and encourages discrimination: people begin to stereotype the Black and Hispanic students from the less prosperous schools of the cities as being more unintelligent than the students from well-off schools in white suburbs.  

A study that analyzes the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) shows how there is a direct correlation between a school’s location and its level of achievement. A map of the geographic distribution of CPS high schools depicts how each high-achieving school, represented by a star, is either located within or close to a higher-income community area, represented in a darker color (Cullen 748). This reveals how the government’s distribution of funding is unequal as the taxes from high-income individuals only go to schools located in their district allowing them to buy resources to make them successful. The graph also illustrates the geographic segregation between the rich and poor as the darkest, high-income areas are located on the perimeter of the city; whereas the lighter, low-income areas remain in the middle where the standard schools are located.

Another difficult obstacle for lower-income families to overcome when choosing schools is that most districts often make it obligatory for students to attend specific schools in their neighborhoods. This system is unjust for poor students because to deny a student the right to high quality education simply because they cannot afford to live in a rich neighborhood is a violation of their constitutional promise of equality.

The CPS study also analyzes the freedom of school choice and how it affects academic performance. Data for over 60,000 students in CPS high schools provide evidence that “students who opt out of their assigned neighborhood school are 7.6 percentage points more likely to graduate than peers” (730). This is due to the fact that when co-opting, students choose to attend schools with “academically talented peers who come from neighborhoods with higher socio-economic characteristics” (755).

Not only does the inefficient placing of homes prevent minorities in the cities from being able to attend good schools, it is also the government’s unequal funding that contributes to their downfall in academic performance. While some argue that the government should provide more funds for higher achieving suburban schools, poor urban schools are in greater need of more funds and can become successful if the funds are used efficiently. 

It is important to realize that if “Roughly 100 Chicago schools, the third-largest school district in the country where 87% of the students are from low-income families have already been closed since 2001” (Younge), then the government is clearly not providing the Chicago Public Schools with enough resources to maintain school buildings and properly teach students.

State governments should monitor the use of these schools’ funds to make sure that the money goes towards relocating students and teachers to well-off schools for proper teaching and to acquire tutors to help students with core subjects outside of class. Most importantly, money should go toward the reconstruction of schools during summer vacations so that they will not have to completely shut down or relocate during the year and negatively affect 30,000 students. In fact, the relocation of schools for many children in Chicago will mean higher student-to-teacher ratios and even put them in harm as they will have to cross gang lines to get to their new schools.

Many individuals argue that it is only fair that the taxes being paid by the wealthy should go towards the funds for schools located within their own communities. In opposition to this, Professor Adkins explains that although “‘Beneficial’ local taxation for purely local benefits (such as garbage collection) may be appropriate for local support, ‘onerous’ taxation for purposes (like education) which are of concern to the entire nation should be supported nationally” (244).

Once taxes have been collected, it is ultimately up to the state governments and accreditation agencies to allocate resources and determine the quality of schools respectively. Therefore, it is not up to the general public to decide whether their tax money goes to the already prosperous school in their neighborhood or to less fortunate schools that can barely afford to pay a few teachers with a large body of students.

What must be changed to eliminate the overall inequality in education? In terms of geography, states with heavily populated cities should implement a system like the Mount Laurel Laws of New Jersey. As stated in the Yale Law and Policy Review, “The Mount Laurel decisions seek to retard economic segregation by holding that state constitutional general welfare limitations require a municipality’s land-use regulations to provide for the municipality’s fair share of the regional need for low- and moderate-income housing” (Payne 361). This will slowly eliminate segregation between the urban and suburban communities, as poor individuals can easily relocate to low-income homes located in richer neighborhoods with high achieving schools.

In terms of money, some propose that schools should cut back on funds for art, music, and physical education. While it is true that schools can save a great deal of money without these programs, they are necessary for both physical and mental health of students. Given that obesity resides as a major problem, especially in poorer areas of the U.S, schools must engage their students in physical activities to promote good health and fitness. Liberal arts classes like painting, theater, music, and literature are all necessary for the development of creative and analytical thinkers.

Mark Slouka, in his essay “Dehumanized,” emphasizes the importance of the skills that are taught by liberal arts in a society that has recently begun to favor the sciences: “There is no such life, that every aspect of life- every marriage, every job, every parent-teacher meeting-hinges in some way on the ability to understand and empathize with others, to challenge one’s beliefs, to strive for reason and clarity” (40). These are the very programs that should be funded more within the impoverished areas of cities to instill an open mindset and deliver a new way of thinking for these students.

As long as the public continues to view all minorities as inferior in regard to educational resources, the government will continue to delay school building renovations and deny and no improvement will occur. With a new system, similar to that of the Mount Laurel Law, segregation between minorities and whites can decrease over time, and students will find it easier to attend any school without feeling pressured to assimilate into an affluent lifestyle.

Furthermore, if minority students of the inner-cities were given the chance to attend privileged schools that provided them with many resources, they would become motivated to work to their fullest potential. Funds that are equally distributed from the government, and if used efficiently, can help create better schools, increase the percentage of graduates, and ultimately produce young scholars who can benefit their communities and urban society.

Works Cited

Adkins, Arthur. "Inequities Between Suburban and Urban Schools." Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (1968): 243-45. ASCD. 1968. Web. 17 November 2013. <>.

Cullen, Julie Berry, Brian A. Jacob, and Steven D. Levitt. "The Impact of School Choice on    Student Outcomes: An Analysis of the Chicago Public Schools." Journal of Public Economics 89 (2005): 729-60. Elsevier. Elsevier B.V., 26 Aug. 2004. Web. 22 November 2013. <>.

Holme, Jennifer J. "Buying Homes, Buying Schools: School Choice and the Social Construction of School Quality." Harvard Educational Review 2nd ser. 72 (2002): 177-205. Harvard Educational Review. Harvard Education Publishing Group, 10 Apr. 2009. Web. 17 November 2013. <>.

Kozol, Jonathan. "An Unequal Education. (Cover Story)." School Library Journal 46.5 (2000): 46. Academic Search Premier. Web. 16 November 2013.

Payne, John M. Title VIII and Mount Laurel: Is Affordable Housing Fair Housing? Yale Law and Policy Review. 2nd ed. Vol. 6. N.p.: Yale Law and Policy Review Inc., 1988. 361-74. JSTOR. Web. 22 November 2013.   <>.


  1. “One of Naqvi's arguments is for real choice; funding following the student, which is described in defending charter schools, ideally provides such choice, though we know in reality, that's not the case. Leveling the playing field is, of course, far more complex. If my kids were stuck in a failing neighborhood school, I'd take advantage of the chance to move them to one that gives them the opportunity for success. I don't reject the notion of charter schools out of hand” –Richard Palzer

    Instead of closing down Chicago’s public schools and advocating privatization through charter schools, what needs to be addressed is the disparities between charter schools and public schools’ economic resources for programs: the scarcity of textbooks and other essential materials for Chicago’s public-school students; the need for more school libraries and for an enriched curricula that include music, art, theatre, creative writing, and physical education; the need for more social workers, counselors, nurses and other support staff, to name just a few of the inequities.

    What is most unfortunately connected to the charter school issue is the villainy of government officials and corporate-financed media and their attacks on public-school teachers; corporate-educational reform and the privatization of public schools by profiteers; the forced “turnarounds” subsidized by billionaires and their officiousness to “control and take over” public schools for self-interest and profit: thus, the closing and destruction of Chicago Public Schools and the resultant systematic destruction of their communities.


  2. In my state of Connecticut we have a very regressive state legislature arrangement and heavy dependence on property tax. The result is that each town is pitted against each other and suburban towns have a great resentment toward cities. Whenever a developer makes an affordable housing proposal in a suburban town, it invariably is shot down by the local zoning board. So ending de facto racial segregation isn't going to happen here. Private-run charter schools are proving to be a scam. The solution that never has been tried in CT is school vouchers: supported by the GOP, opposed by Democrats—because the latter party is heavily financed by teachers’ unions who see vouchers as a threat. I'm no big fan of partisan politics, caused primarily by careerist politicians whose first concern is maintaining finances to stay in office. However, here in CT where our state and city governments are on the verge of bankruptcy, trying vouchers on an experimental basis—perhaps just in our poorest city—is an experiment that we at least should allow on a trial basis. If it fails, the careerist politicians will have more campaign fodder. If it succeeds, government might actually prove useful for a change.