Students can help solve disparity

By Katie Khan
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 1, 2005

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Strolling the sidewalks of the UA campus, the thought of educational inequity rarely enters the average student's mind. Why would it? Looking around, most of us are newly tanned, well rested and eager to try our luck on the massive game systems adorning the UA Mall or grab a bite in our $60 million Student Union Memorial Center.

Frankly, there are times when I doubt that the meaning of "education" seriously enters our minds, let alone the problems caused by the disparities in our own country. While many of us are sideswiped by various issues within our system - be it class availability or tuition hikes - time can usually alleviate our qualms, as the majority of us will eventually graduate and make it out of this higher institution.

Many individuals in this country are not so fortunate.

Statistics from Education Trust 2002 show that 9-year-olds in low-income communities are three to four grade levels behind kids who go to schools in wealthier areas. This means that fourth graders who should be able to fly through the new "Harry Potter" book are struggling to get through Sesame Street books.

Worse still are the figures for their future: Students in underprivileged districts are seven times less likely to graduate from college than children in higher-income regions.

Contrary to what many believe, it isn't just the kids in the Bronx and Compton who are being forced to one side of the achievement gap. The problem of inequality is affecting schools across the nation, including those close to home.

For instance, third graders in Phoenix's Roosevelt School District scored in the 30th percentile in reading on the Stanford 9 standardized test. Compare this to their more affluent peers in nearby Scottsdale Unified School District, who scored in the 71st percentile.

Like many issues, inequality within education is a complex intertwining of various faults within the system. Not only are low-income areas plagued by an extreme lack of resources, they are also bombarded with crime, drug abuse and domestic violence - problems that only serve as distractions in the race to catch students up to where they need to be.

It has been more than 50 years since the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. the Board of Education, when the court stated, "education is the most important function of state and local governments." The court also declared, "It is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education," and concluded by saying education "is a right that must be made available to all on equal terms." 

However, as former assistant attorney general and current Chancellor of New York City Department of Education, Joel Klein noted, "the vision of Brown is still not being realized for vast numbers of our children. We've barely begun to ensure that all of our children are getting an education that will prepare them for the future."

As leaders with clear vision, young optimism, and a sense of promise, it is up to us to fight what many have deemed our generation's civil-rights issue. Short of rushing the College of Education with Change of Major forms in hand, there are many things we can do: we can tutor children in underprivileged areas, we can volunteer at domestic violence shelters and we can hold book drives for classrooms in need.

But even these efforts may not be enough. Perhaps it was this thought that inspired 100 UA seniors to apply to Teach For America last year. Currently comprised of a corps 3,500 strong, Teach For America trains and places recent college graduates from all majors in 22 low-income areas throughout the country as full-time, paid teachers for two years.

During these two years, Teach For America teachers work toward achieving significant academic gains with their students, often facing the many challenges in underprivileged schools. After the two years, many Teach For America corps members move onto other sectors such as law, medicine or journalism, having acquired the experience and insight necessary to effect long-term change.

Ultimately, the mere virtue of where a child is born should not determine the quality of his education or the fulfillment of his dreams. The massive problem of the achievement gap is not insurmountable. If the most motivated and dedicated among us continue their fight, one day all children in this country will receive the educational opportunity they deserve.

Katie Khan is a political science and economics junior.